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CFA Vs MBA? Here’s Why You Should Do Both

Find out how CFA-holders can benefit from doing an MBA, and why MBA-holders can benefit from taking CFA exams too

Mon Mar 25 2019

CFA vs MBA. It is one of the most hotly-debated questions in financial training circles: should you get an MBA degree or become a CFA charter-holder by passing all three levels of the “Chartered Financial Analyst” exams?

There is some overlap between the two qualifications, but they serve different markets. Traditionally, an MBA was viewed as a stepping stone to a wide array of senior management roles, as it teaches broad leadership skills. In contrast, the CFA exams are more technical than MBAs, making them more relevant to specialist finance roles, such as asset management.

Why should CFA holders do an MBA?

The two credentials are not mutually exclusive however, according to Stephen Thomas, professor of finance at London’s Cass Business School. He says charter-holders can...

MBA to develop leadership skills. That could help them move into senior investment management positions.

“The CFA is the gold standard for careers in investment management and analysis, giving one tools to analyse securities and construct investment solutions,” says Stephen, who sits on the examinations committee of CFA Institute, the investment professionals’ association that awards CFA charters.

“The MBA offers a much broader church of general management. An MBA can be a wonderful complement to CFA for those wanting to manage investment businesses.”


Steven Young, professor of finance at Lancaster University Management School (pictured), argues that CFA tests are much more valuable for entry-level finance roles. “Most financial services employers place greater emphasis on technical training and regulatory knowledge for these roles,” he says.

It makes sense to take CFA exams early in a career because a good quality MBA usually requires several years of work experience, he adds.

Stephen Horan, the CFA Institute’s managing director of credentialing, agrees. “If you want to work in the investment field and ultimately want to end up in management; start with CFA, work for a few years, and then do the MBA.”

The self-study nature of the CFA means it often takes over five years to achieve the qualification.

Should MBAs do the CFA too?

However, a CFA charter could still be valuable for MBA alumni who wish to develop specialist technology skills, according to Lancaster’s Steven.

The tests have been revamped to meet demand from employers for practical fintech skills. They include questions on big data, artificial intelligence, algorithmic and high-frequency trading.

Traditional asset managers have come under pressure from low-cost passive funds to deliver market-beating returns. They have joined quantitative hedge funds in using data analysis and machine learning.  “As the technical demands placed on financial market professionals increase, there’s a danger that MBA programs [that don’t teach fintech skills] will be considered less relevant to the sector,” Steven continues.

To ensure relevancy, some business schools are beginning to integrate elements of CFA into the MBA syllabus. Concordia University’s Goodman Institute of Investment Management in Toronto, for instance, runs an MBA in Investment Management that prepares students to sit all three levels of CFA exams.

Yet few other schools offer this, because it is difficult to condense the complex CFA syllabus into MBA programs, which usually run for one or two years. Concordia’s course lasts for three.

Accordingly, obtaining an MBA and the CFA charter would require a massive of investment of money and time, notes Tom Robinson, CEO of AACSB International, the business school accreditor. The three CFA exams require more than 300 hours of study, and most candidates fail at each stage. A two-year MBA from a top US school will cost upwards of $140,000 in tuition fees alone.

“But both the MBA and CFA tests have a high return on investment,” says Tom, a former director at CFA Institute. Indeed, many charter-holders secure jobs at big global banks, such as JPMorgan, UBS or Bank of America.

Meanwhile, over 20 years, MBA alumni earn between $500,000 and $1 million more than those without an MBA or advanced business qualification, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council.

With these tangible returns, some budding money managers may consider an investment in both an MBA and the CFA charter worth it.

Student Reviews

Bayes Business School




On Campus

Best Journalism school in Europe

When I first stepped onto the campus of City, University of London, I knew I was in for a ride - and not just on the Tube! With its vibrant energy and an impressive repertoire of programs, City U became my home away from home. The Journalism program was kind of a big deal. Rumour was that we were the best in Europe! The lecturers were not just experts in their field; they’re practically journalistic royalty. They were invested, passionate, and had a knack for turning the most flat press release into a riveting news story. With their guidance, I’ve learned to navigate the chaotic world of media like a pro. The campus was a melting pot of every culture, being that we had such a diverse international crowd. Being in the heart of London, I had the world at my fingertips - there was always a new corner to explore, a hidden gem of a cafe to discover, or a street performer! City, University of London wasn't just a university; it was a chapter in my life story that I’ll never forget.




On Campus

Learning environment

The teacher-learner ration is manageable, giving each learner a chance to gain personal attention. It is also easier following up on the progress of a student, as the numbers per class is not large. the conducive environment for learning includes clean classes, standard desks, world class instructional facilities and the opportunity to engage lecturers even after their sessions. The team spirit at City is above board, with learners getting chance to learn both from instructors and colleagues. This is the university of choice; the place to be.




On Campus


I liked that each class had a manageable number of learners, making the professor-learner ratio favor knowledge acquisition. I also liked that study schedules were manageable, and not overwhelming. The focus on talents and gifts even within the learning environment makes it possible for learners to achieve the best of their potential, and this has worked to the advantage of those that have schooled at City, University of London




On Campus


The diversity at City University facilitates interactions and is a direction toward the unity of the world. The classes are well built to match the number and needs of all students regardless of the elements of diversity that set people apart. The use of technology in delivery makes learning even more interesting and achievable. At City University there is no distinction pegged on the issues that make people unique.




On Campus


The team of lecturers at the Uiversity are well experienced. Their level of insight and the methodologies of delivery works for the interes of the leaeners. My learning experience was largely boosted by the level of knowledge of the professors at the institution, and their passion to transfer the same to learners. I appreciate every class I attended because of the level of insight I was able to gather




On Campus

The best university I’ve been to

The campus and the people I've met have made it a wonderful experience. I was reared in a small town with a graduating class of only 88 individuals, so moving to City University was a huge adjustment for me. My dorm has more residents than my whole high school combined! I enjoy the atmosphere here, and everyone is so friendly. Outstanding academic options and a stunning campus. Really great from beginning to end. The educators genuinely love what they do, and the students are ready to learn. On or around college, there is always something to do with friends, and the social scene is particularly warm.




On Campus

Bayes Business School

As a student at City university attending Bayes Business School I would totally recommend choosing this university as the experience is exceptional with great social networking opportunities . Professors are significantly helpful, delivering with excellence and professionalism. Everyone is happy to help and make you feel welcomed in such an esteem university as City, offering exceptional development and guidance through out the course.




On Campus

Economics and Politics

Incredibly amazing university, the way they polish students and help them boost their morale and think intellectually is worthwhile. Many universities have international partnerships to allow exchanges between their students. The most obvious subjects for these opportunities would be those that involve languages, and the study of people and places.




On Campus

Clinical biology

I really like it it’s perfect for me with not too many people and not too few either. All the modules are amazing. I love the toy bar. I love all the societies that I’ma part of. Especially the colour Bollywood society