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CFP® Mark vs CFA® Charter: Which is Right for You?

CFP® Mark vs CFA® Charter: Which is Right for You?

Posted By: Kaplan Financial Education
Updated: October 18, 2018 

The CFP® mark and CFA® charter are both the most prestigious designations in their respective fields. If you are just starting out in a finance career, you may be wavering between these two designations. Let’s explore the key differences between the two paths to give you a better idea of what makes the most sense for you and your career.

Governing Bodies

Each designation has a governing body, CFP Board and CFA Institute, that upholds the standards of excellence for competent and ethical practices. These governing bodies create the exams and determine the standards required to pass with input from current professionals in the industry.

Exam Differences

To obtain the CFP® mark, you have to pass one exam. The exam is offered three times per year in March, July, and November. The overall pass rate for the November 2016 CFP® exam was 63.2%.

The CFA charter, in contrast, requires you to pass three exams. CFA Level I is offered twice per year in December and June, while Levels II and III are only offered annually in June. The CFA Level I exam pass rate in December 2016 was 43%.

Requirements for the CFP® Mark and CFA® Charter

There are a number of requirements beyond passing the exam(s) to obtain both designations. To earn the CFP® mark, you need a bachelor’s degree and three years of professional experience or two years apprenticeship experience. The experience component can be completed within ten years preceding the exam or five years following the exam. You also must complete the required education prior to taking the CFP® exam and adhere to CFP Board’s ethical standards.

The CFA charter also requires you to obtain a bachelor’s degree and have four years of professional experience. The experience component can be completed before, during, or after completing the CFA Program. Unlike with the CFP® exam, there is no education requirement for the CFA exams (although passing the exams without studying is nearly impossible). In addition, you must join and maintain membership to CFA Institute to be considered a CFA charterholder.

Exam Topic Areas

There are eight principal knowledge topic categories covered on the CFP® exam. According to CFP Board, all aspects of the CFP® exam are guided by CFP® professionals, including the determination of content coverage; the writing, reviewing, and approving of exam questions; and the scoring and passing criteria. The topics covered include: professional conduct and regulation, general financial planning principles, education planning, risk management and insurance planning, investment planning, tax planning, retirement savings and income planning, and estate planning. The topic area weights vary by exam cycle.

The Candidate Body of Knowledge (CBOK) represents the core knowledge, skills, and abilities tested on the CFA exam. Thousands of investment professionals have input into the CBOK to ensure it represents the most important aspects of the career. Ethics and professional standards is one of the most important topic areas throughout the program. The other nine topic areas include quantitative methods, economics, financial reporting and analysis, corporate finance, equity investments, fixed income, derivatives, alternative investments, and portfolio management and wealth planning. The topic area weights vary by level and by exam cycle. Some of the topics are also combined at times for testing purposes.

Time Commitment

It generally takes candidates about one year to complete the CFP® certification program, assuming they pass the exam on the first try. The required education for CFP® certification takes about nine months to complete. This allows some time to review the education and prepare for the exam.

The CFA charter can be completed in two and a half years; however, the average candidates gets through the program in four years, according to CFA Institute. It is expected that CFA candidates study for a minimum of 300 hours per exam level.

Common Careers

There are many career options available to both CFP® professionals and CFA charterholders. CFP® certification is a common path for professionals interested in becoming financial planners or financial advisors. If you are interested in specializing in wealth or estate planning, there are niche careers in those areas as well. The CFP® mark can also help you get into a career as a trading and research associate, financial consultant, financial representative, or a financial analyst. If you want to become a branch manager at a financial firm, the CFP® mark can help you achieve that level in your organization.

The CFA charter opens up opportunities for career advancement in investment and finance fields. CFA charterholders often go on to become portfolio managers, research analysts, consultants, corporate financial analysts, and even chief-level executives. You may opt to earn the FRM® designation as well and become a financial risk manager. The CFA charter can also help you gain employment as a relationship manager, financial advisor, investment banking analyst, strategist, or trader.


Now that you know the main differences between the CFA charter and the CFP® mark, you can access resources for the designation you are most interested in by visiting the CFP® Professional Career Corner or the CFA Resource Center

If you are ready to enroll in an exam prep program, visit Kaplan Financial Education for CFP® certification education or Kaplan Schweser for CFA exam prep