CFA® Program vs. CFP® mark : What is difference and which should you go for?

If you are working in the finance field, you would have heard a lot about CFA Program and CFP.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and Certified Financial Planner (CFP) are two certifications that indicate that the financial professional holding them is capable and qualified to do some kind of work.

Each of these certificates requires different level of education and experience when pursuing it.

Therefore, even if there is sometimes overlap in the role that the holders of these certificates can play, they are more likely to follow different career path, with a wide difference in the nature of their work.

As a general example, Chartered Financial Analysts (charterholders) are usually for work with large investment firms or financial services companies, such as banks, insurance companies, pension funds, mutual funds, and security firms, rendering financial analysis services to institutional investors.

On the other hand, Certified Financial Planners (certificants) typically work directly with individuals and retail clients in managing their wealth.

Therefore, before choosing either of these certifications, it is high recommended for you to find out what they require and what opportunities they present, so that you can choose the more appropriate certificate for your career goals as a financial advisor.

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Roles Of A Financial Advisor

A financial advisor is a finance professional who has proven their expertise in financial planning.

They help their clients, which may be individuals, groups or firms, to set and achieve their financial goals.

Many financial advisors are expected to offer expert advice to their clients on a broad range of topics.

Many others don’t offer advice on such broad range. Instead, they focus more specifically on a financial topic or situation.

A good example of this is a financial advisor who is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) focusing only on taxes.

There are also financial advisors who may also work with specific kinds of clients, such as professional athletes, celebrities, or people creating estate plans.

To further prove and showcase their expertise, financial advisors may choose to put in the work towards receiving advanced certification.

Two of the most common certification programs in the finance industry just turn out to be the CFA and the CFP certifications.

In this article, we shall be having a comprehensive comparison of these two certifications.

At the end of this, you should be able to make the right choice for yourself and your future on your path towards becoming a financial advisor. Let’s dive in!

CFA Program vs. CFP certification: An Overview

CFA is an acronym that stands for Chartered Financial Analyst.

Merely by looking at the name, you can have an idea of the sort of work typically pursued by charterholders: financial analytics.

According to CFA Institute, the two most common jobs pursued by charterholders are research analyst and portfolio manager.

By the way, the CFA Institute is the organization in charge of administering the CFA Program and offering the CFA charter.

It is usually common practice for people who need help with asset allocation and investing to opt for working with a CFA charterholder. Therefore, it is a certification that is high in demand.

A CFP, on the other hand, stands for a Certified Financial Planner.

Just like in the case of the CFA Program, you can have an idea of the kind of work that certificants mainly do, just by observing the name: financial planning.

Some of the common job roles filled by certificants are financial advisor, financial planner, and wealth manager.

As a CFP certificant, you would often work with individual clients, unlike charterholders who work a lot with groups and firms.

Even though both of these certifications are really common and high in demand, CFP is more common as a preferred certification for most financial advisors since it is more customized to helping individuals with financial planning.

But that is not all you need to know to make your choice.

Before choosing the certification to bolster your resume with, you need to ask yourself which one you believe will help you more with the kind of work that you are planning to do.

If you are in need of a qualified and certified financial advisor or want to prove yourself as one, you can be fully assured that either of these certifications will prove that someone holding them has gone through the work of understanding the principles and real life skill of managing your finances.

The next few sections will help you learn more about each of these specific certification programs.

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Getting Your Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Certification

Earning the CFA charter can be really time consuming and extremely rigorous, but it is well worth the effort.

The CFA Institute is in charge of the whole CFA Program certification process, and would award the charter to you after you have fulfilled its requirement.

In order to receive your certification, you have to join the CFA Society and become a member, and pay the annual membership dues if you want to maintain your membership.

Part of the requirement of completing your CFA Program is having a bachelor’s degree (or its equivalent), including four years of education or relevant professional work experience, where you are able to take an active role in the decision-making process of investments.

As an applicant, you are also required to pass three levels of exams. Each of these levels has a different focus and is made up of multiple parts.

Level 1 of the exams is offered in June and December, and it tests your basic knowledge and focuses more on investment tools.

Level 2 of the exams shifts its focus to asset valuation, highlighting more complex analysis. The third level of the exams then focuses on portfolio management.

Both level 2 and level 3 of the exams are offered in June only.

Generally, after obtaining their certification, CFA charterholders majorly work in jobs that allow them to focus more on investing decision making.

This certification will be of great advantage to financial advisors considering professions that are related to investment and portfolio analysis.

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Getting Your Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Certification

When compared to what goes into getting a CFA certification, the process of earning your Certified Financial Planner certification is much easier and faster.

The CFP certification is overseen and administered by The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.

Just like the CFA Program, there are certain education and professional work experience requirements that the applicants are expected to meet.

For you to earn your CFP certification, you have to hold a bachelor’s degree as well as some college-level study on financial planning.

Apart from this, you must have at least 6,000 hours of work experience with financial planning (or you could use 4,000 hours experience through an apprenticeship program).

After these requirements are met, you have to take your exams.

Unlike CFA Program with their 3 level deep exams, you can have all your CFP exams in a day.

In fact, the exam takes place in 2 three-hour sessions, all on that single day.

The two exam sessions are separated by a break of 40 minutes.

The exam takes place three times in a year, with one in March, another in July and the last one in November.

The exam is a multiple-choice type exam consisting of 170 questions, and uses real-life situations in assessing your ability to apply broad financial planning knowledge in real life.

Overall, the CFP program is much easier, shorter and even less-rigorous than the really intensive CFA program.


Getting a recognized certification can help you demonstrate your expertise and authority, while adding legitimacy to your career.

This is why it is important to get yourself a well-recognized certification.

CFA Program and CFP certifications turn out to be some of the most common certifications for financial advisors, and you should consider which of these better fits your goal.

Both of these certification programs will prove that you know how to handle individuals’ and firms’ financial future without causing them any harm.

However, despite the overlap in capacity, each certification is more tailored to specific roles and in serving specific audiences.

While the CFP certification is tailored to helping individuals, the CFA certification is more focused on serving groups and firms.

Also, charterholders typically work in the field of investing and financial analytics, while certificants majorly focus on financial planning.

Also bear in mind that it takes more time, money, and energy to get a CFA Program certification than it takes to get a CFP certification.

Since certificants also majorly deal directly with individuals, compared to charterholders who typically attend to firms and institutions, the certificants are more open to job opportunities.

However, more job opportunities do not necessarily mean more income. Firms and institutions can generally afford to pay more than individuals.

If you are considering taking up a career in finance and would like the build on your expertise and authority with added certification, your choice would be mostly determined by your personal interests and goals.

These are the only true pointers in making your final decision.


Trademark Disclaimer:

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. (CFP Board) owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design), and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it authorizes use of by individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.

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