CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program Vs CFA Exam

Updated on April 22, 2024
Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Difference Between CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program Vs CFA

The difference between CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program and CFA lies in their level of difficulty for aspirants. The CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program offers a curriculum that provides information seekers with the basic knowledge of finance, thereby helping them understand the widely used concepts. On the contrary, CFA offers programs that are more comprehensive and detailed to help aspirants turn into an expert in the field.

CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program Vs CFA Exam

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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.

CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program Vs CFA – Comparative Table

The comparative table below shows the differences in a tabular format highlighting the important point of differences between the two topics with a lot of clarity and details, related to their organizing body, course pattern and duration, syllabus of both, difficulty level, job and future prospects, etc. Let us study them and understand the two concepts clearly.

SectionCFA Institute Investment FoundationsCFA
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); only after that can they appear for the final exam. The candidates can take the mock exams one month after the course registration, and they need to score 70%+ in those mock exams.To become CFA charter holders, the candidates need to appear for three sequential exams – Level I, Level II, and Level III.
Duration of CourseThe candidates need to clear the exam within 6 months from 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 FeesOne can pursue the qualification for no cost as the CFA Institute offers this course for free through its digital platform (Learning Ecosystem).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 price 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 by the historical pass rate of ~82%. However, current candidate success rates are not available in any public domain.The CFA exams are believed to be 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 2022 is as follows: –
  • Level I: Feb 15-21, May 17-23, Aug 23-29 & Nov
  • Level II: Feb 22-26, Aug 30-Sep 03, Nov
  • Level III: May 24-26, Aug 30-Sep 06

What Is 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 knowledge of investment industry fundamentals and 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.

The investment foundation program is an entry-level course designed to make individuals knowledgeable in the investment management industry. It covers different concepts at the foundation level, such as details of various investment instruments, ethics and regulation-related topics, different investment vehicles, and financial market structures.

Finance professionals who are new to the industry and in their early career days or even professionals from non-finance backgrounds and trying to gain some knowledge or understand of financial concepts but do not want to study the CFA program in detail can opt for this course. Thus, it is clear that the course is less complex and comprehensive than CFA but provides a good start for those looking to explore the finance field.

A candidate can choose to give the exam within six months from their registration.


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

No entry requirements make it less inconvenient for certification to pursue. Above all else, getting accredited by a highly reputed institution helps boost the confidence of a professional in their knowledge of industry practices and enhances their employability in the eyes of prospective employers.

Exam Requirements

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

What Is 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 a practitioner’s standpoint.

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.

The CFA program is highly comprehensive, globally recognized, and highly accredited in investment management and analysis. It covers a varied range of topics including economics, financial reporting, ethics, equity and derivatives, fixed income, etc. It makes the candidate highly skilled and knowledgeable in the investment management field.

For the CFA exam, one can appear in June or December for the first level and once every year in June for the second and third levels.


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 indicates the difference it makes.

Exam Requirements

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

CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program Vs CFA – Infographics

The infographics given below show the differences is a concise and systematic format. It helps the reader to interpret and remember the points easily. Let us 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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Though there are multiple differences between the Investment Foundations Program and CFA, there are a few similarities too that they share:

  • Both these courses are offered by 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.
  • CFA® also offers some of the most prestigious financial certifications to help validate the knowledge and skills of professionals associated with the investment industry.
  • Both programs a knowledge-enriching experience in the field of investment and finance.

This article has been a guide to what is CFA Institute Investment Foundations Program Vs CFA Exam. We explain it with a comparative table, infographics, and similarities. 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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