CFA versus CFP

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Feb 7, 2009 4:31 pm

Trying to stay competitive after being laid off. Any thoughts on which will hold more clout in the industry and degree of difficulty?

Feb 7, 2009 4:37 pm

oh boy, here we go again.

Feb 7, 2009 4:38 pm


The CFP is hard. I took just over a year (15 months), to do my classes and study for my CFP. I was working full time. I hear the CFA is very hard. The time is line 2-3 years. I think you should try to go independent. What was your T12? JackBlack  
Feb 7, 2009 4:43 pm

What part of the industry do you want to be in? I got my CFP about 2years ago. It was a b*tch. Although the degree of difficulty was only above average, the length of time it takes to complete the courses and the number of topics covered is the killer. Don’t have CFA but my understanding is that it is technically more advanced than CFP, but it is more focused topic wise. No one outside the industry knows what these designations mean. CFP board has done a horrible job marketing what a CFP is. Always confused with CPA.

  I would say that if you are looking at working with individual clients and want to incorporate some financial planning, CFP is the way to go. CFA I would consider more of a designation for someone who wants to be trained to pick stocks.   Also, dont overlook the CIMA designation through IMCA. Top notch stuff. Planning to start soon.
Feb 7, 2009 4:43 pm

Depends what you want to do.  If you want to design , implement and manage fin plans then the CFP will give you a very broad background that will make you very effective.  This is the one I did.  If you would rather be a stock picker and/or analyst (and are [email protected] good at math) then the CFA is the best option.  I like working with clients and did CFP and CIMA

Feb 7, 2009 4:58 pm

CFA is more meaningful for institutional types accounts and jobs, CFP is retail oriented.  CFA is about 10x as hard to get.  CFA exams are given once a year, you need to go through three levels, and the failure rate is very high.  If you want to work for a hedge fund, CFA is the way to go, for a retail broker, CFP.  I think knowledge , good reputation, and personality go further with retail then a designation however.

Feb 7, 2009 5:07 pm

CFP is given either twice a year or maybe its quarterly. 2 day board exam modeled after the bar for attorneys. I failed the first time, took it again and passed. The pass rate for that exam was 57%. I know the CFA is hard but I don;t know that its 10x harder than CFP. Anyone out there have both?

  Also, don't forget the cost. I think my courses, exam prep material, hotel, test etc. were 8-10k for CFP.
Feb 7, 2009 5:11 pm

Wrong board

Feb 7, 2009 5:17 pm

CFP is the way to go if you are dealing with retail clients. CFA is more appropriate if you intend working as an analyst. 

Feb 7, 2009 5:18 pm

sample questions level II
Feb 7, 2009 9:34 pm

I thought the CFP was pretty easy.  I've looked at the CFA but i've been out of college so long there is no way I could remember how to solve mathematically.  Someone said the CFA is about 10X as hard as the CFP- I agree.  Just look at MNBONDGUY's post- that type of analysis is pretty typical for level 2 and 3.

On a practical note, the CFP is far more applicable to what you will do as a retail wealth manager.  I think the CFA is germaine to an institutional position. 

Feb 7, 2009 10:57 pm

Thanks for your insights…gave up 40MM book when asked to go into management two years ago. Recently laid off and want to stay in the biz…15 years of experience and no book is a tough sell. Hoping to leverage any credentials I can.

Feb 7, 2009 11:28 pm

I agree with a previous post that hard work will pay off way more than any 3-letter credential.  I am a 14 year veteran and have both CIMA and CFP and took level I of the CFA.  The CFA is infinitely more difficult than either of the other two.  That said, what credential you should pursue (if any) is completely dependent on what you want to do.  Again, as other posters have already stated, CFA is geared more towards actual portfolio management and institutional clients, whereas CFP and the CIMA are more geared towards helping retail clients.  The CFP is certainly more difficult now, than it was even 10 years ago.

Frankly, our industry has done a very poor job of educating the public on the different credentials, what they mean in terms of curriculum, and/or how difficult it is to attain those designations.  I found the CIMA (completed at Wharton) to be very narrowly focused (portoflio construction and manager selection), but very deep.  The CFP, on the other hand, was quite broad, but not as deep.  Both were excellent educational additions.  If I may, the CIMA course was seemed to actually be intent in making sure you knew the material and could apply it, whereas the CFP seemed more geared towards limiting the number of designees by trying to trick you in their questions.  The damn exam even had some questions that had no correct answer.  Frankly, I despise the CFP board and its program.

The CFA is the absolute pinnacle of designations, in terms of difficulty.  Three levels, with only one exam per year for each level.  Level I is multiple choice, Level II is more of a define and explain, and Level III is more like a case study and essay.  Most who complete the designation do so in 4-5 years, not 3.

Good luck to you, but I would suggest waiting on any designation until later.  Unless you are looking at being a portfolio manager.

Feb 7, 2009 11:40 pm

 CFP seemed more geared towards limiting the number of designees by trying to trick you in their questions.  The damn exam even had some questions that had no correct answer.  Frankly, I despise the CFP board and its program.

I ABSOLUTELY agree with this comment regarding the test and the board itself.

Feb 8, 2009 1:42 am

I have the CFP and I have been seriously considering going for my CFA.  I suggest that you do a search of this message board to find additional responses.  This is not a new question.

I like to think that the CFP should be the minimum credentials to do the planing that most of us talk about.  The CFA is more for analysts and stock pickers.  The reason that I’m considering going for the CFA is because I am a planner who uses mostly individual securities and I think that the credential does carry a good deal of weight with those “in the know.”  Basically, it is a credential that is standard for the type of business I plan on running but it will not help me develop that business.  Follow much of the advice that you are hearing in response to your question.  First worry about gathering assets, then worry about credentials.


Feb 8, 2009 10:29 am

The MBA is hard to get into, but easy to get out of. The CFA is easy to get into, but hard to get out of. The MBA is very expensive with questionable payoff. The CFA is very cheap with high probability of payoff. The MBA is more management oriented, the CFA is more finance and investment related.

CFA level 1 is about speedy answers - it's the entrance exam. Level 2 is about understanding topics in more depth. Level 3 is about synthesizing multiple topics. Level 3 used to be the finishing level, but it's become much harder and includes minutiae meant to trip you up. The passing rate at L3 has dropped down to around 50%. And, everyone taking L3 is smart as defined by passing 1 and 2 so...if only 50% pass....

The CFA is drifting slowly towards including more private wealth topics. There is plenty of knowledge in the CFA that works for brokers but the CFP is far more practical for most adivsors. Unless you are interested in individual securities and truly understanding how investments work for your personal edification then the CFA is not the right program.

I have had a grand total of two clients who knew what the CFA was. One told me he had it himself a couple decades ago, but dropped the designation because he didn't want to pay the annual fee anymore.

These questions are discussed extensively at However, they are heavily biased towards CFA types so watch out.
Feb 8, 2009 10:39 am

You guys didn’t get laid off because you didn’t know enough. You got laid off because there was no sign that you would be high producers. I suggest you forget the cfp crap and figure out how you’re going to generate business. 

Feb 9, 2009 9:14 am

I have a CFP and am taking the level 3 CFA test in June.

Brutal does not even begin to describe the CFA exam. I failed level 1 once. And thought I failed level 2. I will likely fail level 3 once.

I agree that the CFP is more applicable in the current environment as far as what a broker does. However, the CFA is likely to become a more desired designation if our government finally realizes that we have idiots managing people’s money.

I’ve got to be honest with you, the CFP was a joke. Think about why they require a bachelor’s degree to get it. They are trying to keep more idiots from passing (not that a bachelor’s degree insures someone isn’t an idiot).

The CFA has no requirement like that. If you can pass, you can pass. If not, too bad.

I have to agree with Hank Moody about the getting laid off for not being a high producer. Very few people care what designations you have.

Sep 10, 2013 12:43 pm

I have both. CFA is probably close to 10x harder. I passed CFP with about 5 months of study, including the new 107 class. It took me 5 years with CFA, but L1 is offered twice a year now. I would say CFP is close to L1 CFA in material difficulty, but the CFP passing rate is much higher. I think the candidate pool is also stronger with CFA as well. Levels 2&3 are much more difficult than level 1.

It’s a good combo to have. I learned a lot from both programs.

Jan 15, 2014 11:13 am

Well, feebasedrep: you know the reasons why the CFP and CFA are taken from the above discussion and also you know about the competitive hardness of them.
I’m here to tell you one of my experiences about it. Two of my friends and 10 teachers of them attended CFA together. You know what the result was? My friends passed while all of the teachers failed.
What I mean- you gotta do what you wish to do… success don’t depend on time, it depends on you.