CFI vs. CFA: Everything You Need to Know Before Choosing

You want to progress in your finance career as fast as possible. And to do so?

You figure you should invest in your education and improve your skills.

That’s great. But which program should you choose?

I watched over 2 hours of finance designations review videos, read through 10+ articles, and scrolled through countless forum discussions where analysts, managers, and students shared opinions on the CFA and CFI programs.

This post aggregates everything I found.

If you want to know which program is the best as the next step in your career and why, I recommend you stick to the end.

What Is the CFI (Corporate Finance Institute)

The Corporate Finance Institute (or CFI for short) is a leading global provider of online finance courses.

Since 2016, over a million people at top universities, investment banks, and financial firms worldwide have taken CFI’s programs to advance their careers.

They offer +180 banking and finance courses, accredited programs, virtual events, practical tools, and an active community.

Their most popular program is the FMVA certification (Financial Modeling and Valuation Analyst).

The FMVA program is also the most similar to the CFA program, which we look at below:

What Is the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst)

Offered by the CFA Institute, the CFA program is the most recognized finance designation today.

CFA charterholders, members, and affiliates have been setting standards for finance practitioners, clients, and the industry as a whole for over 75 years.

It is one of the highest distinctions in investment management.

But becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst is difficult. You need to:

  • Pass 3 exams testing your knowledge of investment tools, valuing assets, portfolio management, and wealth planning. The exams are in person.
  • Have 4,000 hours of full-time work experience in the financial industry (roughly 2-3 years).

And the exams are no joke.

In August 2023, only 38% of applicants passed the Level I exam. The Level II exam had a pass rate of 44%. And the Level III exam had a 47% pass rate.

Notice that those failing the Level II exam are not some random people who decided to give the exam a try and didn’t study.

No.

These are people competent enough to pass the Level I exam, where the pass rate is the lowest. The same applies to Level III.

CFA charters usually have backgrounds in finance, accounting, economics, or business.

In fact, you need a bachelor’s degree to apply for the exams.

On average, completing all three levels of the CFA program takes around 4 years.

But this varies according to your studying schedule, work commitments, and personal life.

The consensus is that it takes at least 300 hours to study for each exam. So the total is 900 hours.

And the cost?

Between $3,050 and $3,950 assuming you pass all the exams on the first attempt.

However:

The average salary of a CFA charter is $180,000/year.

So it definitely pays for itself. Not to mention it costs a lot less than an MBA.

Want to work as an investment analyst, portfolio manager, strategist, consultant, or wealth manager?

Then having the CFA in your resume will add value.

The program sets you apart from your peers.

People instantly recognize you have an advanced understanding of how the global investment industry works. It gives you status.

CFI vs. CFA: The Verdict

CFICFA Program
Cost$497/year for access to all programs$3,050
Average salary$121,000 (as reported by CFI)$180,000 (as reported by CFA Institute)
Pass rate81% across all programs (as of December 2023)38% for Level 1 (August 2023 exam)
ExamOnline, access to any resource you want during the exam, multiple-choice questions, unlimited retriesIn-person, cannot consult any resources during the exam, multiple-choice and essay questions
WorkloadAround 100 hours to complete the FMVA certificationEstimated 900 hours of studying, plus 4,000 hours of work experience
Requirements to enrollNo school or work experience requirementsBachelor’s degree completed
CFI vs. CFA Comparison Table

In essence:

The CFA program is known all around the finance industry.

Its name has weight.

It takes years of relevant experience and thousands of studying hours to complete.

CFI programs on the other hand give you basic financial knowledge. It’s the best low-cost online learning platform for aspiring finance professionals.

However:

CFI programs do not add value to your resume, the CFA does.

For some people, passing just the first level of the CFA program adds more value to your resume than the entire FMVA certification. Why?

Because the assessments in CFI programs are online, multiple choice, and you can retake them as many times as you need.

Even a person with very little knowledge of finance can take the exams a bunch of times until they pass.

Too easy, right?

The quality of the material in the FMVA program is great, but the online exam format will never render the same merit as a closed-book in-person exam like the CFA.

Plus, the CFA goes way deeper.

Now, the one advantage of CFI programs is the great value for money.

A CFI membership plan costs $497/year and gives you unlimited access to:

  • 120+ online finance courses and certification programs. These include accredited designations to prove your expertise.
  • 5,000+ lessons, models, and case studies.
  • Downloadable models, premium templates, and guides.
  • AI-powered chat to assist with your learning and course experience.
  • All future features (courses are updated regularly).

You can learn anytime, anywhere, at your own pace with on-demand and mobile-friendly courses.

And there’s an additional membership plan that includes 1-on-1 guidance and resume reviews with professional analysts. As well as free access to advanced financial tools they use in the real world.

There are also free courses you can take without having to pay for a membership:

CFI’s flagship certification to become a Financial Modeling and Valuation Analyst is solid.

It will boost your analytical skills, make you good in Excel, good at modeling, good at data analysis, and business and investment valuation.

You learn practical skills the CFA lacks.

The Corporate Finance Institute as a whole just lacks recognition because it was founded recently, in 2016.

But since then over 1,500,000 students have taken their programs.

So it has the potential to grow in recognition in the next few years.


Hope this helps.

Feel free to comment below on what you think about CFI programs in comparison to the CFA.

Hugo Moreira

Hugo Moreira

Currently finishing a Master's degree in Finance. I'm happy to be able to spend my free time writing and explaining financial concepts to you. You can learn more by visiting the About page.

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