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With markets in turmoil, there’s no better time to do the CFA, says Ashvin Vibhakar, MD of Asia Pacific, CFA Institute

Ashvin Vibhakar, managing director of Asia Pacific operations, CFA Institute, talks to us about ethical investment, the importance of a global qualification, getting through all that study, and the remarkable popularity of the CFA charter in Asia.

It’s all about ethics

Vibhakar says the CFA programme is developed through “practice analysis”, which includes surveys of investment professionals around the world and focus groups with members and industry leaders, to determine the knowledge, skills and competencies that are most relevant to the profession. “We are always asking financial leaders what’s important to them – that’s what makes the CFA relevant and current.”

The charter is well perceived in terms of educational, professional and ethical standards, says Vibhakar. “Our emphasis on ethics means working in the interests of the client. We adhere to the general principle that markets respond to ethical standards.”

He thinks that the CFA’s value becomes even more apparent during periods of economic turmoil. “The GFC was caused mainly by greed, people not doing due diligence, and violations of ethics. We promote an ethical, transparent market and believe that in order to invest money, people have to trust you and trust the market. If trust in the markets is waning, the CFA charter has added advantages.”

Going global

The CFA charter also acts as a “benchmark” that is recognised throughout the financial world because most firms like employing people with an international qualification, according to Vibhakar.

“It’s a global passport. You can travel everywhere and everyone will know exactly what you have gone through. I met a woman in Sydney recently who was from Pakistan, and she told me that the CFA got her through the door into her new job.”

That MBA question

Although some financial professionals consider the CFA as an alternative to doing an MBA, Vibhakar has a different point of view. “We never claim to compete with any degree programme – we are purely finance based. Don’t look at the CFA as a substitute to your degree, look at it as a compliment.”

“In the finance field it’s something that gives you an edge: practical knowledge and a relevant curriculum. It’s based on what the industry itself considers relevant. It’s also a global gold standard: while there are thousands of MBAs, of differing quality, there’s only one CFA.”

Survival tips

Vibhakar warns candidates not to treat the CFA programme like a university course. “It’s self study – you’re not going to class every day. It’s critical that candidates discipline themselves. Based on our survey, candidates spend at least 300 hours to study each level of exams.”

Enrol early to give yourself sufficient time before the exams and do a few hours of study every day are two key pieces of advice. “People can get into trouble. It’s a rigorous programme, you can’t cram at the last minute. But it is possible – I did mine with two kids, working full time. I did an hour or two each night when the kids had gone to bed.”

“We also provide candidates guidance, such as learning-outcome statements, which give them a checkpoint as to whether they have mastered the knowledge required after studying the curriculum.”

Asian expansion

The amount of CFA charterholders (e.g. people who have successfully passed all three levels of exams and accumulated at least four years of relevant work experience) and CFA candidates has been growing in Asia Pacific.

Charterholder numbers have expanded from 11,670 people in 2007 to 16,170 today. Hong Kong boasts the highest proportion (5,088, or 31.5 per cent of the Asia Pacific total) and the other top markets are Singapore (2,731) and China (2,257).

Perhaps more importantly for the future, 43 per cent of CFA exam registrations came from Asia Pacific in fiscal year 2011. And the growth is mainly coming emerging countries like China and India, which have 26,030 and 20,460 candidates registering for 2011 exams respectively, making those markets the second and third largest behind the US.

Vibhakar says this growth indicates that people in the region value professional development and want to distinguish themselves from others in the industry.

Are you toying with starting the CFA charter. Are you already a candidate or charterholder? Was it worth it? Did the CFA help get you a job? Let us know below.

Comments (6)

  1. Forget the CFA, MBA is king.

  2. I am MBA in International Management from World’s #1 ranked Institute, Thunderbird School of Global Management. I am now CFA Level III candidate, but really don’t know CFA helped me get job. For the last four months I have been looking for job in Singapore without success. I got 6 face to face final round interview calls in which CFA Material was asked. But my hiring managers were not CFA’s and they did not hire me. CFA Material did help me talk a lot in the interview and I felt I had got the job, but was rejected on some flimsy ground or the other. No CFA Charter holder ever interviewed me! It is for you to judge if CFA helps to get a job or hurts to get a job. There is 4 to 5% unemployment rate amongst CFA Charter holders also! It is difficult then to say if CFA really lands you a job. CFA Institute does nothing to help you get a job in contrast to MBA Institutes most of which have a vibrant Career Management Section. The shocking or immoral part of CFA Institute and CFA Society is that it asks membership fees from unemployed persons! No MBA Institute or local society will ever ask you to pay for job seeking help or to build networks.

  3. What roles did u apply for? Many roles don’t require applying CFA knowledge..maybe that’s why the hiring managers who interviewed u are not charterholders as well..

  4. Hello Alakh, i think CFA isn’t guaranteeing landing a successful well-paid job, or else everyone would be seeking that charter. It’s only a powerful certificate added to the CV to certify that you’re intellectually capable, intellectually persistent to survive the exams, and you know the foundational knowledge of finance. That’s all it has to say about yourself. On the other hand the reason for not being able to land a job in Singp is well-understood. Just look at the recruitment section of the straits times, so thin. The job market is bleak here. You only have to keep trying. For myself, i’ve applied for 90 jobs and think it’s a low number. i have yet to apply for more. In terms of the membership fee, i think i think it’s reasonable to demand a reasonable fee from the members, regardless of employemnt. ‘cuz the steady stae should be you’re emplkoyed.

  5. Thanks for the response. Matt I had applied for Business Analyst jobs for Derivatives, Fixed Income, Performance Measurement & Attribution, Risk Management and Trading. In the advertisement they had written CFA or advanced progress in CFA program would be advantageous. I was able to answer all their questions because I am studying for CFA Material these days, hence everything is fresh in my mind. @Baimor regarding membership fees you are yourself assuming steady state that members should be employed. So if there is no steady state, which means existence of unemployed CFA candidates/Charter holders, implies that they won’t go for membership. What you said about CFA, regarding jobs, is true for MBA too because MBA programs also don’t guarantee landing successful well paid jobs. They also only provide a powerful certificate. My suggestion of waiver of membership fees for unemployed CFA participants was having two strong reasons:
    1. Even governments don’t charge fees (taxes) from unemployed people for providing defense or police services,
    2. MBA Institutions don’t charge any fee for career related services either. That’s why the get good contributions from their alumni.

  6. At the end of the day MBA and CFA is only one part of the puzzle, you can’t expect this will guarantee a job. Your work experience, networking, proficiency at job hunting, presentation and competition in the job market are just as important. CFA is a global professional association that offers ongoing services to members, you kind of have to accept the total package if you want in. The bright side is many employers will pay membership fees for professional associations.

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