CFA Work Experience Requirements: A Crystal Clear Guide

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Did you know that there has been some changes to the CFA work experience guidelines that affect both CFA program enrollment criteria and CFA charter applications?

And what does ‘relevant’ work experience really mean when you’re applying for your CFA charter?

No worries, we will take you through this tangled web of mess logically so you are completely up-to-date with with the latest CFA work experience requirements.

Let’s do this.


What is the recent CFA work experience change?

CFA work experience change

The first point I want to make is that there is currently – until 3 March 2021 – a difference in work experience criteria for CFA program enrollment (4 years) vs. CFA Institute membership applications for charterholders (4,000 hours relevant work experience in at least 3 years).

From 3 March 2021, CFA Institute will update their CFA program enrollment criteria to match the current (new) CFA membership, summarized as follows:

CFA Work Experience ChangesCFA Program enrollment criteria when registering for Level 1CFA Charter work experience requirement for CFA Institute regular membership
Before 3 Mar 2021– Have a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent); or
– Be a final year university student; or
– Have a combination of professional work experience (can be non-investment related) and education totalling 4 years. Part-time work is excluded, full time paid internships are accepted.
CFA Institute’s regular membership work experience criteria has been updated on 1 July 2020:

– at least 4,000 hours of relevant investment-related work experience, completed in a minimum of 3 years. Full time, part-time or remote work arrangements completed before, during or after your CFA program can qualify.
From 3 Mar 2021– Have a combination of 4,000 hours of work experience (can be non-investment related) and/or higher education over a minimum of 3 sequential years. If applicable, assume 1,000 hours per year for higher education.No change from above since 1 July 2020.

CFA Institute members voted to make this work experience criteria change from 4 years to an equivalent of 4,000 hours, completed in a minimum of 36 months.

This was done mainly to promote greater inclusion of professionals who meet the high standard of membership and address the shift in work patterns of the global investment management workforce: mainly an increase in part-time professionals, flexible and remote working.

As you can see, while the common theme is 4,000 hours of work experience between the CFA enrollment and regular membership criteria, the latter requires it to be qualified, relevant work experience, whereas during CFA enrollment process, the work experience can be non-investment related.

Let’s delve into the details of what a relevant CFA work experience means when applying for your CFA charter (CFA Institute regular membership).


What is the current CFA work experience requirements for CFA charterholders?

cfa work experience requirements

After passing all 3 levels of CFA exam, you’ll need to qualify as a CFA Institute regular member for the right to use the CFA designation. For this, you’ll need 2-3 professional references and achieve the relevant work experience required.

Focusing just on the work experience requirement, you’ll need:

  1. at least 4,000 hours of relevant work experience, completed in a minimum of 3 years. These can be accrued from any previous or current position, and do not have to be continuous.
  2. relevant work experience hours must be directly related to the investment decision-making process or producing a work product that informs or adds value to that process.
  3. work experience earned through full-time, part-time, or remote work arrangements — before, during, or after your participation in the CFA Program — can qualify.

Does my work experience qualify?

In other words, your work experience will be considered relevant for CFA Institute’s regular membership if it:

  • directly relates to the investment decision-making process, OR producing a work product that informs or adds value to that investment decision-making process;
  • is accrued before, during or after participation of the CFA program. Note that full time, part time or remote work are acceptable.
  • properly described in your membership application.

For most people, the question comes down to whether a particular work experience is ‘investment-related’. As a guide, an ‘investment-related’ qualified work experience should involve:

  • evaluating or applying financial, economic, and/or statistical data as part of the investment decision-making process; OR
  • supervising those who do such analysis; OR
  • teaching others on how to analyze and apply the data.

Is there any way to pre-verify your work experience? Not exactly, but you can use the CFA Institute’s work experience assessment tool as a rough gauge of the relevance of a particular work experience.

That said, this tool just provides a guide to give you a better sense of the relevance of a work experience, CFA Institute would not guarantee that you’ll be accepted for membership as it ultimately depends on the work description in your membership application.

And there is a technique to that, which we will discuss in the next with a couple of examples.


How to describe work experience: Some CFA work experience examples

So here’s what we need to show in our work experience description for the CFA Institute regular membership application:

  • at least 4,000 hours of relevant work experience completed in a minimum of 3 years;
  • include only qualifying work experience (leave out unrelated roles);
  • how each job task you did is related to the investment decision-making process, or adds value to the process.

In your work experience description, remember to focus on the independent analysis you did and how the output of your work impacts on the investment decision-making process to show relevance.

In reality, the 4,000 hours is not the limiting factor, but the requirement of relevant work experience over at least 3 years. Here’s a simple calculation: if we assume a candidate works 50 weeks a year at just 40 hours a week, that’s 2,000 hours itself, assuming 100% of their work is relevant.

So a good place to start is looking over your last 3 years of work experience and roughly estimating what % of time of your work is qualified CFA work experience, and adding it up to see if you make the 4,000 hours. In the actual membership application form, this will be calculated for you based on the number of months you have been working in each position.

In essence, the formula for a good work description for your CFA membership application is:

1) here is what I did
2) this is who it helped
3) this is how my work product affected or added value to the investment decision making process”.

Here are a few good, short examples of qualifying CFA work experience descriptions from various sectors, which focused on explaining the independent analysis they did and how it affected or contributed to the investment decision-making process:

Work ExperienceQualifying Description
Corporate Finance (Example 1)I prepare financial models based on publicly available data to derive valuation metrics. Then evaluated investment opportunities by analyzing cash flow, NPV, and IRR of each potential target company. The result of this work is used to provide recommendations to the investment committee.
Actuary (Example 2)I perform an annual actuarial valuation process of the funded status of a define benefit (DB) pension scheme. This involves performing statistical analysis and long term projections of interest rate, inflation and demographic data, among other things. This analysis shows whether the DB scheme is in surplus or deficit, and what the characteristics of the pension liabilities are, which directly impacts the investment strategy of the pension assets.
Accounting (Example 3)I manage a team that prepares financial statements as well as evaluates the potential return on investment on corporate projects. Our analysis includes cash flow and income projections, capital outlay, net present value and payback period. This analysis forms the basis of our recommendation to senior management on whether to invest in selected property, plant, and equipment fixed assets.

What happens if your CFA work experience is rejected?

In this case, you will be a CFA Institute affiliate member with a “charter pending” status. You still have all the benefits of a CFA Institute membership except the right to vote.

From there, you can work towards getting into a role where your duties directly affect the investment decision-making process. Then, reapply after reaching the minimum of 4,000 hours in 3 years requirement.


CFA work experience writing tips

When submitting your work experience to the CFA Institute, keep these 7 tips in mind:

  1. Job titles alone are insufficient. Be specific about what work you did for the client, what output you generated that meets the work experience requirements above. Feel free to include the type of client or even client name (if not confidential work) to further demonstrate relevance.
  2. Only include positions that qualify. There’s no need to include everything in your CV, leave out unrelated roles.
  3. Write it like a cover letter. You have to treat your work experience application akin to writing a cover letter for a job application. Remember to highlight parts of your role to emphasize its relevance to the CFA work experience requirements.
  4. You must be helping people decide how to invest. The goal is to demonstrate that work contributes to investment-decision-making processes. You don’t have to be directly making the decisions – as long as investment decisions depend on your work in some way (e.g. your research, your analysis, your counsel), then it should be relevant.​
  5. Teaching & supervising also counts. If you’re in a full time position which teaches required skills, or supervises those who carry out relevant responsibilities, this also qualifies as relevant work experience.
  6. Part-time positions are now eligible. Any work experience must be full-time. Internships also do not qualify as work experience.
  7. Managing your own investments does not qualify. So does running investment clubs, managing your family or friends’ investments, and so on. You need professional, paid experience, i.e. if you manage investments, it should be for paying clients.

Got any tips or experiences to share? Let us know in the comments below!

Meanwhile, here are a few related articles that may be of interest:

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78 thoughts on “CFA Work Experience Requirements: A Crystal Clear Guide”

  1. Hi I have already registered for the level 1 CFA Aug Exam. I am in the final year of my graduation. How does this new guidelines affect my Level 1 examination. Anyone?

    Reply
    • Hi None, it doesn’t affect you because there are 3 alternative criteria for CFA enrollment: Bachelors degree, final year uni student, or work experience. You meet the second definition so there is nothing to worry there.

      Reply
  2. Hi – I wonder if experience teaching high school economics would count? We follow an internationally recognized curriculum (Cambridge AS- and A-level).

    Reply
  3. I run a business that is owned by my spouse, but have 8M in revenues and do all of the accounting, financial analysis, projections, and pursue investment opportunities on behalf of the business. Due to the size of the company, it is fairly well delineated from our personal finances and has provided an incredible amount of valuable experience. Would this qualify? I understand there may be challenges with obtaining references if you don’t have a supervisor, but that issue aside, do you think the experience would qualify?

    It sounds like you can obtain the experience before you pass the exam. Is that accurate? Or does some amount of experience need to happen after you sit for the exams?

    Reply
  4. I am Chartered Accountant and will appear for CFA level 1 exams what kind of job can I get that will satisfy the requirement of 4 yrs work experience to get the CFA Charter

    Reply
  5. I have passed CFA Levels I, II and III and working on contract basis for a group of companies engaged in manufacturing, trading and investment in large projects. My past 4 years works with this organization involved in Finance Analysis, assisting finance planning and investment projects under the supervision of the Chief Finance Officer (CFO) and the Director of Finance of this company.I am a passed finalist of CIMA (UK) as well. I have a sound IT skills. Am I eligible for applying for the membership? Can the above two persons be my referees?

    Reply
      • Would this be the case for preparing financial statements and overseeing accounting, budgeting and financial systems for a non-profit? I’m definitely helping in the financial decision-making process… but when the CFA work requirements state ‘investment-related’ work experience, the word ‘investment’ has a somewhat different meaning for non-profits.

        Reply
        • Hi James, it sounds like you’re on a CFO-type role, of which I would emphasize more on how preparing financial statements help the board make certain investment decisions (it could be investing in a new IT system etc). While it is a non-profit, there are still investment decisions to be made.

          The key here is to be specific, and look for examples in your work where you have done independent analysis that helps investment decision making (doesn’t have to be financial instruments. Examples relating to overseeing accounting/budgeting are more of an accountant’s role, so would not be relevant work experience here.

          Reply
  6. hello, thanks for your post, its very helpful. I am an anayst in corporate recovery making Finance data analysis and having a supporting role in the implemenation of strategy for each client (restructuring, bankruptcy etc). Does that count?

    Reply
  7. I worked as an actuarial analyst in a short-term (or general) insurance company. I did product development and pricing of short-term insurance products. Can I argue that this has a direct impact on reserving investments and client financial planning? Would this count as relevant experience?

    Also, do you need the 2-3 references per position?

    Reply
    • Hi Jannie, yes your actuarial work experience is relevant. You just need to explain how your work experience contributes to investment decision making or informs/adds value to that process.

      The 2-3 references are for your whole work experience application, not per work position.

      Reply
  8. I work in technical support servicing a portfolio management and performance reporting software that is used by independent Registered Investment Advisers. I also service the custodial platform independent RIA’s use for placing trades, managing accounts, and researching data in order for them to determine investment decisions. Does this count as relevant work experience? I don’t give investment advice, but I service technology by informing and helping advisers with knowing what features to utilize within the system and how to use them, which advisers depend on to help the manage their investments and determining their investment decisions for their clients. Does this count as relevant work experience?

    Reply
  9. I was a Senior Accountant in a Fund Administration company for two years. Does it count as part of 4 year relevant work experience?

    Reply
    • Hi REIL, I certainly think it qualifies. As long as your work experience relates to the investment decision-making process, or producing a work product that informs or adds value to that process. For example, if you help with fund accounting matters such as calculation of net asset value, that is a calculation that helps/informs decision making process for investors, therefore qualifies as relevant work experience for CFA.

      Reply
  10. Hi. I am planning to take the CFA Level 1 next year, i’ve lost my job and got offered an ESG Research Analyst position. While I think its responsibilities (analysis) is used in investment decision-making of investors, I think it is not that “finance” related. I am not sure if this could be used as “relevant work experience” for the charter in the future, I hope someone can clear it for me. Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • Hi Junie, sorry to hear of your job loss, but congrats on your new offer – sustainable investing is super relevant in the asset management market today and definitely a growth area. Your work as an ESG research analyst definitely fits the work experience criteria for CFA exams, as your analysis helps people decide how to invest. ESG is an important factor these days for retail and institutional investors’ decision making, so there is no worry there that it is relevant. It isn’t about whether it is directly ‘finance’ related (but ESG research is anyway), but whether your analysis/advice/work helps investors make investment decision. And it does. Congrats on your new role and welcome to the CFA world!

      Reply
  11. Hi does working as a private lawyer and guiding the investment firms count as experience and does your work experience count while you are studying a part time course. Please confirm.

    Reply
    • Hi Henry, as long as more than 50% of your work is on “helping people decide how to invest”, that qualifies. What do you specifically advise investment firms that demonstrate that work contributes to investment-decision-making processes? You don’t have to be directly making the decisions – as long as investment decisions depend on your work in some way (e.g. your research, your analysis, your counsel), then it should be relevant.​ Your part time study course has no impact on whether the work experience counts, as long as your work experience is full time.

      Reply
  12. I plan to start an RIA on my own after I pass level III in June 2020, but I don’t have any prior relevant work experience. Since I won’t have a supervisor, will the first 4 years of my advisor business count as relevant? My references will need to be past supervisors from work that doesn’t qualify. I just want to make sure this will be acceptable. Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • I’m assuming you’re talking about the first 4 years of your future RIA business? It should count as work experience – anyone you work with/for will be able to provide a reference. In your case, clients would be an acceptable reference. Assuming the procedure is still the same as when I went through it in 2011, the referencing process is just a third party verifying that the nature of your work is what you say it is, so it should be pretty straightforward to complete.

      Reply
  13. I am currently working as Finance Manager in a Oil and Gas Company here in Texas. Does this count as work experience. Thanks

    Reply
  14. I am currently work as estimation manager in power sector. This role involves preparation of the cost estimation for the service to be offered to client, prepare revenue to be received for the entire length of service. Also prepare sheet for asset purchase evaluation model for the company to buy any asset. Does this count as relevant experience?

    Reply
    • The asset purchase evaluation model work would definitely qualify. I’m not sure if the other tasks would – at least as you’ve described it.

      Reply
  15. Okay, so I’m a public accountant pursuing CPA and CFA at the same time. I have three years experience in audit and financial reporting. I am thinking about switching gear as I have passed my level III. I’m not sure whether my work experience as public accountant will be counted as ‘relevant work experience’, and is there any suggestion on what kind of career/position that can integrate CPA and CFA?

    Reply
  16. I spent the first year of my career at a large discount brokerage as a broker. I was basically an order taker. But I did spend a considerable amount of my time educating clients on different order types, option strategies, technical analysis, etc. They would decide whether or not to execute, and I would place the order(s) for them. Is it possible to have that year approved?

    Reply
    • Yes, in my opinion I think that should get approved. You should emphasise the investment decisions your clients are making based on your recommendations and work in your work experience submission.

      Reply
  17. Hi, I am currently working with a Global Bank, in the Statutory accounts team. We prepare the Statutory Financial Statements of entities setup in UK per the Local GAAP (IFRS), which are then audited (we are a part of the entire audit process too) and finally present the financials to the Board of Directors. Does this qualify for the relevant experience criteria?

    Reply
  18. I have obtained two professional references, out of which one is from my direct supervisor and other one is from a regular member of the CFA society I am applying for. However, the website still doesnt allow me to submit my application. Can anyone help me with the possible reason ?

    Reply
  19. (to Mark above) Yes absolutely. The fact that you don’t accept outside money (e.g. family offices) should have no bearing at all to your acceptance, you’re still making investment decisions – your ‘client’ are the senior members.

    Reply
  20. Thanks for the insight. My only worry was based on the fact that we dont accept investors money. So as I am making investment decisions, its not for a client or a customer.

    Reply
  21. I am a senior commodity derivatives trader. I work at a very, very small firm in which we manage “personal money” Two senior members of the firm put up the capital. None of the money put up is mine but I receive a percentage of profits. I also handle all back office work including checking statements/balancing accounts/accounting. I have been with this company for over 6 years. Is this sufficient work experience?

    Reply
  22. From your understanding, does the investment decision process, or as you put it helping people decide how to invest, include financial analysis conducted internally by a company to inform its management of how best manage its financial position (i.e. earnings, debt instruments, etc.) to further the company’s growth? For example a financial analyst within a mining company that does analysis to inform management’s decisions.

    Reply
    • Absolutely! Investment decisions need not necessarily be the conventional kind, i.e. ‘here’s some money, invest it and grow’. Investment decisions can also equally can mean capital management decisions.

      Reply
  23. I am now working for an international consultancy firm. My responsibility includes but not limited to hotel appraisals and valuations, as well as feasibility studies of both hotels and serviced apartments. Does that count?

    Reply
    • Oh yes it should. Note that in order for your work experience to qualify, relevant activities should cover at least 50% of your daily responsibilities. So valuations etc is relevant, but if it only comprises of say 10% of what you do, you’ll need to have a look at your other responsibilities.

      Reply
  24. I’m a financial analyst and have been for just under a year. I perform monthly profitability reports analyze is/bs, forecasting etc. I’m concerned that my only “investing work experience” is if we should restructure contracts with clients or to keep them as a client. Do you think I would be approved if I continue with this career

    Reply
  25. More specifically, what does the referrer see about the CFA candidate requesting the reference, exactly? Do they see his or her work history or when he or she passed each exam, for example? Thanks.

    Reply
  26. Hi. Can I have sponsors that have not been my supervisors? I have an acquaintance that is part of the local society and a former colleague that is part of another society. Both are charterholders. Is that enough or does at least one sponsor have to be a supervisor?

    Reply
  27. Would work as a tax lawyer satisfy this requirement. I frequently analyze the tax impact of various transaction structures available to my clients.

    Reply
  28. I am selling ratings to SME’s. The SME’s buy our non-mandatory ratings to get their company financials evaluated to get loans from banks at concessional interest rates smoothly. It is a Rating Agency like S&P and Fitch. Is it relevant work experience.

    Reply
  29. Hi my name is Shradha Mani. I am working as a research associate in the School of Inspired Leadership. I am involved with mentoring and training students on the finance courses which involve Financial and Managerial Accounting, Corporate Finance and M&As. Along with this I am also involved in some research projects on finance. Will this qualify as relevant work experience for CFA

    Reply
  30. Right now i am a Corporate Financial Analyst. I do Budgeting/Forecasting/ROI analysis. I also analyze the balance sheet/IS/Cf statement. I don’t do too much with investment analysis besides whether we should do business with a client or not based on our models. Please Help!

    Reply
  31. Nice Article…… I have 4 years of experience in IT as a software engineer ….. does it count as a relevant experience in CFA ….

    Reply
  32. I am a Certified Financial Planner running an investment advisory firm , Does this experience count for full time experience

    Reply
  33. Do you think my experience in conducting analysis of financial statements for the purpose of audit is relevant? I mean analytical procedures, valuation of instruments for financial reporting, valuation of assets, etc.

    Reply
  34. I worked 3 years as a financial analyst making models and analyzing companies for IB and PE clients. I quit some time back and am now developing finance content for an education startup. I know my 3 years exp counts (others in my firm have got charters). All I’m worried about is the 4th year.

    Reply
  35. I was initially worried about the experience requirement because I’m in a government role, which is very “non-traditional”. I’ve since contacted the CFAI and from what I can tell, so long as you’re doing work that is acceptable (i.e. cash flow modeling, derivatives analysis, etc.), it appears that they’re willing to work with you.

    Reply
    • That’s exactly right – it’s the nature of the job, not the company you’re at that is relevant. I was able to swing my experience from an advertising firm, so you can go pretty non-traditional!

      Reply
  36. That’s an interesting position to be in – I’ve certainly not heard of that one before. If I were you I’d try to get peers (i.e. your managers, colleagues that you work with) rather than people you manage. If you’re trying to get someone who’s a CFA charterholder to qualify for the ‘2 sponsors’ rule, I’d suggest to go for an acquaintance rather than people that report to you.

    Reply
    • Thanks. I agree with your suggestion understanding that my situation is bit embarassing. Just because I am too old and all those younger are brighter and got all the qualificaitons.

      Reply
  37. I am in a supervisory position while my subordinates are CFA. Just wonder if I should ask them to be my sponsors or I better get my friends doing that…

    Reply
  38. Hi Matt The key is to have someone that knows you professionally, i.e. they can testify to the quality of your work. Preferably these are people that you have worked with directly, but I know of people who used acquaintances in the industry as references successfully as well. So if you are pressed for direct references, your professional acquaintance should do fine. Also note that if you know any current CFA local member you only need 2 sponsors! Good luck!

    Reply
  39. Do you have any info about who can act as a sponsor? Obviously your supervisor is preferred as one referee, however there is no detail about who the other 2 can be. Do you have to have worked with/for them, or can it be a finance professional who has known you for a significant time? Also, what is the minimum period someone must have known you to act as a referee. I have just changed organisations and so everyone I now work with hasn’t known me too long. Thanks Matt

    Reply

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