CFA Pass Rate Nears Decade's High as Asia Fuels Record Turnout

  • Institute says 43% of candidates pass, up from 42% in June
  • Turnout across Asia dwarfs that from CFA's U.S. home

The pass rate for the Chartered Financial Analyst exam’s first step in December neared this decade’s highest level as more candidates from Asia piled in, pushing global turnout to a record.

Forty-three percent of participants cleared Level I of the semi-annual exam last month, the institute said in a statement Tuesday. The success rate rose from 42 percent in June, and was just below this decade’s high of 44 percent set in December of 2014. It held steady even as the number of candidates jumped 11 percent from a year earlier to more than 52,300.

Finance workers pursue the CFA designation for the promise of better jobs, higher salaries and a deeper understanding of their industry. The certification is now especially sought after across Asia, where almost 18,200 people sat for the December test in mainland China, India, Hong Kong and Singapore. That’s up 13 percent from a year earlier and dwarfs the 11,676 who turned out in the U.S., where the exam started in 1963. More than 7,600 took the test in Canada and the U.K.

Turmoil’s Effect

In Asia, professionals are looking for ways to show they’re qualified to manage the region’s wealth or work abroad, said Stephen Horan, managing director of credentialing at the CFA Institute. While enrollment typically increases during market turmoil, many test-takers in December began preparing for the exam before slowing economic growth in China spurred the region’s current slump.

“There is, recent market routs aside, an enormous amount of wealth creation throughout Asia,” Horan said. “Yet there is a relative paucity of institutions and structures to develop competencies around investment management.”

Candidates may take the Level 1 exam in both June and December, unlike the two latter levels, which are available once a year. Successful charter recipients spend an average of more than 300 hours preparing for each exam and typically take more than three years to complete all of the tests, according to the Charlottesville, Virginia-based not-for-profit institute.

Global turnout for the CFA exam also surged after the credit crisis in 2008, as finance workers looked to burnish their resumes amid industrywide cost cuts. That also produced one of the highest success rates in recent years: 46 percent for the Level I test in June 2009.

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