CFP® vs CFA®

What is right for you?

CFP vs CFA: which path to choose?

Certified Financial Planner® (CFP) and Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA) are the two most talked about designations in the field of finance. Both of them serve different interests and candidates will eventually perform work of a different nature. Both may sound similar, but in reality, they serve different purposes (although there may be some overlap).  Let us discuss CFP vs CFA separately and talk about the differences.

The field of corporate finance is a broad one and comprises lots of career tracks. There is no dearth of opportunities if you choose the right path and clear the obstacles to achieve your goals. Choosing a path that is aligned with your goals and interests is important, and this guide seeks to help you do that.





Financial Planning for Individuals

The focus of CFP is to create professionals who can advise individuals on managing their personal portfolio and planning for the future. Certified Financial Planners advise people on many areas, such as investment management, estate and retirement planning, tax planning, personal cash flows and insurance.

Some Certified Financial Planners may also form partnerships with people such as lawyers and tax experts.

Visit the CFP website here ->


Requirements and Examination

CFP requirements are laid out by the CFP Board of Standards. To get the CFP mark, one must hold a bachelor’s degree, have three years of financial planning experience and complete a prescribed course of study. In some cases, one might be exempt for taking the course. CFP involves only one exam and can be completed in one year if cleared on the first attempt.

The courses include the following:

  • Financial planning: process and environment
  • Fundamentals of insurance planning
  • Income taxation
  • Planning for retirement needs
  • Investments
  • Fundamentals of estate planning



CFP usually work directly with individual clients. Success depends on how good and loyal the client list is. Due to this, there is no regular salary for a CFP. It depends on the relationships formed by the planner.



Financial Analysts

The exam focuses on developing professionals who can do financial analysis and manage large sums of money. The designation, which opens up opportunities for jobs that are otherwise difficult to get into, has a very broad scope.

It can be described as equivalent to a master’s degree in finance with accompanying minors in accounting, economics, statistical analysis and portfolio management.

Visit the Institute’s website here ->


Requirements and Examination

The charter, given by the CFA Institute (headquartered in the U.S.), has a strong reputation mainly due to the series of examination that candidates need to pass. It consists of three levels and candidates must pass six-hour exams at every level. The Level 1 exam is administered twice every year – June and December – whereas for the other two levels, the exam is given only once in December every year.

The Level 1 examination focuses on broad financial principles, while Level 2 focuses on financial analysis and accounting. The Level 3 exam covers portfolio management and decision-making.

To get a charter, candidates need to fulfill all three conditions: hold a bachelor’s degree, clear all three levels of exams and have three years of experience in the finance domain.


Career Paths

Charterholders primarily work as portfolio managers, equity research analysts, consultants, risk analysts, financial analysts, advisors, traders, etc.

As per the Institute, 49% of charter holders work as in-house analysts for institutional investors, 16% for broker-dealers, and the remaining 29% for universities, governments, and other areas. These jobs pay well; the median salary of a Charterholder is $180,000 (2015).


CFP vs CFA – Overlapping careers

A CFP designation can be a small help in getting roles such as a financial analyst, trading, equity research associate and financial consultant, however, it generally only has a lot of pull for financial planning and Financial Advisor roles.

The CFA credential, on the other hand, can be used for both corporate roles (such as financial analyst, trading, equity research associate, investment banking, and private equity) as well as financial planning/advisor roles.

Both designations offer a wide scope of opportunities. Some opportunities overlap, but in general, they are meant for different paths. Choosing according to one’s interests and aspirations is crucial.


Financial modeling careers

Both are great options on your resume for careers that require financial modeling, but neither credential really teaches the step-by-step applied skills you need to perform financial modeling in Excel.  The most effective way to learn modeling skills is on the job in careers like investment banking, equity research or FP&A.

If you’re not already in one of those jobs, you can learn online through CFI’s financial modeling courses and certifications.

Below is a screenshot of one of CFI’s financial modeling courses.


financial modeling


Compare more designations

Below is a helpful table to compare more designations.


Number of Levels312221
Costs$4,000 to $5,000$1,000 to $3,000$3,000$2,000$1,500$497
Exam Pass Rate30-50%40-50%70%67%40-50%70%
Content FocusPortfolio Management, InvestmentsFinancial Reporting, AuditReal Assets, Alternative InvestmentsFinancial PlanningFinancial Risk ManagementFinancial Modeling, Valuation
Career ApplicationAll EncompassingAccounting and FinanceAsset ManagementRetail and Wealth ManagementRisk ManagementAll Encompassing
Study Time (hrs)300 - 350 per examVaries200 per examVaries200 - 300 per exam100 - 200 total
Completion Time3-5 years2.5 - 51-2 years4 years<1 year<1 year
Work Experience4 years1 year1 year3 years2 yearsn/a


Additional resources

This has been a guide to CFP vs CFA. To learn about other designations and career paths, check out these additional resources:

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