CFA vs MBA? It’s a question that many financial professionals face as they develop their career.
Every year, more than 240,000 people take a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam, making it one of the most popular finance certificates in the world. Covering topics from corporate finance to quantitative techniques, the CFA program teaches the skills required to work in investment.
To break into this highly competitive industry and succeed, though, you might also benefit from a broader set of skills, offered by qualifications like the MBA.
For Alice Sany, choosing a program that brought MBA and CFA together was the ideal solution.
After studying an MBA in Investment Management at the John Molson School of Business, she was able to transition from direct brokerage to an investment banking role.
A tailored CFA course
According to Rahul Ravi, associate professor, chair of the department of finance, and director of the Goodman Institute of Investment Management at John Molson, the MBA in Investment Management is tailored to students who, like Alice, want a career in the world of investment.
“A general MBA does not equip you with all the tools you need for Investment Management,” he notes.
The three year program prepares students to write Levels I, II and III of the CFA exams, while offering a selection of management courses such as marketing and organizational behavior.
“It forces you to be more versatile,” Rahul explains. “Working in investment, you need to be able to switch gears from dealing with numbers and calculations to soft skills like negotiation.”
Alice, who graduated from the Goodman Institute in 2019, used the program to transition into her dream industry: investment banking. Soon after graduating, she secured an analyst role with Canaccord Genuity.
Prior to the MBA, Alice worked with HSBC, as an assistant manager in the direct brokerage department. Although she enjoyed the work, she found herself drawn to the deep analysis and client-facing aspects of investment banking.
Knowing how competitive the sector can be, she felt that the dual qualification would give her the best possible chance of securing a role.
This fact, coupled with the knowledge that many banks hire directly from business schools, confirmed her decision to attend an on-campus program rather than studying the CFA alone.
A flexible program
Despite being conducted on-campus rather than self-taught, Alice was impressed with her MBA’s flexibility. The course-load counts as a full-time program, but it’s delivered on a part-time basis.
With classes Wednesday evenings and Saturdays, students can continue to work full-time as they study. This was important for Alice, who didn’t want to lose out on years’ experience while she studied.
The fact that classes were offered in both Montreal and Toronto was also appealing. “It’s useful because I often travelled to Toronto for work,” she explains. “Toronto is a huge financial market, so it’s good to be able to study there.”
A practical curriculum
Traditionally, the CFA program is undertaken by professionals who are already in the investment industry, but John Molson’s Investment Management program accepts students without work experience.
This is because the program is designed to act as a stepping stone, supporting students into the world of investment. Along with a case study based curriculum, students can also access career counsellors, who can help them work out a feasible career plan.
“Pretty much every aspect of preparing for your career is covered, from interviews to salary negotiation,” Rahul reveals.
Students in the program also benefit from an outstanding alumni network and tight-knit community. Founded in 2001, the Goodman Institute boasts alumni in senior positions who regularly share advice and career opportunities with their alma mater.
Building a post CFA-career
This practical focus helped Alice to build the experience she needed to begin her investment banking career, she says.
“The case studies we looked at were really outstanding,” she notes, “and doing financial models and performing analyses are things that I apply in my work every day.”
Along with these technical abilities, the program also helped Alice and her peers to develop the soft skills necessary for a successful investing career.
Rahul notes that these vital skills wouldn’t be developed through a CFA alone. “Although students in the Investment Management MBA are building a career in finance, if they’re not able to speak to a person they won’t go far. You need to have those soft skills,” he emphasises.
For others hoping to enter the capital market, Alice recommends the program highly.
“I don’t think I would have ever been able to enter the industry and get the job that I wanted without the MBA,” she says. “It opens a lot of opportunities if you’re interested in Investment Management.”