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Qualifications that will get you a banking job after lockdown

If you're thinking of breaking into banking, you've probably thought about studying for a CFA qualification. You've probably also contemplated an MBA. Both are popular among financial services professionals looking to get ahead. Both are also broad-ranging qualifications which apply across a range of financial services jobs. And in the case of MBAs at least, some banks have special 'associate entry programs' for hiring MBAs from top business schools. 

However, there are plenty of other financial services-relevant qualifications out there. Many are more specific than the CFA or the MBA and focus on particular areas of the finance industry. Most aren't mandatory - in the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) scrapped obligatory qualifications for investment bankers back in 2007.

These alternative qualifications aren't guaranteed to get you a job - but then neither is the CFA Charter or an MBA? Best of all, they're cheap - especially compared to the huge tuition fees at top business schools.

If you want to work in banking, but aren't fixated on the front office and are prepared to look beyond the standard acronyms, these are the qualifications you should look out for:

1. The CISI Diploma in Investment Compliance

Run by: The Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment

What they say: 'The Diploma in Investment Compliance is a global qualification that offers a clear career pathway for compliance specialists and practitioners. Achieving this qualification, will provide you with the confidence of possessing a thorough understanding of the financial services regulatory environment both in the UK and internationally.'

Entry requirements: You'll have to study the 'Introduction to Securities and Investment Banking First. ' 

Cost: £500 if you only pay the exam fee and buy the study materials. Closer to £2k if you also pay for tuition.

Study time: 476 hours in total. You need to pass three different units. 

Pass rate: Around 70%.

What we say:  Said to be global, but the CISI diploma is best known in the UK market. It might help get you an interview, but it's very unusual for a job to specify the diploma as a prerequisite.

COVID-19 situation: Test centres are closed, but preparations are being made for remote exams and invigliation.

2. The ICA Certificate in Compliance

Run by: The International Compliance Association. Run in association with the University of Manchester Business School.

What they say: 'A practical, introductory-level course that will give you a solid understanding of core compliance issues.'

Entry requirements: 'Sound educational background' and 'good written English.'

Cost: £615 for online tuition only.

Study time:  You have three months to pass the course.

Pass rate: Not provided.

What we say: An entry-level certificate in compliance. UK-centric. After you've completed the general introduction you can move onto more specialist courses, also provided by the ICA. 

COVID-19 situation: Not specified.

3. The Fixed Income Certificate (formerly the International Fixed Income and Derivatives Program) 

Run by: The International Capital Markets Association.

What they say: 'This is a demanding qualification aimed at developing a broad and in-depth knowledge of the key fixed income instruments and markets.'

Entry requirements:  There are no specific requirements, but the presumption is that you'll already be working in banking - either in a front office role, or in a support function.  You can take a sample paper here to see if it's right for you.

Cost: £3,450 for ICMA members and  £4,450 for non-members.

Study time: The classroom based version of the programme is delivered as a one week course across Europe.

Pass rate:  Not provided.

What we say:  Not mandatory, but IFID is known among fixed income traders and portfolio managers in London. Often used by back office people trying to gain product knowledge and move into the middle office. Again, less common in Asia and the U.S.

COVID-19 situation: May exam is postponed.

4. The CISI Diploma in Capital Markets

Run by: The Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment

What they say: 'Offers individuals the opportunity to gain specialist knowledge of financial markets, bonds and fixed income, financial derivatives and fund management....It is ideal for practitioners pursuing careers in treasury and financial controlling functions, private equity and venture capital, brokerage, asset management, equity analysis, portfolio management, fixed income analysis, fund management, financial consulting, financial risk management, investor relations, internal audit and specialist financial operations.'

Entry requirements: There are no formal entry requirements. But most candidates will have a degree.

Cost: The exam fee alone is nearly £1k. The cost will depend upon whether you simply buy study books or pay for online tuition.

Study time: 508 hours. Typically takes between 18 months and two years to achieve.

Pass rate: 44% to 80%, depending upon the papers you take.

What we say: Very rarely specified in job descriptions. Popular among back and middle office (including compliance) staff who want to learn more about the products they're dealing with.

5. The CQF (Certificate in Quantitative Finance) 

Run by: Fitch but founded by Paul Wilmott, a well known quant.

What they say: The CQF is, "The CQF is for anyone who wants an efficient and cost effective way to develop practical mastery of quant finance and machine learning, while also earning a globally recognized qualification."

Entry requirements: You'll need to be (very) good at mathematics. But they offer mathematics, coding and finance primers

Cost: Around £13k. 

Study time: Fifteen hours per week (delivered in the form of two 2.5 hour long weekly CQF lectures, delivered via webcast) for six months, plus 10 hours of additional study time. Flexible options are also available. You can learn about the program here. 

Pass rate: Not provided.

What we say: The CQF has good international recognition and will sometimes be specified on job descriptions. It's good if you want a risk modelling or model testing role, or if you want to be a quantitative developer building computer models for the quants who design banks' complex derivative products. Most 'front office quants' will have a PhD or an MSc. It's less well known in the worlds of data analysis and machine learning.

6. Series 7 (Full name: the General Securities Representative Exam) 

Run by: The U.S. Financial Industry Regulation Authority. (FINRA)

What they say: 'The General Securities Representative Qualification Examination (GS) — assesses the competency of an entry-level registered representative to perform their job as a general securities representative. The exam measures the degree to which each candidate possesses the knowledge needed to perform the critical functions of a general securities representative, including sales of corporate securities, municipal securities, investment company securities, variable annuities, direct participation programs, options and government securities.' [In other words, this is mandatory. You have to pass the Series 7 if you want to work in sales or trading - but only if you want to work in the U.S.)

Entry requirements: You have to be working for a FINRA-member firm and they have to sponsor you. Series 7 isn't really open to anyone...If you've been working in the UK, you might be allowed to skip some of the modules. 

Cost: Employers usually pay.

Study time: You'll probably need to study for 1-2 hours per day for six to eight weeks.

Pass rate: Around 65%..

What we say: You'll have to have the Series 7 in the U.S. Hardly anyone has it in London or Hong Kong - unless they've transferred from Wall Street.

COVID-19 situation: Finra is moving towards offering an online test delivery service, planned for May 24, 2020. 

7.  'Risk in financial services'

Run by: The Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment

What they say: 'Risk in Financial Services is suitable for risk and compliance teams, branch management, corporate lawyers, finance officers, senior managers of all disciplines and existing and aspiring non-executive directors..' 

Entry requirements:  None given. However, the presumption is that you'll be working in risk or compliance already.

Cost: Expect to pay around £300+ in exam fees. Or, £1.3k+ if you want tuition.

Study time: 100. An extra 70 hours if you want to supplement it with 'UK Financial Regulation'. Some training providers off a three day intensive course.

Pass rate: Thought to be around 62%.

What we say: Rare.

COVID-19 situation: Test centres are closed, but preparations are being made for remote exams and invigliation.

8. 'Professional Risk Manager Qualification' (PRM)

Run by: The Professional Risk Managers' International Association (PRMIA)

What they say: 'The PRM Program is a series of certification exams, designed to measure the knowledge of professional risk managers and ensure they meet a specific performance standard in their profession.'

Entry requirements: You'll need some work experience: 4 years if you don't have a bachelor degree, two years if you do, and no work experience at all if you've been to graduate school of have passed an 'accepted professional designation' like the CFA.

Cost: $1k (minimum).

Study time: Candidates are required to pass four exams, varying in length from one to two hours. All four exams must be taken within a two year period, starting the date you pass your first exam.

Pass rate: 65% overall, but 59% for exams I and III and 78% for exam IV.

What we say: A well recognized international qualification. Often specified as a prerequisite for risk jobs in the U.S.

COVID-19 situation: Guidance is available on a country by country basis.

9. 'The Financial Risk Manager's Qualification' (FRM)

Run by: The Global Association of Risk Professionals (GARP)

What they say: 'Recognized in every major market, the FRM is the leading certification for risk managers.'

Entry requirements: To be able to use the FRM designation, you'll need at least two years' work experience in risk management, trading, portfolio management, academia, industry research, economics, auditing, risk consulting or risk technology.

Cost: $825-$1,125

Study time:  240 hours on average, 400 max, for part 1.

Pass rate:  Around 42% for part 1, 61% for part 2.

What we say: Popular qualification for risk managers, valuation specialists and product consultants in the U.S.. Recognized globally. Often specified alongside the PRM. You can see all the people who have the qualification, and what they do here. 

COVID-19 situation: Not clear.

10. 'International Certificate in Financial Services Risk Management'

Run by: The Institute of Risk Management

What they say: 'The International Certificate in Financial Services Risk Management has been updated in response to international regulatory developments such as Basel III and Solvency II which require that financial services companies and their staff have a broader understanding of risk management.'

Entry requirements: None in particular. -'The qualification is the entry level qualification for anyone embarking on a career in risk management or working in a risk-related discipline.' Equivalent to degree level.

Cost: £1.9k to £2k.

Study time: Six to nine months through 'supported distance learning.' Up to 400 hours.

Pass rate: Not clear. But the pass mark is 50%.

What we say: Rarely seen in job descriptions.

COVID-19 situation: Not clear.

11. The Diploma in Corporate Finance 

Run by: The ICAEW in combination with the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment.

What they say: 'The syllabus has been developed by corporate financiers to ensure it is work related and transaction-oriented.'

Entry requirements: You'll usually need to have passed the ICAEW's Chartered Accountancy exams or to have a Certificate in Corporate Finance.

Cost: £721 in exam fees, more if you want to pay for tuition.

Study time: On average, 507 hours of study are needed. It's 'achievable within a year.'

Pass rate: Thought to be around 69%.

What we say: Not very well known outside Europe. Not specified in job descriptions. Most common among strategists in corporates, accountants and lawyers. Good for Big Four accountants who want to move into M&A.

COVID-19 situation: Test centres are closed, but preparations are being made for remote exams and invigliation.

Photo by Tania Mousinho on Unsplash

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Am
    Amanda Levine
    11 August 2019

    this is a great list, but for compliance, the most recognized qualification out there should be CAMSExam ( in one word )

  • Jo
    John Smith
    6 May 2018

    what is the best CFA ,MBA.

  • Ha
    29 November 2017

    Hi Abdur999,

    I found your comment informative. I am looking to acquire a qualification in finance and leaning towards CFA but still assessing other qualification, as I have not worked in a financial field yet since i graduated 2 years back and looking to get into it.

    I have some questions and would appreciate if I could correspond with you via email.

  • Fi
    Financial worker
    3 June 2017

    By far the best masters degrees are from Cass Business School.

  • Mi
    Michael Green
    18 May 2017

    Agreed great article & very true in many cases.
    In the UK experience trumps qualifications. Nice to have, but I work in compliance & no-one really has these qualifications. PWC Augment have started a lot of there staff on the CISI Investment in compliance.
    In Ireland you need to hold the ACOI the CISI equivalent. Pre 2015 most senior roles stated "must be studying towards." Now you must hold.


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