Alternative Options to CFA or MBA Qualifications

CFA Qualifications

A CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) qualification is awarded by the CFA Institute, which is an international organisation comprised of more than 70,000 members. The commitment to pursue a CFA cannot be understated. According to the CFA Institute, the following is the amount of time needed to obtain the CFA designation:

  • Four years, on average, to complete the program
  • Six months of preparation for each exam
  • Minimum of 250 hours study time (10-15 hours per week)


MBA Programs

MBA programs provide students with a broad-based business background, enabling graduates to follow a myriad of different career possibilities within a corporate environment or even in entrepreneurial ventures. However, the advent of MBA programs providing coursework to help candidates with the CFA is an indication that the MBA may not provide enough of the specialisation necessary to prepare students for an investment career.


Alternatives to CFA & MBA

If you’re looking for an alternative to these two courses, then there are plenty of other financial services-relevant qualifications out there. Many are more specific than the CFA or the MBA and focus on specific 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. Although these alternative qualifications aren’t guaranteed to get you a job in financial services, neither is the CFA Charter or an MBA. Best of all, they offer great value – especially compared to the huge tuition fees at top business schools.

If you’re not fixated on the front office and are prepared to look beyond the standard acronyms, the following are qualifications you should look out for if you’re interested in pursuing a career in compliance or risk:


Qualifications for Compliance Roles


1. The CISI Diploma in Investment Compliance

Run by: The Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment.

Overview: “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”. 1

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

Cost: Around £1.7k, including tuition and exam fees.

Study time: You need to pass three exams to achieve the diploma. On average, the CISI says you’ll need to study for around 80 hours for each unit.  Passing the diploma typically takes 18 months to two years.2

2. The Advanced Certificate in Compliance

Run by: The International Compliance Association.

Overview: The Advanced Certificate in Compliance will help you develop a good understanding of compliance fundamentals. These courses are endorsed by the British Bankers’ Association in the UK.  It’s a good qualification for people who want to work in money laundering and financial crime. A useful qualification for sales, trading or structuring roles.

Entry requirements: ‘Sound educational background’ and ‘good written English.’

Cost: £1.5k + VAT or local taxes if outside the UK.

Study time: The course lasts for six months and is provided by International Compliance Training, the ICA’s approved training provider. You’ll be studying at home but will participate in two ‘highly interactive workshops.’

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

Run by: The International Capital Markets Association.

Overview: The programme places emphasis on developing practical skills for trading, investment and risk management, designed to give a fixed income professional all the knowledge needed to understand pricing, risk and trading opportunities in these markets. Not mandatory, but IFID is known among fixed income traders and portfolio managers. The programme is often used by back office people trying to gain product knowledge and move into the middle office.

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.

Cost: £3k for ICMA members and £3.9k for non-members, if you take the classroom-based learning option. £1.5k and £1.95k respectively for the distance learning option

Study time: The classroom based version of the programme is delivered as a one week course across Europe. Distance learning gives candidates flexibility to study in their own time, subject to a six month exam deadline.



Qualifications for Risk roles

1. Risk in Financial Services

Run by: The Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment.

Overview: This Qualification offers a comprehensive global introduction to the major risk areas in risk. It addresses international issues, reflecting the needs of a worldwide market, and provides a sound grounding in the principles of the risk management framework, corporate governance and risk oversight. It covers specific techniques used in identifying, reducing and managing operational risk, credit risk, market risk, investment risk and liquidity risk.

Entry requirements:  There are no entry requirements but 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 hours for the Risk in Financial Services. An extra 70 hours if you want to supplement it with ‘UK Financial Regulation’. Some training providers offer a three day intensive course.

2. The Professional Risk Managers’ International Association

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

Overview: The Professional Risk Manager (PRM™) Designation is a globally recognized, graduate-level risk management credential. It is a well-recognised international qualification and is often specified as a prerequisite for risk jobs in the U.S.

Entry requirements: You’ll need some work experience: 4 years if you don’t have a bachelor degree, but only two years if you do. Work experience is also not a prerequisite if you’ve been to graduate school or have passed an ‘accepted professional designation’ like the CFA.

Cost: $1.1k (minimum).3