I sat the CFA in Asia. I was surrounded by money-hungry teenagers

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Studying for the CFA is by in large a lonely experience – you clock up your 300 hours holed up in your bedroom. But then, suddenly, you’re sitting the exam with a lot of other people. It’s only then that it hits home: this thing is competitive, most people fail.

For me (as an American research analyst in Hong Kong), I also noticed something else when I looked around the exam room: a lot of people were teenagers.

I began the CFA about three years ago when I was 27, which is about the average age globally for Level I candidates. But doing the exam in Hong Kong made me feel old.

It turns out that more and more people in Hong Kong – especially mainland Chinese students based here – are starting the CFA in their first year of university or even in their final year of high school.

They’re aiming to pass all three levels before they graduate from university and are then prepared to wait four more years to get the work experience needed to become a full CFA Charterholder. While I’ve heard of US students (college ones) occasionally doing this, the practice seems far more common in Hong Kong and China.

In Asia, where qualifications are even more highly valued than in the West, students tell me that they can get at least 15% more pay if they’ve already passed Levels II or III when they take their first graduate job in the investment industry.

I admire this. The onslaught of technology means landing your first job in financial services is getting tougher. So why not give yourself a head start?

Nevertheless, as a CFA candidate myself, I found it intimidating to be up against so many kids. They may be young and lacking in work experience, but they’re ambitious and (as students) they have more time on their hands to study than someone like me who’s working full time at a bank.

I also get the impression that they love studying alone, love rote learning, and the love sitting exams – three things which are crucial to passing the CFA and three things which I actively dislike.

I have now got CFA Levels I and II to my name, but I failed them both on first sitting and I’ve decided against attempting Level III. I’m doing a Masters in Finance instead.

Studying for the CFA means you have no life for at least six months and spend every waking hour memorising incredible amounts of information. I want to actually interact with people as a study – I’ll leave the CFA to the teenagers.

Owen Morgan (we have used a pseudonym to protect his identity) is a research analyst at a US bank in Hong Kong.

Image credit: Paul Burns, Getty

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