CFA or Master’s in Finance. The Dilemma

CFA or Master's in Finance msf vs cfa

For those considering a career in investment, the question of whether to obtain a CFA or Master’s in Finance has always been the big question.

Finding a good job – a job that is highly paid and in an industry offering potential for professional development – has become a pretty tall order. That’s why many organizations set higher criteria for their employees and started to look for the extra value their future employees might offer.

There’s no argument that additional education provides crucial added value of interest to an employer. This is 100% true, particularly when speaking about the investment sector, which has been seriously hit by the financial crisis. Further education after graduating from university and various postgraduate qualifications have been a prerequisite for career advancement in many investment fields for quite a few years.

Know the difference

For those considering a career in investment, the question of whether to obtain a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) or Master’s in Finance designation has always arisen. Both have their pluses, as both degrees provide knowledge about the financial industry. However, there is a substantial difference between them. While the Master’s in Finance provides more general knowledge and is better suited for those who practice in more general fields in the business and financial sector, the CFA program is particularly tailored to those who need more specialized skills, such as investment analysis, portfolio strategy, and asset management.

The Master’s in Finance

The MSF provides a very wide knowledge in every sector related to financial services – commercial banking, corporate finance, financial analysis and personal finances advisory services, insurance, investment banking, money management, property, business consultancy, taxation, risk management, funds management, stock-brokerage services and underwriting.

Check out: CFA vs. MBA 

It is widely known that professionals in the industry have the highest salaries. The program provides technical skills, improves the critical thinking of its attendees and teaches real business models. Fernando Castagnolo, risk management analyst with Citigroup and Master’s in Finance graduate from Warwick Business School, says:

I was a Senior Financial Analyst but wanted to acquire more technical they knew every topic; they used the most current examples; they taught us to analyze the models as tools that might or might not work and that should never be relied on; and they improved our critical thinking skills while incorporating financial knowledge. […] I’m sure that adding WBS to my CV impressed top companies.

Konstantin Boychinov, who has a Bachelor’s in Finance from State University of New York and a Master’s in International Economics from McGill University, says:

After graduation, I found a job in Equity Research more easily as the Master’s program prepared me well for it. Having a Master’s in Economics or Finance from a prestigious institution abroad is an advantage when you apply for jobs.

CFA program

Unlike the Master’s in Finance program, which covers a broad range of topics, the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) program, offered internationally by the American-based CFA Institute, focuses specifically on investment knowledge. In addition, the self-study format allows participants in the program to continue working full-time while earning the designation, thus bridging academic theory, current industry practice, and ethical and professional standards to provide a strong foundation of advanced investment analysis and real-world portfolio management skills.

Maria is a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Mathematics from Vassar College in the US. She is also a CFA Candidate and has already passed Level II of the Chartered Financial Analyst program. She says:  

When I completed my Bachelor’s degree, I decided to start working. After a couple of years, I felt that I needed to continue my education and I was faced with the CFA or Master’s in Finance question. I think both are valuable.

According to Maria, candidates should first consider their own personal preferences, all the circumstances and of course, their career plans when faced with the CFA or Master’s in Finance choice. She adds:

Initially, I wanted to apply for a Master’s degree in Finance. However, I had a full-time job that I did not want to quit. Also, the more prestigious Master’s programs are expensive, and funding was an issue. I believe the CFA designation is as prestigious as a Master’s degree in Finance from a good university but gives you more flexibility. Also, my employers agreed to fund it and I did not have to quit my job.

Employers recognize the CFA charter as a reliable way to differentiate between the most qualified and determined job applicants, frequently listing the Chartered Financial Analyst as a requirement for certain positions. Maria says further:

One day, I am hoping to make a career as an independent analyst.  Maybe have my own research company. I believe the CFA designation will show my dedication and will keep me up to date with the good practices of doing financial analysis.

Proud holders of financial degrees – whether a CFA or Master’s in Finance, are unlikely to be left out of the financial job market. Recent statistics and estimates show that the economies worst hit by the crisis are recovering slightly, while those that have not been that seriously hit are growing continuously although at a slower pace.

According to the Global Market Sentiment Survey 2014 by the CFA Institute, investment professionals are increasingly confident that global and local economies will grow in 2015. This means that there will be need for financial professionals to contribute to and drive growth.

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