Easiest & Best Credentials to obtain for Finance Career
January 6, 2007 7:14 PM   Subscribe

Given the following choices, which would you say is the one that takes the least effort & time to complete, but still has a significant benefit to someone looking for a job? I suppose that any of these would satisfy my curiosity, but I'm looking to satisfy the above requirements I've listed too. 1) CPA 2) CFA 3) MBA 4) JD 5) MA (assume a 36 credit program) 6) Certificate in "X" - examples Graduate Certificate in Real Estate Certificate in Financial Analysis Certificate in Accounting

I feel that the most practical and effective way to learn is through experience. Although, having credibility is an essential ingredient when embarking on a career in finance. The socially accepted measurement of this is done via degree/certification level.

I agree that there is much to be gained & learned in acquiring such credentials, but if I'm going to follow this path, I'd like to leave the maximum amount of time for work and readings of my choice...hence, the above question.

Thanks for any feedback!
posted by Jhaus to Education (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My boyfriend who has a good number of those things that you've listed says

1. real estate will be the quickest, but you have to be good with people and good in sales, if so it will pay off quickly for little effort and time, comparatively.

2. CPA is worth it, but only if you WANT to be an accountant. It is useless if you are not an accountant.

3. MBA is a lot of work but it can be done 2 years FT, 3-4 PT and provides the education and the credential for any career in business.

4. JD is 3 years and only if you want to be a lawyer. It costs a lot of $$$ too.

5. CFA - you pretty much need an MBA to do this anyway as a starting point. Most people taking the CFA are 30+ years old. And the CFA requires a TON of work to pass. The study guides alone are over 2000 pages. It takes years to study for. Less than 1/3rd pass the exam, and most of those who pass are 2nd or 3rd timers.
posted by k8t at 8:03 PM on January 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

CFA - you pretty much need an MBA to do this anyway as a starting point.

Did it as a college dropout with no previous financial training apart from on-the-job (but I'm the exception that proves the rule blah blah blah.) Still, even as a self-described God of Standardized Tests it was the hardest thing I've ever done. Three years of several months of concentrated study for procrastinators like me, three years of maybe six months of concentrated study for people who are actually disciplined and responsible enough to follow the recommended schedule. Pretty much count on having no free time, especially in the last two months leading up to the exam. It can be hell on a relationship.

And most people don't finish in three years, as they set the pass rate pretty low.

I knew a lot of recent JDs at the time and the amount of effort I put into CFA Exam I was comparable to the time they put in studying for the Multistate plus the NY Bar. But of course they only had to do that one year.
posted by Opposite George at 9:20 PM on January 6, 2007

But yeah, for me that was the easiest credential to get given my educational history (apart, maybe from the Certificates you mention but honestly I don't know enough about those to offer an opinion.)
posted by Opposite George at 9:23 PM on January 6, 2007

I spent as much time getting my MBA (including prerequisites) as my wife just did getting her JD.

As an engineer, I've found the MBA to be a useful discriminator between me and other engineers, and to give me a big edge in some assigments.

However, I think in general, a JD would be more valuable. It has the highest credibility level, IMO, of the items you listed. It is about the same amount of work, and to me, both are less complicated than folks would have you believe. Tenacity and money are all that are required.

Neither will make you a ton of money IN AND OF ITSELF, but the richest guys I know were both JDs and neither had ever practiced law.

The CPA/CFA stuff is intense, by comparison. Also, liability saturated, nit-picky-little-details kind of work (based on what I know about them.) It's highly personal, but if you have the choice of anything, I can't imagine why you'd choose them unless you were already passionate about the subject area.

Good luck with whatever your choice winds up being.
posted by FauxScot at 9:31 PM on January 6, 2007

I, too, earned the CFA charter without formal training. I learned a lot in the process, but much of what I learned was how to take the test.

Business school is way more informative. I realize that this may not matter to you.
posted by Kwantsar at 10:45 PM on January 6, 2007

Business school is way more informative.

At the very least it seems a general graduate B-school cirriculum offers more practical knowledge. And since the CFA program is almost entirely self-directed, it doesn't supply the networking opportunities that an MBA program does.

Do keep in mind, though, that if you want to go into serious money management, many of the heavy hitters want you to have both an MBA (or equivalent, e.g., graduate degree in Finance or Economics) plus a CFA.
posted by Opposite George at 11:31 PM on January 6, 2007

"CFA - you pretty much need an MBA to do this anyway as a starting point."

There is no prerequisite for an MBA to sit the CFA exams. If you want to become Chartered afte sitting the third exam (in as many years, no way to rush this!!) AIMR reqiures you to be holding an appropriate position. Clearly an MBA would help considering the material, however many investment banks equate the two degrees, to the point of accepting a CFA in lieu of an MBA.

I think the choice of an optimal degree (or combination of qualifications) depends upon precisely what you'd like to be doing. Undergraduate I studied Math & Computer Science, then took an MSc Quantitative Finance and ended up managing money (nothing wrong with that). I'm adding an MBA as I felt I needed some of the "soft skills" (as well as the broader view of corporate finance) once I started managing people. I'd suggest you look at what you would like to do, then figure out what credentials you need.

Your profile isn't clear where you are, but in the UK we see a lot of Postgraduate Diplomas, or Pgd. I teach finance part time in London and for the degree programme I'm associated with a Pgd covers all the Masters track material with the exception of one course and a dissertation; a very solid qualification.

I recently interviewed a gal who had a solid undergrad and had tied together two Postgraduate Diplomas to create a very unique educational base (btw we hired her), so these things are indeed useful.
posted by Mutant at 11:33 PM on January 6, 2007

My advice: Only get a JD if the job you are looking for is "lawyer." I don't think the JD alone is going to get you a finance career, at least not as efficiently as the other options. With the MBA you have a lot of flexibility when you're done, it's only two years, and there's no bar exam. Though I know some JD/MBA folks who spent 4 years to earn the two degrees simultaneously dreaming of being i-bankers with $600k bonuses...
posted by jaysus chris at 11:58 PM on January 6, 2007

Seconding anyone who said a JD is not the way to go for finance: it's a truly grueling three years (especially if you want to make the kind of grades you need to be recruited at one of the big Wall Street firms - law or no), and just going based on the course offerings I remember, I can't think of much that you'd learn that would give you an edge over MBAs. I can, however, think of a bunch of things that you wouldn't learn that might put you at a disadvantage (to wit: any kind of math, theories or strategies on investment, nuts-and-bolts procedures for trading and accounting). I don't know too much about MBAs, but I would still guess that's the best way to go.

And a warning, since you mentioned you were looking for something with the "least effort:" finance is competitive. None of these programs will be particularly easy endeavors if you want to get a good job when you're done.
posted by AV at 9:54 AM on January 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have a CFA. I don't think many people would characterize it as a "minimal effort" proposition - few backgrounds that prepare you for the breadth of material you'll encounter.

A JD for someone interested in finance obviously lends itself more to a securities law career. Thankfully, I've only had limited interaction with the lawyers at my firm.

If you're still in college, you ought to reconsider doing an MBA straight out of school. It's a good choice if you want to switch careers, though.

When I see any kind of certificate program listed on a resume, I have a difficult time taking it seriously - mostly because anything about the amount, type or difficulty of the course work isn't obvious.
posted by milkrate at 7:21 PM on January 7, 2007

Best answer: Can you be more specific than a "career in finance"? The answer is going to vary greatly depending on what field you are interested in entering - are you interested in accounting, i-banking, investment research, etc? I'd say the MBA is the best option for general finance careers, but if you want to do accounting go for the CPA, or law school if you want to do corporate law. One option you may not have considered if you prefer to learn-as-you go is to sit for level one of the CFA exam, then apply for jobs with that on your resume. You don't have to obtain the whole CFA credential to start working in finance - having level one on your resume will show employers that you are serious about finance, and then you can decide if you want to sit for level two and three as you work. The CFA is most useful for investment research-related careers, though, so don't go this route if you want to be an accountant.
posted by btkuhn at 7:23 PM on January 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

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