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CFA’s Growing Popularity Rivals Business School Finance Programs

7.5% increase in CFA takers highlights growing threat to traditional finance degrees

Wed Sep 16 2015

CFA Institute, the global association of investment professionals, announced a 7.5% increase in UK takers of the Chartered Financial Analyst exams, highlighting the growing threat to business school degrees.

An MBA was once the choice qualification for anyone hoping to work on Wall Street or in the City of London. But investment professionals are increasing opting instead for CFA, whose rigorous curricula and complexity of study have placed a premium on charter holders.

CFA Institute said that 57,500 candidates passed Level I, II, and III of the Chartered Financial Analyst exams, with a 7.5% increase in exams sat in the UK.

This builds on a momentous increase over the past several years. Comparatively some business schools have struggled to maintain enrolment numbers over the global financial crisis that erupted in 2008. In 2003, around 50,000 candidates sat CFA exams. In 2014, 160,000 candidates did.

“The main area of growth we’ve seen over the seven years [since the crisis] is in relation to CFA training,” said Steven Young, head of the accounting and finance department at Lancaster University Management School.

But he played down the competition between the CFA Institute and business schools, saying: “CFA exams test a different skill set to our exams. They focus primarily on application and technique rather than theory and concepts.”

However Viet Ha Tran, a senior associate director for IE Business School’s Master in Finance programs, said that CFA exams are “quite theoretical”.

She added that degree programs at the Spanish business school will “apply these concepts into the real situation of the capital markets”.

Bo Becker at the Stockholm School of Economics, admitted there now are multiple ways to develop skills to work in the financial sector.

But he added: “Academic education, especially at very selective schools…Is a unique way to acquire expertise of a depth and rigor and of a sustainable long-term value, which has proven its worth for millennia.”

To earn the CFA charter, candidates must sequentially pass three six-hour exams that are widely considered to be the most rigorous in the investment world, and accrue four years of relevant work experience. On average, candidates report spending in excess of 300 hours of study to prepare for each level.

Of 27,468 candidates who sat the Level III CFA exam in June 2015, just 53% passed.

Enthusiasm around the exams has prompted business schools to partner with the CFA Institute and incorporate elements of its program into their degree courses.

Alex Stremme, assistant dean for MSc Finance at Warwick Business School, said that the school is working closely with the CFA Institute on curriculum development, such as around ethics.  

“We do not see the CFA as competition but as a partner, in the sense that we both focus on the same set of skills and knowledge but offer slightly different angles,” he said.

At Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, the Master of Finance program is a member of the CFA Institute’s University Recognition Program, said Dr Julia Knobbe, program director.

“Our students are very attracted by this and many of them sit CFA exams while pursuing their degree.”

Tom Robinson, chief executive officer of AACSB International, the business school accrediting body, said there is a growing need for specialist finance programs.

“Global markets, financial products, and regulation are constantly evolving,” he said. “Students must acquire the right knowledge, skills and abilities to distinguish themselves from other candidates in a competitive marketplace.”

CFA Institute has more than 125,000 charter holders globally, who work in some of the most prominent financial institutions, including JP Morgan Chase, HSBC, and Citi.

Markets with the largest number of CFA candidates are the US (30,715), China (21,057), India (10,651), Canada (10,651), the UK (8,746), Hong Kong (5,189), and Singapore (3,193).

Student Reviews

Frankfurt School of Finance & Management




Modern and global

Frankfurt School provided me with one of the best experiences of my life. I was an Erasmus student for a semester and could learn a lot. I took some mainstream courses like marketing and supply chain management, but also some innovative courses like applied persuasion and event planning. The professors are not only germans but from different parts of the world, mostly with international experience. The student life is great, the FS Bulls are a great community that is definitely worth being a part of. The best part is the campus, newly built with ultra modern architecture located in on the of the best neighbourhoods in Frankfurt am Main. You can find accomodation right next to it, many student residences at a fair price.




Career Oriented

I am a first year at the Frankfurt School and have been a prt of it for only a month; however, I can say for sure that the university provides its students with all the opportunities to grow professionally and personally. The majority of the professors are or have been successful professionals who easily relate the course material with real life and make lectures enjoyable. The extra curricular activities provided by the university are also a great step to life after graduation and give a head start for the students career.




University giving its students education of high quality and career prospects.

This university has helped me gain knowledge and experiences, that I lacked in my home country. Being in a great international surrounding, I have the opportunity to prosper and learn every day. The study program is very engaging, and the lecturers help you grow.





I’m a bachelor student at Frankfurt School of Finance and Management and my overall experience was better than I expected. The classes have a small number of students, which makes the relationship with the professor better because they become easier to approach. During my years of study, I had both practical and theoretical classes, like innovation management, big data & analytics, econometrics. But the theories and concepts are directly applied to real-life problems due to many professors working in banks or consultancies, which is really good. FS supports students in finding internships and semesters abroad, but when it comes to housing not so much because it’s not that easy in Frankfurt. FS offers dorms, but it is only to a limited amount of students and the facilities aren’t the best. In terms of student organizations, there are a lot of different sport clubs for almost every kind of sport, also student consulting, student investment club, student politics club, music, arts, etc. Living in Frankfurt is good, it is very multicultural in Germany, with lots of cultural actives, museums, parks, etc. The nightlife is also nice with proper nightclubs compared to the size of the city, Gibson, Velvet, Adlib to name a few, and there also is a bar district in Alt-Sachsenhausend and a lot of bars where bankers go in the city center. The campus is not really comparable to an actual campus like the American universities, but it’s a big modern building that was built 2 years ago. I would definitely recommend it to a friend if you're willing to pay that much for uni, because there are still a lot of public unis in Germany that are comparably good (Mannheim, Goethe, LMU Munich...).