The Chinese CFA takeover

The Chinese CFA takeover

Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA) exam is probably the toughest exam any finance professional can take across the world.  It is administered by the CFA Institute in Charlottesville, VA.  It has three levels and each one more difficult and in-depth than the other.  I can vouch for the difficulty as I‌ have passed one level and thereafter my work commitments stopped my quest that needed a lot of preparation.

Interestingly, it seems that the Chinese students have taken a liking to the exam and have been acing it in large numbers.

The Chinese are taking over the CFA

Over the past 4-5 years specifically, the numbers of Chinese students taking the CFA tests have suddenly shot up.  They are twice that of those in the US.  India being a distant third.

CFA China
courtesy – Economic Times

It surely does make financial and career sense to go for CFA.  After all, its recognition in the financial world is equivalent to the recognition and prestige of say, an MBA from Harvard or Wharton or Columbia, without the exorbitant costs that come with those degrees.

Chinese are therefore fairly smart in going for the CFA in such numbers.

Just as the Indian students have a grueling life preparing for the IIT-JEE or the Chartered Accountancy (CA) exams, the Chinese students have their own grueling exam called Gaokao.  It is by far one of the toughest exams in the world, rivaling the IIT-JEE.  The discipline that the kids go through to get through that grind prepares them for the tough tests like the CFA.

Chinese have improved the global pass rates!

Thanks to the Chinese, not only have their own pass percentage gone up, but these students have been able to push up the global pass rate for CFA as well.

CFA Chinese
courtesy – Economic Times

One of the top test preparation companies is called Golden Education.  It specializes in Finance examination preparation like the CFA, CMA, CPA, ACCA etc.

Golden Education CFA Chinese

Companies like Global Education say that their pass rates are around 80%, while another test preparation company ZBG Education, based in the southeastern metropolis of Guangzhou claims a 70% pass rate for their students.

This, when the global pass rate in around 40-45% at the most!  That’s an incredible feat for these Chinese companies.

The slog for the CFA – is it worth it?

As I learned during my preparation of the level I tests, preparation for the CFA tests means no free time, family time or other pursuits.  And that is precisely those who are full time jumping into the CFA world say as well.

“I had no time for fun,” said Wang, who grew up in China and attended college in the U.S. She headed straight home from the office every day to study, and found quiet places to read on weekends. “I had to say ‘no’ to a lot of socializing opportunities. Even when I did relax a bit, my heart was always heavy. I thought I should be studying.” (source)

But once you get the CFA charter, it is really worth the slog that one puts into the preparation.  For example, this charter holder from Indonesia who quit the medical school and went for the CFA full on.

“I went from zero to hero in terms of finance knowledge education, moved to Canada, and am now employed as a research analyst in a macro-boutique firm. How much of this is attributed to my status as CFA candidate? A fair portion, I would say. Would I be in the equivalent or better position without doing the CFA Program? In my thinking, it is unlikely to be the case.” (source)

Now, that’s quite a claim!  But it does sound right.


As careers become global in nature and job world tough to wade through, it is imperative that the professionals go for the credentials that are well respected.  The Chinese and Indians have often aced their place in the world basis the effort they put into their education.  What the Chinese are doing with CFA is completely aligned with the nature of things in these two societies.

Going forward be ready to see a lot of Chinese CFA charter holders who will be running your finances and investment portfolios.

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