is committed to the highest ethical standards and reviews services independently. Learn How We Make Money

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Review

Andrea Coombes

Written by Andrea Coombes
Edited by Carolyn Kimball
Fact-checked by Dayana Yochim

April 03, 2024

Our take: The Chartered Financial Analyst designation, or CFA, is one of the top designations a financial advisor can hold. The CFA exams — three in total — add up to more than 13 hours of exam time. The estimated prep time for those exams? 900 hours. The exams have a pass rate of less than 50%. This is not a designation for the faint of heart. It takes serious preparation, knowledge, and smarts. When working with a CFA, you can rest assured you’re working with someone with top-flight training in investment analysis, portfolio construction and financial management. The main reason the CFA designation doesn’t manage to hit it out of the park in our rankings — it’s a solid 4 stars rather than 5 — is that it simply recommends continuing education, rather than requiring it.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

Offered by: The CFA Institute

Overall summary

Here’s a summary of how the CFA designation stacks up on our criteria.

Feature Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) logoChartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
Overall 4/5 Stars
Nonprofit 5/5 Stars
Independent accreditation 2/5 Stars
Exam required 5/5 Stars
Number of questions 5/5 Stars
Continuing Education requirement 1/5 Stars
Background check 2/5 Stars
Ethics requirement 5/5 Stars
Fiduciary requirement 5/5 Stars
Consumer complaint forum 5/5 Stars
Check credential status 5/5 Stars
View More

Compare financial advisor certifications

Check out how advisor certifications stack up against each other.

Feature Accredited Financial Analyst (AFA) logoAccredited Financial Analyst (AFA) Accredited Wealth Management Advisor (AWMA) logoAccredited Wealth Management Advisor (AWMA) Certified Financial Planner (CFP) logoCertified Financial Planner (CFP) Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) logoChartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) logoChartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP) logoRetirement Income Certified Professional (RICP)
Overall 2/5 Stars 3.5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 4/5 Stars 3/5 Stars 3/5 Stars
Nonprofit 1/5 Stars 1/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars
Independent accreditation 1/5 Stars 3/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 2/5 Stars 3/5 Stars 3/5 Stars
Exam required 1/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 1/5 Stars 1/5 Stars
Number of questions 1/5 Stars 4/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 1/5 Stars 1/5 Stars
Continuing Education requirement 1/5 Stars 3/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 1/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars
Background check 1/5 Stars 2/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 2/5 Stars 2/5 Stars 2/5 Stars
Ethics requirement 1/5 Stars 1/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars
Fiduciary requirement 1/5 Stars 1/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 1/5 Stars 1/5 Stars
Consumer complaint forum 5/5 Stars 3/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars
Check credential status 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars
View More

What is a chartered financial analyst (CFA)?

A chartered financial analyst, or CFA, is an expert in complex investment analysis and strategy, portfolio construction and wealth management, and other financial topics. The CFA is one of the most challenging and rigorous designations to qualify for, requiring an estimated 900 hours of study to pass three stringent exams. CFAs may work as financial advisors with individual clients, but they’re likelier to work in large-scale corporate settings developing investment strategies and conducting analysis.

How hard is it to get a CFA?

A CFA is one of the hardest designations for a financial planner to earn. You must pass three exams covering a long list of complex financial topics, including corporate finance, financial reporting, and more. The pass rate for the exams is less than 50%. Plus, candidates must have 4,000 hours, or about two years, of work experience in a related field.


To generate star ratings for financial advisor certifications, ranks the certification on each of 10 criteria. Below are the questions we sought to answer for each certification. We then applied a weighted score for each response, leading to an overall star rating for each certification.

  1. Is the organization that offers the certification nonprofit or for-profit?
  2. Is the certification accredited by an independent, third-party organization?
  3. Is an exam required to earn the certification?
  4. How many questions are on the exam?
  5. Is a background check required of certificants?
  6. Is continuing education required to maintain the certification?
  7. Is there any type of ethics requirement, e.g. certificants must sign a code of ethics?
  8. Is the certificant required to agree to an explicit fiduciary duty in interactions with clients?
  9. Can consumers easily submit a complaint against a certificant?
  10. Can consumers easily check advisors’ certification status online?

Popular Financial Advisor Content

About the Editorial Team

Andrea Coombes
Andrea Coombes

Andrea Coombes has 20+ years of experience helping people reach their financial goals. Her personal finance articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, MarketWatch, Forbes, and other publications, and she's shared her expertise on CBS, NPR, "Marketplace," and more. She's been a financial coach and certified consumer credit counselor, and is working on becoming a Certified Financial Planner. She knows that owning pets isn't necessarily the best financial decision; her dog and two cats would argue this point.

Carolyn Kimball
Carolyn Kimball

Carolyn Kimball is Managing Editor for Reink Media Group and the lead editor for content on Carolyn has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at major media outlets including NerdWallet, the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury News. She specializes in coverage of personal financial products and services, wielding her editing skills to clarify complex (some might say befuddling) topics to help consumers make informed decisions about their money.

Dayana Yochim
Dayana Yochim

Dayana Yochim has been writing (articles, books, podcasts, stirring speeches) about personal finance and investing for more than two decades, focusing on bringing clarity and the occasional comedic aside to what is often a murky, humorless topic. She’s written for NerdWallet, The Motley Fool,, Woman’s Day, Forbes, Newsweek and others, and been a guest expert on "Today," "Good Morning America," CNN, NPR and wherever they’ll hand her a mic.