The CFA Program vs The Investment Foundations Program: Comparing the Two Qualifications

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By Zee

Should you be a CFA candidate, or pursue the Investment Foundations Program?

In addition to the CFA program, the CFA Institute has introduced a qualification called the Investment Foundations Program (previously called Claritas).

We’ve received enquiries from unsure potential candidates asking for more information on deciding between the two, so we thought it’d be helpful to put together an answer-all to help readers that need a bit more information to decide. 

For our current readers (and current CFA candidates), it might also be useful to know more about the Investment Foundations Program – you might want to recommend it to a friend or colleague!

What is the Investment Foundations Program?

The Investment Foundations Program covers the essentials of finance, ethics, and investment roles, providing a clear understanding of the global investment industry.

It’s self study, and usually benefits anyone that works in association with the finance industry. For more details about the Investment Foundations Program, read our article by our guest author, John Bowman, CFA, from the CFA Institute.

What is the CFA charter?

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Program is a professional credential offered by the CFA Institute. The CFA Program curriculum covers concepts and skills used in a financial and investment career, and has become a gold standard in the finance industry. We’ve written a lot about the CFA program – to learn more, check out these articles:

OK, so which one should I take?

This is a fairly simple question to answer. 

If you’re looking into a career that analyzes or makes investment decisions, such as the 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. You can see a list of sample member job descriptions here.

If you’re looking into this to learn more about the investment industry, but would perform a role supporting the industry (such as in HR, Legal, Marketing and so on), the Investment Foundations certificate is better suited for you.

Can I take the Investment Foundations certificate, then CFA Level I later on?

Well, there’s nothing to stop you from doing so, but it probably wouldn’t make much sense. The Investment Foundations certificate is meant to only give a very broad overview, and is for people who work with finance professionals that want to find out more about what the hell they’re up to. If you’re serious about taking the CFA Charter, there’s no reason to take Investment Foundations (no, there’s no value to it as a ‘warm up’ topic). Just go for Level I!

Investment Foundations vs CFA: a comparison

Below is a comparison of the Investment Foundations and CFA programs from various aspects – this should help inform your decision if you’re still undecided!

Investment Foundations Certificate
CFA Program
Suited For
Roles associated with the finance industry, but not directly
Financial professionals, i.e. a role that makes or advises investment decisions
Entry Requirements
4 years of work experience
A Bachelor’s degree (or final year) or 4 years of combined university & work experience
Exam Format
1 exam
2 hours long
​120 multiple questions
3 Levels, 2 exams each level, 180 minutes each session
Level I: 240 MCQ questions
Level II: 120 vignette questions
Level III: 60 vignette questions, 1 ‘essay’ paper
Exam Timing
Register and take exams at any time
​2 exam opportunities in June and December for Level I, and 1 exam opportunity in June only for Levels II and III
Curriculum Content
​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.
Study Time (estimated) and
​Time to Qualification
​100 hours, taking about 3-6 months (depending on how intensively you study)
1,000+ hours in total, taking a minimum of 18 months, and an average of about 4 years
Pass Rate
Historically about 85%
Historically about 40% – varies across years and levels

Hope this helps you decide which path you’re going to take! If you have an additional question, no problem: just drop it in the comments below.
Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan


6 thoughts on “The CFA Program vs The Investment Foundations Program: Comparing the Two Qualifications”

  1. I currently work in the offshore oil industry, have no plans to move into the finance industry however it is my hobby studying economics and analysing securities. Would you recommend the IMC cert or the Foundations course? I’d like to generally combine my industry knowledge with some in depth financial knowledge for a good rounded view.

    • Sir .Hope u are experienced and have corporate knowledge. U take finance course if u have passion and interest u take FMVA certificate. From CFI. Bcoz its easy to clear. But it’s ur option.IMC certificate is most valuable also equal of FMVA. But it has some basic requirements. If u clear the requirements u take IMC course. Best of luck.

      • Hi John, for your purposes, IMC would be a better choice as Investment Foundations are mainly for staff supporting investment roles.

  2. I am in my final year of graduation. I am persuing B.Com (H) in Finance and Accounting. I have no idea about investment banking and other subjects of CFA. And I am not even very sure about my career. So, before taking up for CFA Level 1, will going for Investment Foundations Program be helpful for me?


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