Why the CFA® Charter Worked For Me

When I saw a request go out for help sharing my experience and insight by contributing a guest post to a new blog, I thought it would be a great opportunity to shine a light on a smaller group in the CFA charterholder community.  I am a CFA charterholder, and I do not work in the money management or financial services industry.

I'm a strong believer in continuing education.  In addition to a double-major undergraduate degree and an MBA, I went back to school to obtain enough accounting credits to sit for my CPA exam (accounting was not one of my undergraduate or graduate-level degrees).  I also started my CFA studies while working full time and going to school for my aforementioned MBA (my wife is an angel). This background is important to the storyline because I can still state with 100% surety today that I learned more studying for my CFA exams than I did in all of my other college courses combined.  The knowledge gained from the process is worth as much to me as the CFA I have after my name. Those three letters have also provided great benefit from a resume and recruiting standpoint.

I worked as a financial advisor for about three and a half years after I graduated with my undergraduate degree, before my MBA and CFA studies. For those of you who have not jumped right from college into the world of being a financial adviser, it’s easiest explained this way: I was a 22-year-old trying to convince much older people to trust me with their life savings.  It is a tough sell and a tough job right out of college. If you do not know people with quite a bit of investable assets at that age, I’d recommend starting that career later or joining a team that already has assets. The experience did make me realize that I’d love the job as a financial adviser with a large book of business, but I didn’t like the aspect of prospecting or sales that this career generally starts with.

After I learned that several more years of sales were not for me, I moved into corporate finance and have been there ever since.  I don't see many with the CFA charter outside of the money management industry, but I see a very strong benefit in any finance setting.  I hope others who have an interest in the charter but may not be thinking of a career in money management read this and decide to take on the challenge.

I started my MBA and CFA studies shortly after moving into my corporate role as my employer had a good reimbursement program in place.  Studying for the CFA exams was an undertaking. One cannot simply sit for the exam based on experience or existing knowledge (if you have any expectation of passing).  It is a serious time commitment. However, if you use all the resources available to you and take the time to study, it is achievable. Nothing of great value comes easy.  Find study tools that fit your personal learning style. I personally used flash cards (Level 1) and online tools (all levels) more than simply going through the required text (which I also did).  After studying a section, I'd use an online tool to create a test exam. If I didn't pass, I'd study again and take another test exam. I'd repeat this process until I passed the test exam, and then I moved on to the next section.  Every once in a while I would create tests that combined multiple past sections to ensure I was retaining the knowledge. For me, the Level 1 exam was largely a pure memorization exam. There are so many individual aspects you can be tested on, so you need to know them all.

My process for studying for Level two was largely the same. A little more reading and writing, a little less reviewing note cards, and about the same in terms of taking online tests.  I found that studying for the Level 2 exam was using the base knowledge I learned in the Level 1 exam in context. Studying for the Level 3 exam consisted mostly of writing and reading and online exams.  There seemed to be less data that fit well on note cards.

In the corporate world, I’ve had roles in risk management and credit, financial planning and analysis, mergers and acquisitions, and more traditional banking and accounting.  In each of these roles, my CFA studies have been a tremendous advantage relative to others who did not have the same knowledge.

The CFA charter has been a tremendous help to my career, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in going into finance in any capacity.

About the Author

Randy Johnson, CFA, serves as the chief financial officer for Talent Plus, Inc. As a strategic partner, he works to ensure the financial health of the company as it continues to grow and reach its goal to be the indispensable partners to organizations and individuals committed to performance excellence. He oversees all areas of finance and accounting, including financial planning and reporting, tax, audit, cash management, compensation and benefits, risk management, and the accounting and consolidation of foreign subsidiaries. Johnson previously served as the director of financial planning and analysis for energy at The Gavilon Group, LLC, a global commodity trading and merchandising company with over 2,000 employees worldwide. He managed all budgeting, financial reporting, and tax setup and compliance across all Gavilon Energy business units. He also served as an assistant controller to the energy group as well as a director of credit for the institution. Johnson has a Bachelor of Science in finance and a Bachelor of Arts in economics from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and an MBA from the University of Nebraska–Omaha. Additionally, Johnson has been an adjunct professor for both undergraduate and graduate level students. He has passed all of the CPA exams and is awaiting certification and also holds an Associate in Risk Management (ARM) designation.

Randy Johnson