Worried about CFA being that I was never a conventionally smart student

I really love my job in AM and want to stay in the active investments world. My job is very relaxed hour wise (40-45ish hours) but I use that to my advantage to stay active in my hobbies outside of work and social life on the weekends. But to stay in this industry and excel past the analyst part I've been told the CFA is basically a must.

That said - I went to a super non-target and found my upper level fin classes difficult. I was never a super top student and hell did really bad on my SATs. I have a friend personally who is a wiz (perfect SATs and GPA in a tough major) who gave up after failing the level 2. A lot of the people I network with internally mentioned it's severly difficult and ate up their social life and life outside of work in general which I'm not willing to sacrifice quite honestly.

Would anyone been willing to share some input with some of the specifics I've shared? These are just specifics I'm extremely uncomfortable sharing with coworkers, when they ask me about the CFA, being that they decide my fate in the role if I signal the slightest disinterest/incompetency. 

Comments (11)

Most Helpful
Oct 5, 2022 - 2:41pm
Balance.of.Payments, what's your opinion? Comment below:

The biggest difficulty is simply the breadth of the content you're expected to know for the exam. Level 1 basically summarizes most of what's covered in a finance degree. However if it's explained well, none of the topics are particularly challenging: I personally recommend Mark Meldrum's videos. Whatever you do: avoid the CFAI books, they're academic masturbation. 

Start six months in advance, go through all MM videos in the order he recommends. Do the CFAI end of chapter questions + MM question bank as you complete topics, and make sure you go back and do some practice questions on previous topics just to make sure it stays fresh. If you get a question wrong and can't understand the answer, post it on the CFA subreddit, it's very helpful. 

Yeah it's a bitch of an undertaking but I'd find it hard to believe anyone who uses this approach has a serious chance of failing. 

Oct 5, 2022 - 3:29pm
Corp_Dev_CFA, what's your opinion? Comment below:

If you want to stay in the asset management industry I would just suck it up and do it. Level 1 is not intellectually challenging but rather just a ton of information to work through. Most people who fail level 1 just simply don't make it through the material or don't take the exam seriously.

The CFA is all about practice and repetition, especially for level 1. I wouldn't bother with reading the actual CFA text, read or watch Kaplan materials then jump straight into the question bank. Drill as many practice problems as possible. Save ethics for last.

In regards to giving up your social life - you are only working 40ish hours a week so studying an extra 2 hours during the week then 3 on the weekends shouldn't be that challenging.

I am not a huge fan of the CFA program but my experience with the program has been mostly positive.

Oct 5, 2022 - 10:09pm
MrPermaBear, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I would recommend using Mark Meldrum and watching his lectures at 1.5x speed, then moving onto the qbank. Keep handwritten notes to a minimum.

As mentioned above, drilling the qbank is the main priority. If you can get through every CFAI question and MM questions after videos, you'll be in a good spot.

Oct 6, 2022 - 8:24am
Waterfalldown, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I'm about to take level 3 in February. Yes, it's a very hard curriculum. Just because your upper finance classes were hard to you, doesn't mean you will have a hard time with the cfa. It's a self study program, and you can essentially study however you feel suites you best. You already have a leg up being in AM, so the accounting sections and a few other components (equity) will be easy. Also, the reason most people fail level 1 and 2, is the lack of preparation and underestimating the difficulty of the exam. Set 1-2 hours a day before or after work to take it, and then study more on the weekends. You can do take the first two months to read the books (use Schweser), and grind questions for the rest. 6 month study period. 

Oct 6, 2022 - 11:30am
Dr. Rahma Dikhinmahas, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Your smart friend struggled with it because it's design disfavors smart people.  A lot of the stuff is arbitrary and in some cases forces you to un-learn logical thought patterns that you picked up in finance classes or in your work.  I don't remember it all now, but going through the valuation material was super frustrating as a guy who, you know, does valuation for a living.

By contrast, someone who isn't as logically driven and is more used to just doing what they're told, will probably have an easy time with it.

I don't agree at all that it's 'basically a must' if you want to stay in active management.  I assume a charterholder told you that.  A lot of top people don't have it.  In fundamental HF I'd almost call it uncommon, but there's a decent sized minority that have it.  I never sat for Level 3 after passing the first two, because I found it such a bad use of time.  It hasn't impeded me in any way.  I have yet to come across a situation where someone wanted me to have it, and I'd knock it out if I did.

That being said, I can see a case for hedging one's bets.  Maybe the US goes crazy one day and starts to care about it like Canadians do (or is it Europe?).  If you do want to sit for it, I'd say try to 80/20 it.  Find an efficient study strategy that covers the broad strokes so studying isn't such a time suck.  And consider stopping after L2 or even L1, so you can be in a position to say it's a year away if an employer cares.  

  • Analyst 1 in AM - Equities
Oct 6, 2022 - 12:02pm

Yeah your last paragraph hits home. The issue is I'm still so new to the industry and can't exactly communicate to my bosses what my interest is because it's spread out and may signal disinterest.

If I'm being honest working on a trading desk (as a TA or perhaps getting into a formal S&T program) is my priority but pursuing the CFA and staying in an analyst role buys me time and builds my brand.

If I stay here for a year or two or so without working towards the CFA I'll def be on my way out of the door involuntarily based on how aggressively they are recommending I start.

Oct 6, 2022 - 12:17pm
Dr. Rahma Dikhinmahas, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Yeah I hear that.  Do what you have to do to keep people from asking questions.  Once they get curious they never let go.

Oct 6, 2022 - 1:35pm
Sequoia, what's your opinion? Comment below:

If you want to stay in LO AM (equities / bonds), CFA is a must. There's no way around it. You really think I or anyone else wanted to sacrifice our free time & take it? As we speak I'm waiting for L3 results to come out in a few weeks. It sucks and the CFA probably won't matter in 30yrs but this next decade in LO AM it will continue to be a must-have, gold standard. Most every shop I know likes to see it or failing that a top MBA. Just the reality 

That said, if you are not married to LO AM there are plenty of other fields even within finance that don't care about it (HFs / PE / VC / Corp Fin / Corp Dev / IB / etc). So in that case it's fine for you to avoid it.

Oct 6, 2022 - 2:03pm
Impractical., what's your opinion? Comment below:

Most every shop I know likes to see it or failing that a top MBA. Just the reality

LOAM requires both of them or just one of these two? I am quite interested in LOAM, so I wish to know if I need to prepare myself early for CFA exams and top MBA programs.

Oct 8, 2022 - 2:37pm
mercilessm0nkey, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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