What’s the perfect age to earn your CFA charter?

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the passing of time

It’s a question that’s asked multiple times per year in every CFA forum. When exactly should you embark on the time-intensive journey toward getting your CFA, and at what age are you too old or too young to earn your charter? The answer, of course, will always be subjective based on each person and their career arc. But when looking at the hard data and combing through the forums, one specific trend appears. Candidates are skewing younger…and older.

We asked the CFA Institute to put together the average age of candidates who registered for each of the three levels of the exam over the last five years. Note that Level I data combines both June and December exams (Level II and III are only offered in June). As you’ll notice, the average age of candidates who are working toward their CFA is getting younger, though maybe not quite to the degree that the current narrative would suggest. For Level I exams in 2013, the average age of test takers was 27.2. Five years later, that number fell to 26.6 – a difference of around seven months. (Though this only includes the June exam for 2018; the average age for December test takers ticked slightly higher – between 0.2 and 0.3 years – from 2013 through 2017).

For Level II, the average age at registration has dropped from 28.6 to 28.1 over the last five years. Meanwhile, the average for Level III has remained very consistent for much of the last half-decade – around 30 years of age – before dropping to 29.7 this past June. This could be due to the 47% pass rate among Level II candidates in 2017, the highest rate in a dozen years.

Looking through several CFA Analyst Forums and Reddit feeds, it’s clear that more candidates are registering at a very early age – with many taking Level I during their senior year (the earliest possible time allowed) or soon after graduation. Several colleges and universities have incorporated CFA curriculum into their own courses following an effort by the CFA Institute to ingratiate themselves with undergrad programs. In one recent forum that included around 80 responses, six people age 24 or younger said they were sitting for the Level III exam, meaning they began the process immediately out of school and likely didn’t fail the first two levels.

However, the CFA isn’t just a young person's game. Eight candidates noted in the same forum that they were over the age of 45, with five acknowledging that they were 50 years or older. One said he was 60. “I can’t remember seeing people of that age when I sat for Level III,” two decades ago, said one CFA charterholder who is now a banking recruiter. That said, he understands why some older candidates are currently going through the process. “It’s getting more difficult to get a job offer when you are 55 or 60 years old. People who may be out of work are doing what they need to do to differentiate themselves.”

So while a greener generation without applicable work experience is filling up more seats, so it seems are industry veterans who want to get or keep a job in a market that’s become increasingly difficult for baby boomers. In some cases, they are doing it for the same reason. More than a quarter (26%) of all CFA candidates are students or are unemployed, according to a recent CFA Institute study. Even though they can’t earn their charter without 48 months of professional investment management experience, fresh faces are taking the CFA to help improve their resume to find a job in the first place, according to several forum responses – a move some of the older guard doesn’t quite agree with.

A few asked how a 23-year-old was already sitting for Level III. Their response: “I was done with college when I was 21, I don’t work because I can’t study and work at the same time, trying for internships now after clearing L2, don’t care about friends, I like being alone, and I’ve got a nuclear family, just me and my parents. So no problem at all.”

“Red flag times 10, would never hire,” was one of the cleaner responses.

Roughing it in your 30s

Another possible reason for the recent polarization of age when it comes to the CFA is the lifestyle issues associated with the 900 or so hours of studying that are needed to pass all three levels. People who are in their late 20s and 30s who are more likely to have young children while still working long hours don’t have the free time of students, the unemployed and people whose children have already grown up. In another recent forum titled “CFA with Kids,” Level III candidates and charterholders universally agreed that they couldn’t have done it without an extremely supportive spouse and family.

“I passed CFA L3…with a wife and 4 kids. And like most have mentioned…all credit goes to the supportive spouse for sure!” said one. Another responded, dryly: “I have 2 kids. Couldn’t imagine doing this with 4. I’d need another wife…”

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: btuttle@efinancialcareers.com

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