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

By: Kaplan Financial Education
March 29, 2019
Professionally dressed man at a fork in the road trying to decide between the CFP certificate and the CFA charter

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%.

Get a sneak peak at the beginning of the Kaplan education program to get a feel for whether CFP® certification is right for you by downloading our free eBook. 

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. You also need professional experience (6,000 hours) in relevant personal financial planning activities, or apprenticeship experience (4,000 hours) that meets additional requirements. 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.


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

Free eBook: Is CFP® Certification Right for You?

Are you considering CFP® certification, but are unsure if you can handle it? Get a sneak peak at the beginning of the College for Financial Planning®a Kaplan Company education program to get a feel for whether CFP® certification is the right fit for you. This free eBook will provide you with information about the financial planning process learned in FP 511: General Financial Planning Principles, Professional Conduct, and Regulation. It also includes several analytical problems that will allow you to apply your knowledge to real-life scenarios.