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How old is too old to be bothered with the CFA exams?

People taking the CFA exam are pretty young these days

If you're looking for a qualification to embellish your financial services CV, the exams by the CFA Institute are a good place to start, Every year, over a hundred thousand people globally sit for the three part 'CFA Program.'  Many of them then go on to get jobs at leading investment banks. 

However, is it worth starting the CFA Program if you're no longer in the first flush of youth? Maybe not.

If you're aged 30+, you're a CFA outlier 

The CFA Program isn't easy. Every exam requires 300 hours of study, which is tough when you also have a job and a family.

In 2014, the CFA Institute tells us that the average CFA I candidate was aged 26.5, that the average CFA II was aged 28.2 and that the average CFA III candidate was aged 29.7.

If you're embarking upon the CFA Level 1 aged 30+, you are therefore 'old'. If you're embarking on the CFA Level 1 aged 40+, you will feel like a dinosaur when you reach the exam room.

The CFA is becoming an accreditation pursued by students

You cannot achieve the full CFA Charter without adhering to the CFA Institute's work experience requirements. These say that you must have 48 months of relevant work experience (with relevant defined here).

This hasn't stopped students with no relevant work experience from sitting the CFA exams as part of their university courses. In fact, the CFA has actively promoted its exams as part of university degree courses. There are over 150 universities worldwide with integrated CFA examinations as part of their academic offerings.

The upshot of this is that the CFA exams are becoming a student-thing. And as a result, the age of candidates taking the CFA exams is falling - especially CFA Level I. In 2009, the average CFA Level I candidate was aged 27.4. They're now a whole year younger. Equally, as the chart below, taken from the CFA's own website, shows, students now account for nearly a quarter of all CFA exam candidates.

CFA for students

Source: CFA Institute

"If you have a wife and family, there are better uses for your time..."

One 40-something ex-analyst who took the CFA Level I exam told us he hasn't bothered with Level II due to the enormous time commitment required. "Once you have a wife and family, a house and kids, there are just better ways of spending your time," he said.

"The CFA exams are becoming a rite of passage for people in their 20s who have nothing going on," he added.

This particular ex-analyst took the CFA exams while he was between jobs as something to add to his CV. Now he's in work again, but he said the CFA pass didn't do much to make him more employable: "No one's ever been overtly impressed by my first time pass."

This may come as no great surprise to others who've passed CFA exams too. The Institute's June 2014 Candidate Survey found that while 47% of candidates were taking the CFA to advance their career and improve their chances of finding a job, the majority were taking the exams for more nebulous reasons like 'attaining a higher level of knowledge,' 'challenging themselves', or joining a community of globally respected finance professionals.

"I came out knowing a lot of random stuff about accounting and investing which I wouldn't have known otherwise," complained the ex-banker. "But it's not easy and the time requirement is frankly insane."


AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Th
    The Dude
    10 October 2018

    I got my MBA in Finance from an R1 public university and a BA in Mathematics from another R1 public unversity in the same system. These are top tier universities, and in my 20+ years working I've never had anyone get impressed enough to give me the keys to the vault. The CFA isn't any better - the more "kids" that get into the designation, the less valuable it is...experience is what counts.

  • Ba
    9 January 2017

    @Kanwaljeet- I think your comment will help me.. am almost 31 and have cleared my L1 two years back.was wondering if its worth to go further with L2 and 3 as am working in back office in broking firm. I know for sure that Knowledge is something cant be beaten; level 1 was an example I hope achieving CFA charter does help me ahead in my career

  • Ka
    31 October 2016

    I have just completed my CFA @ 36, while I was thinking I was too old for CFA, but reading in the others comments on this blog gives me a sense of being not that old to have earned a CFA title. Well CFA as we all know, does give a lot of creditability to the person's resume, it definitely helps attaining a huge ocean of knowledge and is an incredible testing mechanism to challenge your own abilities. I work in a back office in a private equity firm and want to get to the front end. I am trying my level best and hope I will be able to break in one day. Those of my age having family (with kids!!), mind you its tough to find time to study but I believe with sheer hard work, dedication, personal sacrifice of your family members you will surely be able to crack it. So all the very best!!

  • Eu
    15 May 2016

    Hi to all on this forum/blog. I am a 45+ with an MBA, Bachelors Acc degree and a Hons Bachelors Investment Management degree (2y post graduate degree program) (content similar to CFA Level 1). I now work in the area where finance and IT converge, spent many years prior in Investment and Corporate Banking, advised on structured finance, large project finance deals and originated and sold corporate bond issues to institutional investors and running funding bids with large banks on projects. I always wanted to to do my CFA. However, as many point out, life, family etc. may not afford one the required hours needed to study the material. I feel perhaps now is the time to embark on obtaining my CFA designation, now that the kids are older. Any views and suggestions? I am not looking to up may pay scale by obtaining my CFA. However, would CFA be helpful to broaden job and project prospects going forward. I look fwd to hearing your views.

  • Al
    Aleg Whitfield
    1 April 2016

    That's the right spirit.
    After all finance knowledge is good.
    Age does not matter at all.
    The most important is what you intend to do with it.

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