The CFA designation is widely considered the investment profession’s most rigorous credentialing program and has been referred to as a “gold standard” by the Economist and Financial Times, and Business Insider refers to it as “Wall Street’s Hardest Exam” (source).

See this video to find out what your investment manager had to go through in order to earn it:

In addition, members of CFA Institute (including Chartered Financial Analyst ® [CFA®] charterholders) and candidates for the CFA designation must:


  • Act with integrity, competence, diligence, respect, and in an ethical manner with the public, clients, prospective clients, employers, employees, colleagues in the investment profession, and other participants in the global capital markets.
  • Place the integrity of the investment profession and the interests of clients above their own personal interests.
  • Use reasonable care and exercise independent professional judgement when conducting investment analysis, making investment recommendations, taking investment actions, and engaging in other professional activities.
  • Practice and encourage others to practice in a professional and ethical manner that will reflect credit on themselves and the profession.
  • Promote the integrity and viability of the global capital markets for the ultimate benefit of society.
  • Maintain and improve their professional competence and strive to maintain and improve the competence of other investment professionals.

For the complete Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct, please visit

And for a Table of Contents type of look at the curriculum, known as the Candidate Body of Knowledge, here’s what Charterholders had to study (see below). Clearly, not all financial advisors are alike. Some took extraordinary steps to learn more about the investment field, passing three years of courses and 18 hours of exams to earn the CFA designation. Check out the historical pass rates here, which indicate that only 11% of candidates consecutively pass Level 1, 2, and 3 on the first try (42% pass Level 1, and of those, 46% pass Level 2, and of those, 58% pass Level 3 = 11%).


I. Ethical and Professional Standards

A. Professional Standards of Practice
B. Ethical Practices

II. Quantitative Methods

A. Time Value of Money
B. Probability
C. Probability Distributions and Descriptive Statistics
D. Sampling and Estimation
E. Hypothesis Testing
F. Correlation Analysis and Regression
G. Time-Series Analysis
H. Simulation Analysis
I. Technical Analysis

III. Economics

A. Market Forces of Supply and Demand
B. The Firm and Industry Organization
C. Measuring National Income and Growth
D. Business Cycles
E. The Monetary System
F. Inflation
G. International Trade and Capital Flows
H. Currency Exchange Rates
I. Monetary and Fiscal Policy
J. Economic Growth and Development
K. Effects of Government Regulation
L. Impact of Economic Factors on Investment Markets

IV. Financial Reporting and Analysis

A. Financial Reporting System (with an emphasis on IFRS)
B. Analysis of Principal Financial Statements
C. Financial Reporting Quality
D. Analysis of Inventories and Long-Lived Assets
E. Analysis of Taxes
F. Analysis of Debt
G. Analysis of Off-Balance-Sheet Assets and Liabilities
H. Analysis of Pensions, Stock Compensation, and Other Employee Benefits
I. Analysis of Inter-Corporate Investments
J. Analysis of Business Combinations
K. Analysis of Global Operations
L. Ratio and Financial Analysis

V. Corporate Finance

A. Corporate Governance
B. Dividend Policy
C. Capital Investment Decisions
D. Business and Financial Risk
E. Capital Structure Decisions
F. Working Capital Management
G. Mergers and Acquisitions and Corporate Restructuring

VI. Equity Investments

A. Types of Equity Securities and Their Characteristics
B. Equity Markets: Characteristics and Institutions
C. Equity Portfolio Benchmarks
D. Valuation of Individual Equity Securities
E. Fundamental Analysis (Sector, Industry, Company)
F. Equity Market Valuation and Return Analysis
G. Closely Held Companies and Inactively Traded Securities
H. Equity Portfolio Management Strategies

VII. Fixed Income

A. Types of Fixed-Income Securities and Their Characteristics
B. Fixed-Income Markets: Characteristics & Institutions
C. Fixed Income Portfolio Benchmarks
D. Fixed-Income Valuation (Sector, Industry, Company) and Return Analysis
E. Term Structure Determination and Yield Spreads
F. Analysis of Interest Rate Risk
G. Analysis of Credit Risk
H. Valuing Bonds with Embedded Options
I. Structured Products
J. Fixed-Income Portfolio Management Strategies

VIII. Derivatives

A. Types of Derivative Instruments and Their Characteristics
B. Forward Markets and Valuation of Forward Contracts
C. Futures Markets and Valuation of Futures Contracts
D. Options Markets and Valuation of Option Contracts
E. Swaps Markets and Valuation of Swap Contracts
F. Credit Derivatives Markets and Instruments
G. Uses of Derivatives in Portfolio Management

IX. Alternative Investments

A. Types of Alternative Investments and Their Characteristics
B. Real Estate Valuation
C. Private Equity/Venture Capital Valuation
D. Hedge Fund Strategies
E. Distressed Securities/Bankruptcies
F. Commodities and Managed Futures
G. Alternative Investment Management Strategies
G. Collectibles

X. Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning

A. The Investment Policy Statement
B. Modern Portfolio Management Concepts
C. Behavioral Finance
D. Management of Individual/Family Investor Portfolios
E. Management of Institutional Investor Portfolios
F. Investment Manager Selection
G. Economic Analysis and Setting Capital Market Expectations
H. Tax Efficiency Strategies
I. Asset Allocation
J. Portfolio Construction and Revision
K. Risk Management
L. Execution of Portfolio Decisions (Trading)
M. Performance Evaluation
N. Presentation of Performance Results

*Note: The CBOK Topic Outline was updated July 2014.

(Posted September 8, 2014)

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