I was lucky enough to be among the 38 percent to pass the first level exam.
Born in Poland but educated in the West, I can testify that taking the CFA exam involves sacrifice. It was tough, but is within reach for many Ukrainians seeking a new career, higher salary and growth prospects.
“It’s a tough exam, but it can open a lot of doors,” said Mariia Kovalenko, who passed the level one exam this year and works with statistical surveys at international auditing giant Ernst & Young.
The cost typically ranges between $600 and $1,000, depending on the time left until the exam, plus $420 to $505 for first-time enrollment. But that’s the easy part.
CFA exam takers usually spend between 290 and 320 hours preparing for the exam, memorizing each of the 3,000 or so pages in six tomes by heart. And that’s just for the first of three levels.
Unyielding passage rates of around 40 percent mean that many end up taking the exams several times before passing. But as jobs get more specialized and the market more competitive, a growing number of Ukrainians are finding the benefits outweigh the costs.
While no numbers are available for Ukraine, globally CFA charter holders with less than one year of experience can expect salaries more than $50,000. Those with over five years on the job have median salaries of at least $90,000.
Moreover, the diploma increases chances of employment and career growth even for those not directly involved in finance.
Nowadays working in a professional environment means that you need to deal with many overlapping fields, Kovalenko said, and taking the exam is a great to boost your understanding of finance and get a competitive edge.
Internationally recognized and with very high credibility, a CFA charter is certainly a great way to stand out from the crowd, confirmed head of CFA Ukraine Andrey Bespyatov, who holds both a PhD and CFA charter.
When you are looking at dozens of resumes, with five minutes to eliminate a candidate, having a CFA can be the difference between the top and the bottom of the pile, said Bespyatov, who also heads the research department at leading Ukraine-based investment bank Dragon Capital.
The exam started growing in popularity around 2004, around the same time the Ukrainian stock market took off. Back then some 20 charter holders appeared on the market, compared to around 80 at present, Bespyatov said.
The rapid growth means that Ukraine earned the right to its very own CFA society in 2009. It brings together some 100 investment professionals, three quarters of whom hold CFA charters. A further 20 have passed the level three exam this year, and are expected to join, Bespyatov added.
The institute is also dedicated towards improving the level of financial education, working with universities to bring the curriculum closer to international standards. It has also, in the past two years, organized finance competitions for teams of local university students. The winners then head to the European competitions for a chance to reach the world finals in New York.
Yet the exam is about more than just knowledge of finance. Indeed, success in the 6 hour-exam – two three-hour parts of 120 questions each – also depends on stamina and disciplined preparation.
“If you pass, it means you know how to organize yourself,” Bespyatov said, pointing to a further advantage for employers.
This is particularly true when it comes to those already working. Cramming knowledge during all spare hours, test takers tend to become pale and with vacant expressions before the test, the veteran analyst said.
“I see it in the faces,” Bespyatov laughed, remembering his own struggles to pass the exam.
He also pointed to another advantage of the international certificate, particularly to those Ukrainians fed up with the corruption and nepotism that pervade the nation’s business spheres.
For just around two thousand dollars you can get an internationally accepted professional certificate, Bespyatov explained, significantly less than the tens or even hundreds of thousands you would need to earn a Masters in Business Administration at one of the world’s top business schools.
Unfortunately, this means that talented young professionals use it as way to leave Ukraine, but at least they don’t need to leave work and can do it on their own, he said.
“It is a great equalizer. You don’t need rich parents to send you abroad,” he added.
Kyiv Post staff writer Jakub Parusinski can be reached at email@example.com.