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CFA or MBA: Which is right for you?

A lot of people are wondering whether they should seek a CFA in place of the more traditional MBA. Which will get them ahead? Which will make them more marketable? Which will attract a bigger compensation package?

Whether you should seek a CFA, an MBA, or both has everything to do you’re your professional goals, says Joshua Wimberley, a client partner in recruiter Korn/Ferry’s financial officers practice. Simply put, if your goals include anything but asset management, a CFA isn’t for you.

Focus on Asset Management

“The CFA is of huge importance in the asset management industry,” Wimberley explains. “An MBA is more for investment banking or business in general. It’s the standard educational background on Wall Street. If you want to go into investment banking, there is no need for a CFA. It’s really comparing apples and oranges.”

In short, the CFA gives you the technical skills to succeed in investment management, while an MBA prepares you for a broad range of challenges in the business world. Even for those dedicated to investment management, the big-picture business know-how an MBA affords can propel your career and earnings.

Even executives with the CFA Institute encourage an MBA for those seeking their designation. Bob Johnson, managing director of the CFAI’s education division, says the MBA and CFA are “complimentary, not competitive” designations. “I do realize people have a limited amount of time and need to prioritize what educational opportunities they avail themselves of,” says Johnson. “For a young person who is preparing for a career in investment management, both educational opportunities are something they should consider.”

‘The Ideal Career Path’

Johnson lays out what he considers an ideal career path for a recent college grad committed to asset management: Enter the CFA program while working full-time. With the work experience and the CFA designation, enter a MBA program – also while working. “Think about it,” he says. “You are 28, 29 years old with both a CFA and an MBA and six years of work experience.” In addition, he notes, “most employers in the investment management business will subsidize the cost of a CFA program and an MBA.”

Meanwhile, Korn/Ferry’s Wimberley believes a junior-level asset management professional with a CFA alone should succeed. “If you’re talented and a high performer and all you want to do is asset management, I would say get an CFA,” he says, adding that the treasurers of many Fortune 1,000 companies, CFOs and controllers have Level 3 CFAs only.

To those who suggest the CFA is replacing the MBA, Dave Wilson, president and CEO of the Graduate Management Admission Council, says: “Not a chance.” The CFA charter produces “first-class analysts,” he says, but an MBA covers the fundamentals of business relevant to every type of organization, from entrepreneurial start-ups, to multinational corporations, not-for-profits, and government agencies. “An MBA prepares someone to work within an organization as it relates to margins, strategy, mission, marketing and human resource issues,” he says. “That will always make the MBA a relevant degree.”

  1. Maâmoune Gâabouri
    5 novembre 2012 à 16 h 16 min

    Thanks sir Ahmed for this fruitfuil article. It’s very helpful and particularly straight forward.

    I have a question: Does a CFA designation helps business analysts, financial controllers or any profile working in the field of corporate finance boost their carreers?

    Other question: What do you think about online MBAs? Are they handy? do they have important weight over resumes?


    • 5 novembre 2012 à 16 h 24 min

      Dear Maamoune
      The CFA designation is more profitable for financial analyst, even the syllabus contain a big area of corporate finance (financial controllers…), but it’s mainly oriented for market finance



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