CFA Investment Foundations Program: A Quick Guide

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Did you know that CFA Institute has a lesser known, global investment certification that is completely free, administered online, requiring only 100 hours of study with a relatively high pass rate? 😲

Assuming it is suitable for your career situation and objective, it is something you can even register for right now, study and complete the online exam from the comfort of your own home. 

Curious about the CFA Investment Foundations Program? Read on to find out more!


What Is CFA Investment Foundations Program (Formerly Claritas)?

Awarded by CFA Institute, the CFA Investment Foundations Program is a free yet comprehensive online certification that provides a fundamental understanding of the global investment industry.

Originally launched in 2013 as Claritas Investment Certificate (and later renamed), this self-study course is specifically designed for all professional disciplines outside of investment roles, such as IT, HR, operations, accounting, legal, administration, marketing.

In fact, the Investment Foundations certificate was launched to fill a gap in the industry. For every investment decision maker, there are 9 other people working alongside them coming from different disciplines. This group of professionals may not have had any formal investment training, but would greatly benefit from some foundational investment knowledge in their day-to-day role – non-investment decision-makers need to know their stuff too!

To date, there are more than 25,925 Investment Foundation Certificate holders from more than 100 countries. The program has received solid feedback so far from candidates and employers, with:

  • 93% of certificate holders stating that they have gained a clearer understanding of the investment management industry;
  • 87% of certificate holders indicating that they would highly recommend the program to others;
  • 98% of managers (who manage certificate holders at a major asset management firm) would recommend the program.

CFA Investment Foundations In A Nutshell

Summary of CFA Investment Foundations Certificate

CFA Investment Foundations is a free online certificate program designed to equip non-investment decision makers with a solid foundation knowledge in investment management. Examples of the target group ideal for this certification are financial services industry professionals working in IT, HR, legal, marketing, operations, administration, accounting and more. 

Similar to most other professional designations such as CFAFRMCAIA and IMC, Investment Foundations is also a self-directed learning program:

  • It is administered in English and all its contents are offered online globally through CFA Institute’s digital learning platform called Learning Ecosystem.
  • This course is made up of 7 modules, covering the industry’s purpose, ethics and regulation, tools and building blocks, investment securities, industry structure, risk management and client needs. 
  • It requires around 100 hours of study, for a single online exam that consists of 100 multiple choice questions in 100 minutes.

The Investment Foundations exam can be taken online once certain conditions are met, and within 6 months of the registration date. Once the exam is completed, preliminary results are provided instantly. Upon successfully passing the final examination, candidates can claim a digital badge and a print certificate.


Pass Rates & Difficulty

PictureCFA vs FRM CIPM IMC Investment Foundations Difficulty Comparison

According to UK NARIC (National Academic Recognition Information Centre of the United Kingdom), the Investment Foundations Certificate is benchmarked as a Level 3 qualification under UK Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF). This means that in terms of difficulty, Investment Foundations qualification is comparable to post-secondary education training or specialised secondary level education (e.g. ‘A’ Level).

As an introductory course into investment management for non-investment decision makers, Investment Foundations is unsurprisingly relatively easier compared to other financial designations such as CFACAIAFRM.

​Here’s a quick summary comparing other financial qualifications’ difficulty under RQF (with PhD programs being Level 8 as a benchmark):

QualificationComparable UK RQF LevelDifficulty Equivalent to
CFA Investment FoundationsLevel 3Post-secondary education training or specialised secondary level education (e.g. ‘A’ Level)
Investment Management Certificate (IMC) and Certificate in ESG Investing by CFA UKLevel 4Certificate of Higher Education, or the first year of a Bachelor’s degree
CFA Level 1Level 5Diploma of Higher Education
CFA Level 2Level 6Bachelor’s degree
Certificate in Investment Performance Management (CIPM)Level 6Bachelor’s degree
CFA Level 3Level 7Master’s degree
Financial Risk Manager (FRM)Level 7Master’s degree

In addition to the (zero) fees, what makes Investment Foundations certificate really attractive is the relatively high pass rates. 82% of the candidates passed the first Claritas exam, and CFA Institute expects the CFA Investment Foundations’ pass rates to be around 60-85% on average.


Topic Areas, Weightings and Curriculum PDF Downloads

CFA Investment Foundations Program: A Quick Guide 1

The investment Foundations Certificate does a great job in covering a breadth of topics in 7 modules that serves as a good overview of the investment industry. 

​The topics areas, in-depth description and exam weights are as below:

CFA Investment Foundations TopicsDescription and Curriculum PDF DownloadsWeighting
Industry Overview​This chapter gives a broad overview of the financial services sector, in particular the investment industry.It focuses on how the investment industry works, its participants and the benefits it brings to society when done well and ethically.

Chapter 1: The Investment Industry: A Top Down View (PDF download)
5%
Ethics & RegulationThis module explains why the investment industry is built on ethics and regulation and their benefits. It focuses on ethical framework, regulatory processes and consequences of regulatory failure and unethical behavior.

Chapter 2: Ethics and Investment Professionalism (PDF download)
Chapter 3: Regulation (PDF download)
10%
Inputs & ToolsThis is an important chapter explaining how the (economic) world works, on a micro and macro level.Candidates will learn about microeconomics, macroeconomics, international trade, financial statements and quantitative concepts.

Chapter 4: Microeconomics (PDF download)
Chapter 5: Macroeconomics (PDF download)
Chapter 6: Economics of International Trade (PDF download)
Chapter 7: Financial Statements (PDF download)
Chapter 8: Quantitative Concept (PDF download)
20%
Investment InstrumentsThis module provides a good introduction to the key asset classes: equities, bond (fixed income), derivatives and alternative investments.  

Chapter 9: Debt Securities (PDF download)
Chapter 10: Equity Securities (PDF download)
Chapter 11: Derivatives (PDF download)
Chapter 12: Alternative Investments (PDF download)
20%
Industry StructureThis chapter delves deeper into the first topic’s introduction. It looks at how industry helps us invest, who the participants are and what they do, the different markets where investments take place, and the investment products themselves.

Chapter 13: Structure of the Investment Industry (PDF download)
Chapter 14: Investment Vehicles (PDF download)
Chapter 15: The Functioning of Financial Markets (PDF download)
20%
Serving Client NeedsThis topic is all about the process of understanding your client’s circumstances and investment needs, so their investments can be managed and allocated in the right way.

Chapter 16: Investors and Their Needs (PDF download)
Chapter 17: Investment Management (PDF download)
5%
Industry ControlThe final module focuses on risk management, performance evaluation and other control processes that are key to the smooth running of the investment industry.

Chapter 18: Risk Management (PDF download)
Chapter 19: Performance Evaluation (PDF download)
Chapter 20: Investment Industry Documentation (PDF download)
20%

Exam Fees & Costs

The CFA Investment Foundations Certificate is online and completely free, including the curriculum. 😲

​Although there is a limited range of third party study materials, using the curriculum itself is sufficient to pass the exam within 6 months.

If it is suitable for you and fits your career objectives, it is an unbelievably good value-for-money course to complete to boost your CV. All you need is an internet connection to register and start studying now!


Exam Schedule & Key Deadlines

CFA Investment Foundations Program: A Quick Guide 2

As it is an online-only program, candidates can sit for the Investment Foundations exams throughout the year, once certain conditions are met (see below).

However, CFA Institute seems to have temporarily closed new registrations for Investment Foundations until Sep 2021 for now.

Upon registering for the program at CFA Institute, you must meet the following in order to unlock the final exam:

  • Wait 30 days from the time of registration
  • Achieve 70% or better on Mock Exam A
  • Achieve 70% or better on Mock Exam B

Exam registration limits and number of attempts:

  • Candidates have 180 days (6 months) from date of registration to complete the exam. ​
  • Each registration allows 2 attempts to pass. The exam can be repeated without re-registering as long as it is within the 180-day window.
  • Candidates can only register twice in a 12-month period.

So this means the fastest time one can complete the Investment Foundations certification is in 1 month, and that there is a maximum of 4 attempts per year (only if applicable!). 


What Are the Requirements for Investment Foundations Program?

Given its objective and target audience, the Investment Foundations Certificate is open to all, with no education or experience requirement. 

The course is really approachable and designed for the many different people in the financial services industry who are not directly involved in analysing or making investment decisions, with no prior knowledge assumed. 

Candidates who successfully pass the online exam can claim a digital badge and earn the CFA Institute Investment Foundations Certificate.


​Benefits of the CFA Investment Foundations Certification

CFA Investment Foundations Program: A Quick Guide 3

Given CFA Institute’s brand cachet and Investment Foundations’ international recognition, this qualification can be particularly useful for:

  • Financial services professionals working in middle or back office, or even lawyers working with financial services clients, who would find the knowledge base beneficial for their day-to-day role. 
  • University students or fresh graduates (with or without finance background) looking to explore a career in finance. This could be a low cost and effort way to learn about the investment industry for free, whilst obtaining a certification that could set you apart from the rest. It could also serve as a stepping stone for other higher level, financial designation such as CFAFRM or CAIA once you’ve gained a few years working experience in the sector.

By completing and earning the Investment Foundations Certificate, you can expect to:

  • Lead with confidence and work better with your colleagues and clients
  • Gain a fundamental framework and knowledge of the investment industry
  • Improve your job performance by gaining an understanding of common global industry standards
  • Differentiate yourself and stand out in a competitive global job market 

Investment Foundations vs IMC: What Is The Difference?

There is often confusion between Investment Foundations Certificate and IMC (Investment Management Certificate), of which the latter is a threshold qualification for aspiring financial services professionals run by CFA UK.

Let’s clarify this: the key difference is target audience and to a lesser extent, geography. 

In short, IMC is UK-only, more regulatory-focused and intended for people who work in front office (involved in investment decision making).

On the other hand, Investment Foundations is more suitable for people who work in the middle and back office and even in related industries like professional services (e.g. lawyers working with financial services clients). 

Here’s a quick summary table comparing Investment Foundations vs. IMC:

CFA Investment FoundationsInvestment Management Certificate (IMC)
Geographical focusGlobalGlobal (with remote-proctoring)
ObjectiveTo provide an accessible, foundation-level program for anyone wishing to enter or advance within the investment management industry. To supply successful candidates with a common understanding of industry structure and terminology, regardless of job function or geographic location.Designed as the benchmark entry-level qualification into the UK investment profession.Delivers the threshold competency knowledge required by investment practitioners involved in portfolio management, research analysis, and other front office investment activities.​​
Topics Covered​The Investment Foundations syllabus consists of 7 modules covering the essentials of finance, ethics and investment roles. More details here.​IMC covers topics including economics, accounting, investment practice, regulation, and ethics.​The content is global, with the addition of a distinct chapter on UK taxation.
Target Audience​The course is designed for professional disciplines outside of investment roles and requires no prior educational or industry experience.Candidates are typically drawn from areas such as operations, administration, IT, HR, marketing, sales, PR, compliance and customer service.​Often sat by university graduates and entry level professionals in the investment industry.Pursued by individuals across all areas of the investment sector and over half of candidates are actively involved in front office investment activities including portfolio management, research, investment consulting, risk management and relationship management.Most investment firms ask their employees to take the IMC to demonstrate the competency of their front office staff to the regulator. ​

Investment Foundations vs CFA: Which is Right for You?

CFA Investment Foundations Program: A Quick Guide 4

As you may know, the CFA charter is a Master’s degree equivalent designation that focuses more on portfolio management at its highest level.

On the other hand, Investment Foundations is a free, online certification equivalent to “A Level” that focuses on a foundational knowledge in investment management suitable for non-investment roles. 

Both qualifications are quite distinct in its objectives, therefore we hope the answer is clearer here:

  • ​If you’re looking into a career that analyzes or makes investment decisions, such as wealth or investment management industry, then the CFA charter is the right one for you. The CFA charter will also benefit any financial services professional role.
  • If you’re looking into this to learn more about the investment industry, but would perform a role supporting the industry (such as in IT, HR, legal, operations, marketing etc), the Investment Foundations Certificate is better suited for you.

Here’s a quick summary comparing both qualifications:

CFA Investment FoundationsCFA Program
Suited ForNon-investment decision making roles associated with the finance industry, such as IT, HR, legal, operations, customer service, accounting etc (typically middle or back office). Finance professionals in a role that makes or advises investment decisions (typically front office)​
Entry requirementsNone. This course is designed to be accessible to all.​Have a bachelor’s degree; or

Final year undergraduate of a bachelor’s program; or

Have a combination of college degree and full time work experience that totals 4,000 hours.
Number of Exams1 (fastest route is in 1 month, must be passed within 6 months without re-registering again.)3 levels (fastest route is in 18 months, although the average is 4 years to complete)
​Exam FrequencyOnline exam can be done anytime all year round.

Maximum 4 attempts a year.
From 2021, CFA exams will transition to computer-based testing for all levels with increased frequency:

Level 1: 4x a year, in Feb, May, Aug and Nov.

Level 2: 2x a year, with May and Aug in 2021, and 2022 onwards Feb and Aug.

Level 3: 2x a year in May and November.
Exam Format100 multiple-choice questions in 100 minutesComputer-based exams from 2021 for all levels:

Level 1: Multiple choice questions

Level 2: Item set questions (multiple choice)

Level 3: Item set and constructed-response questions 
Topics studied​7 modules, focusing on ethics, and a high-level overview of the financial and investment industry.

Non-technical, no calculations required.
10 topics per level, with in-depth focus on ethics as well as technical coverage of the majority of investment instruments.

Definitely has calculations involved.
Pass Rates60%-85%The range of CFA pass rates since 2010:
Level 1: 36%-43%
Level 2: 39%-47%
Level 3: 46%-56%
Fees and Costs$0, completely free (including curriculum)​
– One-off Enrollment Fee: $450
– Registration fee (per level): $700-$1,000​​
– Retakes: same as registration fee

Total CFA exam minimum cost: ~US$ 2,600
Study Hours Needed100 hoursAt least 300 hours per level
Post Exam RequirementsTo become an Investment Foundations certificate holder, all you have to do is pass the online exam to claim your digital badge and printed certificate.​​To become a CFA charterholder:
– Pass all the 3 levels of CFA exams;
– 4 years of qualified investment work experience;
– Submit reference letters for 2-3 professional references;Become a regular member of CFA Institute;
– Adhere to CFA ethics and professional conduct.​

Overall, the Investment Foundations certificate provides financial services professionals working in non-investment roles a great opportunity to upgrade their knowledge base about the global investment industry. It offers an unbeatable value as it is a free, high quality online certification with global recognition that requires relatively low time investment. 

So if you’re currently student, working in an investment-supporting function, or just aiming for a career in investment management in general, CFA Investment Foundations can be a cost effective way to add a valuable credential to your CV


Any questions? Let us know in the comments below!

Meanwhile, you may find these related articles in our Beginner’s Guide series of interest:

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58 thoughts on “CFA Investment Foundations Program: A Quick Guide”

  1. Will the questions remain the same for Attempts 1 & 2 ? (for the CFA investment foundations program) or will both attempts have a different set of questions for the final exam?

    Reply
  2. Hi,
    I’ve registered for investment foundation program after taking my CFA level 1 Exam (21 july) but when I’m opening my learning ecosystem its coming for CFA level 1 and not of investment program.
    Can anyone please help!

    Reply
  3. Hello, I trust you’re doing fine.

    I can’t seem to access my LES. I get this error message ”This account does not have access to a course. Your access might be expired, or you are using the wrong email. Double-check you are using the correct email and log in again.” when I try to log in. I registered on the 18th of June, so I don’t get why I keep getting this message. I tried logging out to re-login, but it’s still the same message.

    Please, what can I do about it?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • I’m not sure how you registered, but CFA Institute has closed Investment Foundations to new registrations since early 2021. I would imagine that’s why you’re seeing your error messages.

      However, if you want to follow up on this you can email info@cfainstitute.org. If you do, let us know what they say!

      Reply
      • I already sent a mail

        I could still access the platform like 2 days ago……….I’m really shocked by this in all honesty. I will give an update when I get a response from cfainstitute.

        Thanks

        Reply
        • We’ve also received similar reports in our discussion forum – it looks like CFA Institute may have just cut off access.

          They are planning to relaunch soon, but this is likely to now be a paid program, as they were having issues with lots of candidates registering but not actually taking the exams.

          Reply
  4. Hi
    I enrolled for the investment foundation exam. I had a query regarding the mock tests, both mock that are to be given have all the chapters i.e all 20 chapters in both the mocks?

    Reply
  5. Hello.

    Actually, I registered for this course in June 2020. But due to some circumstances, I couldn’t attempt the test in the 180 day period and hence I missed the last deadline for taking the examination that is 19th December 2020.

    Now, will I have to re-register? Because I still have the access to their ecosystem and I didn’t take any of their mock tests or the final exam. Also, they have mentioned on their site that individual registering cannot happen until September 2021. So does that mean that I will have to wait till September 2021 for re-registering or I can still give the exam?

    Reply
    • CFA Institute have never taken Investment Foundations offline like this before – I’m assuming this is because of Covid. So if the system allows you to take the mock tests and final exam, take it, there’s no downside to that.

      If the system doesn’t allow you to, then yes, you’ll have to wait until September 2021 to re-register.

      Reply
    • Hey Radhika,
      The new registration can be done via Account. I mean, go to My Account, the select Investment Foundations. Then, you will be allowed to do registration.

      Reply
  6. Hi!! Thank you very much for the information!!
    I would like to know if there are other well recognized free certificates such as the CFA Investment Foundations Program?

    Reply
    • Hi Mae, are you saying you’re not seeing the option to take Mock exam A and B in the CFA Learning Ecosystem? To take the final exam, you need to score at least 70 on both mocks before the actual exam option appears.

      Reply
  7. Hi Sophie
    I have registered for the CFA Investment Foundations exam but where from do I access the exam page login? I am not able to find any such URL or pop up or pages directing me to the exam. Please help

    Reply
  8. CFA Institute Investment Foundations vs. CFA Fundamentals (kaplan)

    Hi, i’m thinking to do CFA L1 in nov/21 and i want to focus around june/july. I want to start next month a lighter reading about cfa topics, but i’m doubt about cfa investment foundations and cfa fundamentals, anyone can give me an idea what is more recommmended to real before focusing 100% in the CFA L1 material?

    Reply
      • Hi Matthew, just a thought – if you’re thinking of CFA L1 in Nov21, why not register now for it and start reading (lightly)?

        Reason I say this is that despite similar names, CFA Investment Foundations is targeted at different demographics vs. CFA Program itself. See the table above in the article comparing CFA vs CFA Inv Foundation for more info.

        If you’re keen to pursue the CFA designation, you have time to register and start slowly first, before ramping up in June/July. That way, you don’t waste any effort reading/studying something else as it all contributes to your L1 exam.

        Reply
  9. I am having a problem registering my account. I received the message ” the email address is already associated with the account” I tried to register again and it looked like I am registered but my account cannot give me access to study material. If possible can you provide me with the number to call. My email address is as below

    Reply
    • Hi Segametse, best to contact CFA Institute directly on this. It may also be that their online system is experiencing issues. Have you retried today when you have logged in?

      Reply
  10. Hello…..I registered for CFA investment foundation programme but somehow I couldn’t give my exam within 180 days so now what can I do??
    I tried to register again but it’s showing you have already registered 🤷‍♂️
    I tried to call to CFA institute but they not at all responding
    Somebody please help me 🙏

    Reply
    • Hi Pavan, you can attempt the exam twice per registration. And you can only register twice in a 12-month period.

      So if you cannot complete/pass it within 180 days, just wait until that 180 day lapses, then re-register again to have 2 attempts within 180days.

      Hope this helps!

      Reply
  11. Hello Sophie: Thanks for your reply. I want to ask another question if you don’t mind. I have just registered the exam sucessfully, but I haven’t seen any Mock exam in my account yet. Should I wait for another couple of days for them to generate? Because I remember see the agreement that I need to pass the mock exam A & B in order to access the final exam, but I cannot find them right now. Thanks for help!

    Reply
  12. Hello there: I just want to ask that whether this program’s final exam is open book or not? Will there be any proctor during the exam? Do I need to turn my camera on? Thank you for answering!

    Reply
  13. IS THE FOUNDATION COURSE STILL FREE AS OF NOVEMBER, 2020? I AM ASKING BECAUSE I HAVE REGISTERED BUT UNABLE TO LOG IN TO ACCESS MY STUDY MATERIALS, EXAMS, PDF, ETC. PLEASE HELP! THANK YOU.:)

    Reply
  14. What is the minimum passing score of CFA Investment Foundation Program? Is is aggregate 70% or 70% in each module to pass the Investment Foundation Program? Thanks and appreciate your response.

    Reply
    • Hi Musaddiq, the final exam consists of 100 multiple choice questions, of which you need an aggregate of 70 and above to pass the Investment Foundations Program.

      Reply
  15. Are there practice online tests or only the questions at the end of each chapter to practice for the Investment Foundations Program exam?

    Reply
    • Hi Shary, aside from the curriculum, you get to practice more questions as well as mock exams on CFA Institute’s online learning tool called Learning Ecosystem upon registration.

      Reply
    • Hi Ananya, yes you can register again (for free) after 180 days if you didn’t pass. This is a free course so there are no retake or registration fees. You’re allowed 2 tries per registration. But you can only register twice in a 12 month period. So that means at maximum you can attempt the exam 4x a year in two 180-day registrations. Hope that helps!

      Reply
      • Yes, Ananya you can as it is mentioned- You have 180 days (6 months) from date of registration to complete the exam. ​ Each registration allows 2 attempts to pass. The exam can be repeated without re-registering as long as it is within the 180-day window and you can only register twice in a 12-month period. So this means the fastest time one can complete the Investment Foundations certification is in 1 month, and that there is a maximum of 4 attempts per year.

        Reply

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