When Ashvin Vibhakar's daughter interviewed for a job, she was selected, in part, on the strength of her Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Level 1 certification. She was selected from a field of candidates who were not enrolled in the CFA programme.
"That she was enrolled in the programme showed her commitment," says Vibhakar, managing director, Asia-Pacific Operations at the CFA Institute.
"Based on the evidence of my visits with companies in the Asia-Pacific region, almost every organisation that wants to advance requires their professionals to become CFA charter holders.
"It is highly regarded and respected. It represents the highest marker of excellence."
The CFA Institute is a global association for investment professionals.
The institute administers the CFA curriculum and exam programme worldwide. Established in 1962, it is a global, self-study programme which provides candidates with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in a wide range of specialties in the competitive industries of investment and finance.
"It is designed using practice analysis, which keeps it constantly updated and relevant to the industry," Vibhakar says.
According to Vibhakar, the institute surveys investment professionals worldwide about what they consider to be relevant.
In order to form a more in-depth picture, the institute conducts focus groups in several countries, where it encourages practitioners to indicate the type of skills they require from their employees.
Two years ago, it conducted a focus group in Hong Kong. Once all the necessary information is gathered, the institute engages its practising charter holders to write the programme and the exams.
"The programme is entirely done by professionals, with the entire curriculum based on experience," Vibhakar says.
There are three levels of exams. Level I, which consists of multiple-choice questions, includes fundamental and basic investment tools, accounting, knowledge of quantitative methods and finance.
Level II covers asset valuation - how to value common stocks, bonds, derivatives and different alternative assets - while Level III focuses on a mixture of knowledge. "It takes all the information and puts it together.
"For example, in the design of a portfolio for clients. The questions at this level are practice-based," Vibhakar says.
While the programme is meant to be completed on a self-study basis, there are many providers who help candidates prepare for the exams.
"We are not affiliated with them and do not endorse any of them," Vibhakar says.
"The exams are highly rigorous and if you are not an individual who is tenacious, we recommend that you do not do it. I try to be upfront with everyone."
In order to attain CFA charter-holder status, candidates must have passed all three levels of exams and have four years of investment related experience. Half of that experience needs to be directly involved with the investment decision-making process.
The institute places a high priority on ethics. "Every year, we demand that our members sign off on ethics," he says.
"Throughout the programme we always emphasise ethics.
"We require that all candidates and members abide by an ethical code and standard of practice. For example, they are required to verify everything and, in the area of portfolio management, they are required to put the interest of their clients first."
Path to success
The CFA programme is designed using practice analysis, which keeps its content current and relevant
There are three levels to the exams to get the CFA qualification
A university degree is a pre-requisite for taking the exams
About 300 hours of self-study are recommended to pass the exams at each level
External providers can prepare candidates for exams
Candidates can re-sit the exams. Total cost of the programme is US$4,000