CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program vs CFA Exam

Difference Between CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program and CFA

CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program  is offered by the CFA Institute and a candidate can choose to give this exam in a period of 6 months from the date of his or her registration whereas for CFA exam one can appear in either June or December for first level and for the 2nd and 3rd level he or she can appear once every year and that too in the month of June only.

The financial services sector has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years and has increased in complexity. Today, there are thousands of job roles within the finance and investment industry requiring different levels of expertise in specialized areas of finance. To fulfill this need and validate the capabilities of professionals, some financial certifications have mushroomed over the years. In this article, we compare the much sought after CFA Certification exam with the newly introduced CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program.

However, for a professional, it might seem difficult in the first instance to decide which certification would serve their purpose best. Here, we discuss two such certifications offered by the CFA® Institute, including CFA® Charter Holder and CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program, aimed at comparing their relative merits for professionals planning to pursue these certifications.

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What is the CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program?

CFA Institute Investment Foundations program is a foundation-level self-study program offered by the CFA® Institute. This program is designed to impart the knowledge of investment industry fundamentals and to help become acquainted with the professional responsibilities of those working in different areas of the financial services sector. It primarily covers finance, ethics, and investment-related roles and is suitable for entry-level financial services professionals.

What is the CFA®?

The CFA Program focuses on investment management. The top employers of shareholders include the most respected financial corporations globally, e.g., JPMorgan, Citigroup, Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, UBS, and Wells Fargo, to name a few.

Many of these are investment banks, but the CFA Program focuses on the knowledge and skills most relevant to the global investment management profession from the standpoint of a practitioner.

Investment professionals who hold the CFA designation (or CFA charter) meet rigorous educational, work experience, and ethical conduct requirements. Only those who complete three graduate-level examinations, four years of work experience, and annual membership renewal (including ethics and code of professional conduct attestation) are permitted to use the CFA designation.

Complementary codes and standards (such as the Global Investment Performance Standards and Asset Manager Code) help enhance this professional distinction.

CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program vs. CFA Infographics

Let’s understand the difference between CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program vs. CFA ® with infographics.

CFA Institute Investment Foundations program vs-CFA-infographics

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CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program vs. CFA Comparative Table

SectionCFA Institute Investment Foundations  CFA
Organizing BodyThe CFA Institute (USA) is the organizing body for the CFA Institute Investment Foundations exams.The CFA Institute (USA) is the organizing body for the CFA exams.
PatternThe candidates need to clear two exams (Mock Exam A & Mock Exam B) and only after that they can appear for the final exam. The candidates can take the mock exams 1 month after the course registration and they need to score 70%+ in those mock exams.The candidates need to appear for three sequential exams – Level I, Level II, and Level III, to become CFA charter holder.
Duration of CourseThe candidates need to clear the exam in 6 months from the date of registration.On average, the candidates take around 3-4 years to complete the CFA course.
SyllabusThe syllabus of the course primarily focuses on the following modules

  • Industry Overview
  • Industry Structure
  • Industry Controls
  • Ethics & Regulation
  • Inputs & Tools
  • Investment Instruments
  • Serving Client Needs
 The syllabus of the course primarily covers the following topics

  • Ethics & Professional Standards
  • Economics
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Corporate Finance
  • Portfolio Management
  • Fixed Income & Derivatives
  • Equity & Alternative Investment
  • Financial Reporting & Analysis
Exam FeesThe qualification can be pursued for no cost at all as the CFA Institute, through its digital platform (Learning Ecosystem), offers this course for free.The overall cost of the course falls in the range of $2,550 to $3,450 if the student can clear all the exams on the 1st attempt. The overall cost includes exam fees that vary in the range of $700-$1,000 based on the time of registration and the one-time registration fee of $450.
JobsSome of the common profiles include

  • Portfolio Manager
  • Investment Consultant
  • Wealth Manager
  • Investment Analyst
 Some of the common profiles include

  • Strategic Analyst
  • Wealth Manager
  • Portfolio Manager
  • Investment Analyst
  • Financial Consultant
DifficultyThe difficulty level of the exams is fairly low as reflected from the historical pass rate of ~82%. However, recent candidate success rates are not available in any public domain.The CFA exams are believed to one of the toughest exams. The pass rates for the exams conducted in June 2019 were

  • Level I: 41%
  • Level II: 44%
  • Level III: 56% [Source: CFA Institute]
Exam DateThe exams for this course are conducted online and can be taken on all working days.The schedule of the upcoming exams for the year 2021 is as follows

  • Level I: Feb 16-Mar 01, May 18-24, Aug 24-30 & Nov 16-22
  • Level II: May 25-Jun 01 & Aug 31-Sep 04
  • Level III: May 25-Jun 01 & Nov 23-25

Role of CFA® Institute

Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA®) Institute is one of the most influential bodies working in the financial services sector to bring in greater accountability and transparency by defining standards of global practices in the investment industry. No wonder CFA® also offers some of the most prestigious financial certifications to help validate the knowledge and skills of professionals associated with the investment industry.

Exam Requirements

For CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program You Need:

There is no special criterion to qualify for the CFA Institute Investment Foundations program regarding educational qualifications and work experience. Anyone can register for it.

For CFA® You Need:

To qualify for the CFA®, a candidate should have a Bachelor’s Degree (or they should be in the final year of Bachelor’s Degree) or 4 years of professional work experience or 4 years of higher education and professional work experience taken together.

Why Pursue the CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program?

This learning program is best suited for entry-level financial services professionals and even non-finance professionals planning to enter the investment industry. This program affords the knowledge of global industry standards for the investment industry, making it highly useful even for professionals working in IT, HR, operations, or sales and marketing roles in the industry.

No entry requirements make it a much less cumbersome certification to pursue. On top of it all, getting accredited from a highly reputed institution helps boost the confidence of a professional in his or her knowledge of industry practices and enhances their employability in the eyes of prospective employers.

Why Pursue the CFA® designation?

The differentiating benefits of earning the CFA designation include:

  • Real-world expertise
  • Career recognition
  • Ethical grounding
  • Global community
  • Employer demand

The sheer demand for the CFA charter speaks to the difference it makes.

More than 160,000 CFA exam registrations were processed for the June 2015 exams (35% in the Americas, 22% in Europe, Middle East, and Africa, and 43% in Asia Pacific).

For more information, refer- CFA Programs


Without any entry requirements, it becomes a somewhat easier undertaking, but it is no use opting for the CFA Institute Investment Foundations program as a build-up to CFA®. Instead, it is much better to go in for CFA® Part I for those working in decision making roles in the investment industry.

This has been a guide to CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program vs. CFA Exam. Here we compare the job titles, fees, pass percentage, subjects for the CFA Institute Investment Foundations program, and CFA Certification Exam. You may also look at the following articles for more information –

Reader Interactions


  1. Debruni says

    I am an Project manager with an IT firm and do some investments. I track stock markets and want to learn more about financial analysis and value investments. Which one between the two – CFA level 1 or Claritas makes sense in this context?

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      Hi Debruni,

      I suggest you take CFA Level 1 intead of Claritas exam. CFA level 1 includes financial analysis and will help you learn important aspects related to valuations and investments.


  2. Rosalie says

    I am CFA Level 2 candidate and planning to also register for Claritas? Do you think it makes sense.

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      Hi Rosalie,

      Not sure if Claritas will make sense for you. Claritas exam is useful for those who are connected to finance industry but not in core finance. For example, handling HR, IT or operations in an Investment Bank. If you looking for core finance profiles, Claritas Investment Certificate will not add much value


  3. Imke Pratt says

    Can I use “CFA Claritas” against my name?

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      Hi Imke,

      I think Claritas is just a certificate.  I guess in Claritas, they have not included the samples of usage of Claritas certificate. What you should include in your resume is “I earned the Claritas Investment Certificate issued by the CFA Institute”


  4. Ashish says

    Hi Dheeraj,

    I am working as a CFO in a service sector.

    I am thinking of pursuing CFA to enhance my knowledge on finance and to add a international course to my academic achievements.

    I have no plans to move to the IB sector as a working professional.

    Do you advise my putting the efforts in CFA.

    • Dheeraj Vaidya says

      Hi Ashish,

      Given you are CFO of a firm, I think CPA/ACCA will suit you more. This should really help you.
      CFA you can give it a shot, but it may not be beneficial as you don’t plan to move into IB sector.


  5. Anuj Thaker says

    Hello Dheeraj..
    Your knowledge has cleared my confusion. Thanks.
    I have got admission in SIBM and thinking to pursue CFA along with it.
    Will it be helpfull?
    Can you share a strategy to crack it?

    • Dheeraj says

      Hi Anuj,

      Congratulations on your admission to SIBM. You can surely pursue CFA along with this. Which exam are you planning to appear for – December? You may have to put atleast 4-8 hours per week if you plan to appear for the December Exam.


  6. Turki AlQabari says

    Great & useful article .The practical experience comes by understanding the fundamental aspects first and I fully agree for fresh graduate in Investment management or investment banking to go for Claritas.Many Thanks

    • Dheeraj says

      Thanks Turki!

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