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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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