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Neither CFA nor MBA, other qualifications for jobs in banking

Alternatives to the CFA and MBA

If you’re thinking of breaking into banking, you’ve probably thought about studying for a CFA qualification. You’ve probably also contemplated an MBA. Both are popular among financial services professionals looking to get ahead. Both are also broad-ranging qualifications which apply across a range of financial services jobs. And in the case of MBAs at least, some banks have special ‘associate entry programs’ for hiring MBAs from top business schools. 

However, there are plenty of other financial services-relevant qualifications out there. Many are more specific than the CFA or the MBA and focus on particular areas of the finance industry. Most aren’t mandatory – in the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) scrapped obligatory qualifications for investment bankers back in 2007.

These alternative qualifications aren’t guaranteed to get you a job – but then neither is the CFA Charter or an MBA? Best of all, they’re cheap – especially compared to the huge tuition fees at top business schools.

If you want to work in banking, but aren’t fixated on the front office and are prepared to look beyond the standard acronyms, these are the qualifications you should look out for:

Qualifications for banking compliance jobs

1. The CISI Diploma in Investment Compliance

Run by: The Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment

What they say: ‘The Diploma in Investment Compliance is a global qualification that offers a clear career pathway for compliance specialists and practitioners. Achieving this qualification, will provide you with the confidence of possessing a thorough understanding of the financial services regulatory environment both in the UK and internationally.’

Entry requirements: You’ll have to study the ‘Introduction to Securities and Investment Banking First. ‘ 

Cost: Around £1.7k, including tuition and exam fees.

Study time: You need to pass three exams to achieve the diploma. On average, the CISI says you’ll need to study for around 80 hours for each unit.  Passing the diploma typically takes 18 months to two years according to BPP Professional Education. 

Pass rate: Thought to be 70% for the first two  exams. 50% for the third.

What we say:  The CISI diploma is best known in the UK market. It might help get you an interview, but it’s very unusual for a job to specify the diploma as a prerequisite.

2. The Advanced Certificate in Compliance

Run by: The International Compliance Association

What they say: ‘The ICA Advanced Certificates in Compliance is suitable for those new to compliance or in a junior role and will help you develop a good understanding of compliance fundamentals.These courses are endorsed by the British Bankers’ Association in the UK.’

Entry requirements: ‘Sound educational background’ and ‘good written English.’

Cost: £1.5k + VAT or local taxes if outside the UK.

Study time: The course lasts for six months and is provided by ‘International Compliance Training’, the ICA’s approved training provider. You’ll be studying at home but will participate in two ‘highly interactive workshops.’

Pass rate: Not provided.

What we say: An entry-level certificate in compliance. Good for people who want to work in money laundering and financial crime. You’ll need work experience to get a job – there are few jobs that specify this qualification as a necessity for compliance hires. UK-centric. Hardly anyone has this qualification on Wall Street or in Hong Kong or Singapore.

Qualifications for sales, trading or structuring jobs

3. The Fixed Income Certificate (formerly the International Fixed Income and Derivatives Program) 

Run by: The International Capital Markets Association.

What they say: ‘The gold standard qualification for finance professionals for almost 40 years. The programme places emphasis on developing practical skills for trading, investment and risk management, designed to give a fixed income professional all the knowledge needed to understand pricing, risk and trading opportunities in these markets.’

Entry requirements:  There are no specific requirements, but the presumption is that you’ll already be working in banking – either in a front office role, or in a support function.  You can take a sample paper here to see if it’s right for you.

Cost: £3.3k for ICMA members and £4.3k for non-members.

Study time: The classroom based version of the programme is delivered as a one week course across Europe.

Pass rate:  Not provided.

What we say:  Not mandatory, but IFID is known among fixed income traders and portfolio managers in London. Often used by back office people trying to gain product knowledge and move into the middle office. Again, less common in Asia and the U.S.

4. The CISI Diploma in Capital Markets

Run by: The Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment

What they say: ‘The Diploma in Capital Markets is a leading professional finance qualification for practitioners working in wholesale securities markets….It is ideal for practitioners pursuing careers in treasury and financial controlling functions, private equity analysis, portfolio management, fixed income analysis, fund management, financial consulting, financial risk management, investor relations, internal audit and specialist financial operations.’

Entry requirements: There are no formal entry requirements. But most candidates will have a degree.

Cost: If you’re paying for classroom tuition, it will probably cost you around £5k for the three units. If you’re teaching yourself, it will cost you around £1.8k in study materials and past papers.

Study time: You’re advised to study for 200 hours for each diploma unit (and you need to choose three). The diploma typically takes between 18 months and two years to achieve. You can either choose to study on your own, or can pay for training.

Pass rate: 44% to 80%, depending upon the papers you take.

What we say: Very rarely specified in job descriptions. Popular among back and middle office (including compliance) staff who want to learn more about the products they’re dealing with.

5. The London Business School’s Masters in Finance

Run by: The London Business School

What they say: ‘Ranked number one in the world by the Financial Times for the last five consecutive years, the School’s outstanding global reputation in finance and strong links with financial institutions, recruiters and practitioners means there is no better place for you to study finance.’

Entry requirements: You’ll need at least two years’ experience in a financial services job to be eligible for the course. Most people have 3-6 years’ experience and part time students have 3-12 years’ experience.

Cost: £43k.

Study time:10 months or 16 months (if you want to be able to complete an internship) full time; 22 months at weekends.

Pass rate: Not provided.

Where to find out more: Click here. 

What we say: Expensive, but cheaper than an MBA. The pre-eminent qualification for London financial services professionals who want to escape the middle or back office. Better for sales and trading than corporate finance (for the investment banking division, try an MBA).

6. The CQF (Certificate in Quantitative Finance) 

Run by: Fitch but founded by Paul Wilmott, a well known quant.

What they say: The CQF is, “designed for in-depth training for individuals working in, or intending to move into, e.g. derivatives, IT, quantitative trading, insurance, model validation or risk management.

Entry requirements: You’ll need to be (very) good at maths. Before you can start the course, you’ll have to complete a maths test.

Cost: Around £13k. 

Study time: Four hours per week (delivered in the form of two two hour long weekly CQF lectures, delivered via webcast) for six months. You can learn about the program here. 

Pass rate: Not provided.

What we say: The CQF has good international recognition and will sometimes be specified on job descriptions. It’s good if you want a risk modelling or model testing role, or if you want to be a quantitative developer building computer models for the quants who design banks’ complex derivative products. Most ‘front office quants’ will have a PhD or an MSc. It’s less well known in the worlds of data analysis and machine learning.

7. Series 7 (Full name: the General Securities Representative Exam) 

Run by: The U.S. Financial Industry Regulation Authority. (FINRA)

What they say: ‘The Series 7 Examination is designed to assess the competency of entry-level General Securities Representatives…The Series 7 Examination is the General Securities Representative Qualification Examination.’ [In other words, this is mandatory. You have to pass the Series 7 if you want to work in sales or trading – but only if you want to work in the U.S.)

Entry requirements: You have to be working for a FINRA-member firm and they have to sponsor you. Series 7 isn’t really open to anyone…If you’ve been working in the UK, you might be allowed to skip some of the modules. 

Cost: Employers usually pay.

Study time: You’ll probably need to study for 1-2 hours per day for six to eight weeks.

Pass rate: Around 65%..

What we say: You’ll have to have the Series 7 in the U.S. Hardly anyone has it in London or Hong Kong – unless they’ve transferred from Wall Street.

For the risk professional

8.  ‘Risk in financial services’

Run by: The Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment

What they say: ‘Risk in Financial Services offers a comprehensive global introduction to the major risk areas in financial services. It addresses international issues, reflecting the needs of a worldwide market, and provides a sound grounding in the principles of the risk management framework, corporate governance and risk oversight. It covers specific techniques used in identifying, reducing and managing operational risk, credit risk, market risk, investment risk and liquidity risk.‘ 

Entry requirements:  None given. However, the presumption is that you’ll be working in risk or compliance already.

Cost: Expect to pay around £300+ in exam fees. Or, £1.3k+ if you want tuition.

Study time: 100 hours for the Risk in Financial Services. An extra 70 hours if you want to supplement it with ‘UK Financial Regulation’. Some training providers off a three day intensive course.

Pass rate: Thought to be around 62%.

What we say: Rare.

9. ‘Professional Risk Manager Qualification’ (PRM)

Run by: The Professional Risk Managers’ International Association (PRMIA)

What they say: ”The Professional Risk Manager (PRM™) Designation is a globally recognized, graduate-level risk management credential.’

Entry requirements: You’ll need some work experience: 4 years if you don’t have a bachelor degree, two years if you do, and no work experience at all if you’ve been to graduate school of have passed an ‘accepted professional designation’ like the CFA.

Cost: $1.1k (minimum).

Study time: Candidates are required to pass four exams, varying in length from one to two hours. You’ll need to purchase exam vouchers along with study materials and the PRM handbook. The vouchers expire within three years of purchase. 

Pass rate: 65% overall, but 59% for exams I and III and 78% for exam IV.

What we say: A well recognized international qualification. Often specified as a prerequisite for risk jobs in the U.S.

10. ‘The Financial Risk Manager’s Qualification’ (FRM)

Run by: The Global Association of Risk Professionals (GARP)

What they say: ‘The FRM Exam, offered by the Global Association of Risk Professionals (GARP), is a practice-oriented exam designed to assess a candidate’s knowledge and understanding of the skills necessary to function effectively as a financial risk manager. ‘

Entry requirements: To be able to use the FRM designation, you’ll need at least two years’ work experience in risk management, trading, portfolio management, academia, industry research, economics, auditing, risk consulting or risk technology.

Cost: Varies – it’s cheaper if you enroll sooner! $750 to $1,050 for each exam.

Study time:  ‘On average, individuals devoted about 275 hours to exam preparation. Individual figures, however, varied from less than 100 hours (6%) to more than 400 hours (11%).’

Pass rate:  Around 43% for part 1, 58% for part 2.

What we say: Popular qualification for risk managers, valuation specialists and product consultants. Recognized globally. Often specified alongside the PRM.

12. ‘The Certificate in Risk Management in Financial Services’ 

Run by: The Institute of Risk Management

What they say: ‘This practical qualification addresses the real issues facing organisations in financial services, particularly banking and insurance.’

Entry requirements: None in particular. -‘The qualification is the entry level qualification for anyone embarking on a career in risk management or working in a risk-related discipline.’

Cost: £1.9k.  You might get a discount if you’re in a low income country.

Study time: Six to nine months, distance learning.

Pass rate: Not clear. But the pass mark is 50%.

What we say: Rarely seen in job descriptions.

For the corporate finance professional

13. The Diploma in Corporate Finance 

Run by: The ICAEW in combination with the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment.

What they say: ‘The New Diploma in Corporate Finance will equip you with advanced corporate finance knowledge, skills and expertise. It will enhance the value you bring to the organisations you work with and help accelerate your career.’

Entry requirements: You’ll usually need to have passed the ICAEW’s Chartered Accountancy exams or to have a Certificate in Corporate Finance.

Cost: £721 in exam fees, more if you want to pay for tuition.

Study time: On average, 500 hours of study are needed. It’s ‘achievable within a year.’

Pass rate: Thought to be around 69%.

What we say: Not very well known outside Europe. Not specified in job descriptions. Most common among strategists in corporates, accountants and lawyers. Good for Big Four accountants who want to move into M&A.

Photo credit: Crayon Fence by chrismetcalfTV is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Comments (50)

  1. With respect to the LBS MFin, what does “less valuable if you are in the front office already” mean Sarah? Are you referring to the situation where a quant is trying to move into sales/trading or a metals trader trying to become a currency options trader?

  2. All very true. You hire people not qualifcaions, they’re nice to have but no one really cares. Like hats.

  3. @Confused – the LBS MFin will be most valuable if you’re trying to reinvent yourself. If you’re moving into a closely related area, or an area where you already have regular close contact with the potential hiring managers, you’ll probably be better off trying to move internally.

    Sarah, Editor, eFinancialCareers Reply
  4. I suppose all above work better on the other side of the pond..

    “You hire people not qualifcations”?

    When interviewing – what is the worse mix of qualifications you have ever came accross (the non finance/accounting ones)?

  5. how do you come up with these ideas Sarah? have you ever actually worked in banking??

    most of these qualifications you get them when you are already working, or your career is on a set path

    I got an MBA from Oxford and I don’t have a queue of headhunters, but that’s in line with my expectations prior to doing it

    Anybody who did an MBA thinking to become Soros or to get paid $1m to stay at home or on the golf course all day needs a reality check

    You do an MBA if you need it for networking, or if you have a non-business degree and wants to pursue a career as an entrepreneur or executive in your industry. Period

    I did it because I had an Italian degree and wanted to beef up my network. I knew it beforehand and I didn’t expect to make billions a year after I completed it.

    Anybody thinking that an MBA will sort them out is wrong. You need drive, ambition, and most importantly a solid network to succeed in any career path.

  6. All those highly qualified personnel – Managed to follow the sheep and get slaughtered back in 2008.

  7. What about IMC qualification ?

  8. Whosoever has said “you hire people not qualifications” has made a very irresponsible statement. Right qualifications are driving growth and competitiveness in many EU countries, China, India, etc. those countries. CFA, MBA and other qualifications you mentioned, all are important. Any qualification is better than no qualification. It does not necessarily mean those who have no qualification will not succeed.

  9. Surely, for professionals who will be affected by it, some of these qualifications (and others missed from this list) will be more important post-RDR?

  10. I am about to finish a MSc Finance Distant Learning and starting to wonder if going for an MBA DL wouldn’t have been a better choice instead (bearing in mind it wouldn’t have been from a top school). Anyone has an opinion about it?

  11. Any comments about the MSc courses from CASS Business School?

  12. Excellent article – I wish you guys had posted this years ago

  13. What would people recommend out of a CIMA, AAT, ACA or ACCA (I obviously understand that the ACA and ACCA can be progressive of each other and the AAT).

    What route would those with any experience recommend?

  14. Pallav, The IMC is the same as the Certificate in Investment Management (CertIM) from the CISI. The CISI was until recently the Securities & Investment Institute (SII) so maybe a number of recruiters are unaware of the change. The sad thing about recruiters these days is they just follow search engines. So you may have the exact brain and social skills for a certain role but if the search term isn’t on the CV you will never be found.

    I certainly feel as though I am pigeon-holed somewhat despite having an MSc in International Business and now the CertIM. That qualification is good to have and the level is reasonable, if generally lower than the finance courses I specialised in at university. I have a lot to offer but I don’t get contacted by recruiters all the time that’s for sure – and if they do all they seem to offer me is what I am doing now rather a change. It’s not like most of us out there still relatively early in their careers don’t have the capacity to learn new skills.

    I would have to agree with the comment above that it is more who you know not what you know as in my experience I wonder if career change is even possible through recruiters these days

  15. What about the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA) certification?

  16. you can succeed without qualifications? tel it to recruiters and employers, actually it turns out, judging by job offers desrciptions, that you need at least 1 to be hired to do any job which even a sheep can do.
    Am I not right? check offers

    CIMA middle office Reply
  17. I totally disagree with this article. Qualifications are not the sine qua non of success. I did a distance learing MBA from Hull. I don’t have A levels and nor did I go to University. But I still managed to bluff my way into Market Risk.

  18. Location is king. Subject is queen.

    Recruiters want buzzword locations (e.g. London) and they want buzzword topics (e.g. MBA).

    Financial Genius Reply
  19. Series 3 and 7 also may be included

  20. @Tuson,
    I know what your problem is……………….your grammar!! Jesus Christ

    Watchin_ManU_vrs_Rangers_whilst_on_efinancialcareers Reply
  21. Botom line: become a professor. There are so many degrees and certificates, that you are sure to be able to make some money.

  22. I’d recommend CAIA

  23. i know a couple of ops guys studying for the cfa…one has no idea what vwap or twap is and the other has no attention to detail! seeing more and more ops going for the cfa and seeing them screw the first paper!

  24. Why Investment Management Certificate (IMC) awarded by CFA Society of the UK, missing in the analysis/list?!

  25. The comments from recruiters suggest they know little about any of these qualifications. I guess that says more about recruiters than the qualifications?

    Judge these qualifications on how much is learnt while studying for them. Any half-decent interviewer for a technical role will know which candidates know their stuff.

  26. here goes the world again – the do’s and the don’ts which eventually do not necessarily add value to some people. every heard of people who have worked with banks, have all this qualifications and still at some point get fed up doing the rat race and just quite? i have.

  27. The fees you have noted above for the CISI courses are inaccurate. For a exampe the CISI Investment Compliance Diploma including exam fees, without classroom tuition is in the region of 3k not the 420 noted above.

  28. i have an offer to study a masters in Management and Regulation of Risk at the LSE, but I already have a job in the FO of an IB which i can start in a yr after the masters or i can start in around 6 months …any advice on whether or not i should just do the masters and take up the job afterwards or go for a holiday and start working in 6 months….

  29. @ Watchin_ManU_vrs_Rangers_whilst_on_efinancialcareers: I’m quite pedantic, but I can’t see anything wrong with Tuson’s grammar. His/her point is also relevant and consistent with my own experience.

  30. call me a cynic but I thought China and India and all the other ’emerging markets’ were booming because they got cheap capital from the west. And of course, they have cheap labour (an epic FX trade to boot!) It has nothing to do with qualifications (or lack there of), if anything our central banking economath phds (maths vs history debate) made things worse; or perhaps its simply politically driven. Half the people in the city don’t even understand this. Huge chips on shoulders of those who didn’t make oxbridge and equivalent or were bullied at school and are trying to bolster their low self esteem through money and power.

  31. 1) The Certificate in Corporate Finance
    2) The Global Corporate Finance Qualification

    “never heard of it/them”

    Shows again how much recruiters know about the market ie not very much.

  32. A PhD in Financial Econometrics, Maths or Statistics worth much more than my MBA

  33. What is a PhD in Financial Econometrics? One in econometrics is coming up with new diagnostics

  34. you missed the CMT (chartered market technician)
    very valuable for sales & trading

  35. The CISI Diploma is marketed as equivalent to the CFA, but has made exactly zero difference to my career progression. The worst bit is that it’s actually quite hard (3 x 3 hour essay papers), but nobody seems remotely impressed by it. The CFA seems a more productive way to spend your time.

  36. MBA from London Business School, Chartered Fellow from CISI. Made any difference to me – not really.
    More important are interpersonal skills, constant delivery and keeping tight hold to the “greasy pole”. The Alex cartoon strips and Lucy Kellaway’s column in the FT provide insight that is just as relevant – and it is funny. Get a trusted mentor to help you with organisational politics, rather than hope paper qualifications will do it for you.

    The Deerhunter Reply
  37. i need to know any qualification,for experienced people, in risk and compliance (financial sector) through which a job can be secured in gulf region

  38. I would like to undertake some further study; – so advice would be welcomed.

    I am a qualified ACA within financial services.
    Which should I do CQF or CAIA?

  39. In fairness, the CFA seems to be a golden standard and I can understand why. It is a very difficult exam and well respected becuase of it. I have an MSc Finance, IMC and now a CFA but I think it is more to do with your personal skills rather than qualifications. CISI Diploma /Masters is a very well respected qualification in the UK and is actually more enjoyable than the CFA. Both are good qualifications but CFA is more recognised.

    I recommend one to pursue the IMC then CFA and that should be sufficient. And, in fairness, the recruitment consultants are ignorant – I spoke to one last week who didnt know what the CIMA qualification was and also that the SII Diploma is actually now the CISI Diploma.

    Generally, qualifications really don’t matter, I think. Also, it does not really matter what university you go to either – if you have great achievements outside of academics and a well presented CV it should be fine. Trust me, I know have helped people secure jobs with excellent CVs without big name unis.

  40. I always appreciate a good HR/recruiter. Unfortunately the one that delivered the “what recruiters say” is the industry standard of their very poor understanding. As a consequence, NETWORKING should be prioritised over (additional) qualifications. 1) Build your network 2) Get someone in the organisation who WILL recognise your qualification to vouch/ put in a good word for you (not the “never heard of it” excuse of a recruiter) and finally 3) Try to skip the bureaucracy and get an interview by leverage social/networking skills.

    On a side note – I know too many people who have been offered jobs by just talking to their interviewer about mutual interests, and only touching on job requirements. If you fit with the team culture you have a (shockingly) huge chance of getting hired.

  41. Fact: In Financial Services, a solid public school education, cut-glass accent, firm handshake and a steely eye will carry you further than anything qualifications……

    George Gallows Reply
  42. How about ACI dealing certificate/diploma. These are very relevant qualification for sales trading and the syllabus is very specific not found in text books and university courses include details of actual position management book running pricing risk macroeconomics technical analysis and regulation.

  43. Is there a masters in financial trading? like if an individual is geared to become a trader and nothing else and wants a job on the trading desk. Is there a masters in trading focusing on products, pricing, hedging, market analysis, macroeconomics, trading systems platforms, trading norms and practices and specifics of qouting, bid offer and rate making such as choosing volatility to price a option contract, and proprietary strategies.

  44. I’m interested in improving my qualifications on the field of corporate finance and financial planning.
    Is it possible to get a certification/diploma in these fields in the ICAEW in europe? Or is it better to get a CFP certification?

  45. I disagree that post-grad qualifications are luxuries rather than necessities for front office / consultancy roles. This is quite an old fashioned English view (I am English) that stopped being applicable the moment people understood that finance involved maths (inter-dealer brokers being an exception perhaps). Of course personalities have to fit, but one needs a little more than that these days. I left the UK 10 years ago and immediately realised that my BSc from LSE was wholly inadequate in a land of MSc’s (Europe), MBA/CFAs (US), and MSc/MBA/CFAs (Asia). Opinions and knowledge are just discounted immediately in many – increasingly important – circles. I responded by doing an MBA at Chicago Business School and an MSc from HEC pretty quickly, and the knowledge and branding have been invaluable. I then did the CFA and CAIA and now own run a mid sized investment management/corporate finance boutique. I would scrutinize the knowledge of someone without a post grad qualification far more after having done all this, and I’m firmly in the majority. It would also be bad for marketing for my firm as these qualifications signal detailed theoretical understandings that help to cap irrationality in all but the most extreme of circumstances. They are also increasingly expected globally, so for as long the growth of the London financial sector exceeds the growth rate predominantly English employers who don’t see these quals as a necesity, these quals will be increasingly necessary. I’d say the aforementioned employers are, in fact, on the decline. Qualifications such as the Diploma in Corporate Finance for example are incredibly good value for money – with good marketing weight in London.

  46. Have to agree with Anon. CISI Diploma is quite hard but not valued. This is partly CISI’s own fault as they have so many different qualifications. Presumably more people take the easier papers leading recruiters to think the CISI Diploma is just another test of threshold competence.

  47. I am looking at the IMC Certification, as I would like to enter the world of financial services. I am slightly conrned that I have worked in a completely different sector, and how this shall affect my success in obtaining a position in the industry. Just as a side note – I do have a B.Comm in Economics, however I have not utlized any of the maths since I graduated.

  48. Agreed great article & very true in many cases.
    In the UK experience trumps qualifications. Nice to have, but I work in compliance & no-one really has these qualifications. PWC Augment have started a lot of there staff on the CISI Investment in compliance.
    In Ireland you need to hold the ACOI the CISI equivalent. Pre 2015 most senior roles stated “must be studying towards.” Now you must hold.


  49. By far the best masters degrees are from Cass Business School.

    Financial worker Reply
  50. Hi Abdur999,

    I found your comment informative. I am looking to acquire a qualification in finance and leaning towards CFA but still assessing other qualification, as I have not worked in a financial field yet since i graduated 2 years back and looking to get into it.

    I have some questions and would appreciate if I could correspond with you via email.

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