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CPA and CFA combination worth it?

cpa cfa combination worth itHello everyone, I just recently graduated from the University of California, Irvine with a double major in Business Economics and Sociology with a GPA greater than 3.5. I am currently trying to find a career in investment banking and was wondering if I could get some (or any) advice if it's worth pursuing the CPA and CFA together. I ultimately would like to go to a top 10 MBA program with the possibility of being in some sort of executive position in a solid finance company. Here are several options I am thinking about: Option 1: Working full-time (standard 40 hours) and pursuing an accounting certificate at UC Berkeley extension to get the accounting credits I need to take the CPA exam. At the same time I would be studying for the CFA exam. Option 2: Go to a one-year accounting graduate school program so that I fulfill the requirements to take the CPA exam. At the same time I would be pursuing the CFA. Option 3: Go to a one-year finance graduate school program and take the CFA. I would not pursue the CPA in this option. Option 4: Go to a one-year accounting graduate school program so that I can take the CPA exam. I would not pursue the CFA in this option. Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Anthony


(Director) |

If you are looking for a serious career in IB, you need to graduate with an MBA from a top school. CPA or CFA is great, but it is going full time for your MBA which matters. Get a job and some real world experience, and then apply to graduate school. If you chose to pursue CPA or CFA, I would do only one or the other. BTW these exams are not easy! Take a step back and think about the journey and not necessarily the destination. People often think of only the glamour of IB, but I can tell you firsthand that working 100 hour work weeks for 52 weeks, being on call literally 24 hours a day, pulling all nighters on a regular basis, etc is brutal and can take a toll on all you treasure - your life, that of your loved ones, your health & friendships, etc. Yes, you get paid well, but at what cost? Use or develop some contacts of people who work in the fields you are interested in to understand truly what it takes to be a success both personally and professionally in that field. Good luck!

(Director of Operations) |

Thank you so much for the advice. I greatly appreciate it.

Do you think going into a top 30 mba program along with acquiring the CFA is sufficient enough to get an analyst and associate position in a solid investment banking firm?

(Chief Financial Officer) |

Very solid advice here. If you really truly want to get into IB then forget the CPA. That won't help you.

Sarah Jackson
Title: Associate Editor
Company: Proformative
(Associate Editor, Proformative) |

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Best... Sarah

(Senior Director of Finance) |

I agree 150% with anonymous! I have an undergrad in Finance, had real world experience in FP&A before persuing an MBA. I am currently now just pursuing the CPA, but that was after heavy analysis of the CPA vs CFP vs CMA.
I think as you go along, you will find your contacts outweigh the standings of a GPA, and that the certifications are GREAT, but the learning behind the earning of those letters will take you farther than the letters alone. Finally, a tier-2 school that you EXCEL in might be easier to carry on your personal wallet, rather than fretting so much about the tier-1 name.

(Director) |

You don't need an MBA to get an analyst position. The best path is to try and find an analyst position, work for 2 years, and then apply for MBA school full time. You will use your real life experience as an analyst while getting your MBA and get so much more out of it. Better MBA programs want people who have had work experience and are not just out of undergrad. Also, there is a huge cost investment to getting your CPA, CFP, CMA, MBA and I have come across many people who spend lots of time and $, only to not use that skill set with where they ultimately wound up professionally. None of these certifications are a bad thing at all, but just maybe not the smartest thing to obtain. Kinds of similiar to the droves of people who go law school, only to realize they can't get a job and/or they hate it (all while left with the debt and lost opportunity cost while they went to school).

Jeff Durbin
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: F. Gavina and Sons, Inc.
(Chief Financial Officer, F. Gavina and Sons, Inc.) |

More excellent advice.

You have a problem getting an entry-level analyst job because you have the wrong majors. Does your network open any doors for you?

By the way, you should consider Transaction Advisory work for one of the top 10 CPA firms. It's basically what IB analysts do. Value businesses. It will be tough getting into that without the accounting and finance classes. If that is your desired path then I retract my advice about the CPA and I suggest you go after the CPA or the CMA. But the certification is much less important than actually taking the classes.

Your majors during the past 4 years really are not the majors that aspiring investment bankers take. Try to get into anything that is a credible entry point and then use the MBA to leverage into the premier leagues of IB.

By the way, forget about getting into the premier leagues if your MBA is from anywhere other than top-20 school. UCLA, USC are SoCal examples but Loyola Marymount wouldn't work. (Even USC isn't a slam dunk route to the big leagues.)

Jan Robertson
Title: Managing Partner
Company: SiVal Advisors LLC
(Managing Partner, SiVal Advisors LLC) |

I heartily agree with the comment above that you would be best advised to get some experience as an analyst at an I-bank. I run a boutique M&A firm here in Silicon Valley, and we hire analysts right out of college - not all have business degrees. We look for facility with doing basic company research, a decent knowledge of Excel & PP, a facility with numbers / basic financials, and good general 'smarts'.

(Director of Operations) |

Do you have any suggestions about the paths to find an analyst position because it seems the majority of analysts without any experience are picked up through on campus recruiting? I made the mistake of not utilizing the on campus recruiting because I was taking 5 classes (20 units) a quarter so that I could graduate on time. Thank you.

Ben Murray
Title: Vice President and Chief Financial Offic..
Company: Cartegraph
(Vice President and Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Cartegraph) |

I am not in IB but have my MBA, CPA, and passed level 1 of the CFA. I think a CPA would look great on paper and also help you tremendously knowledge wise, but wouldn't get you any additional opportunities or money going the investment route. The posts about an MBA are correct. It really is the cornerstone that you need and then you can build on top of it. I knew quite a few MBA students getting their CFA while in grad school. It can be cheaper that way (student discounts) and you can get study help from your fellow students.

If you are thinking about the CPA someday (needed to be CFO today), make sure you get enough accounting credits to sit for the CPA exam. Each state has different requirements to sit so make sure you look at the requirements of that state. This is going to require a double major in finance and accounting. I barely had enough credits to sit.

If you want to go the corporate route, I suggest an MBA and CPA. CFA would not be needed (obviously, the knowledge helps) unless you go into corporate treasury.

Do not try to get the CPA and CFA at the same time even if you have no job. You will be in tears and info overload.

Jeff Durbin
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: F. Gavina and Sons, Inc.
(Chief Financial Officer, F. Gavina and Sons, Inc.) |

Excellent advice.

I'm a CFO and I lack the CPA. I do have a CMA though. More and more, operations experience is as important as the accounting background. CFOs much be broad in their skillsets.

Like Ben, I also passed Level 1 of the CFA exam but I lost interest because level 2 and 3 get much more narrow and deep in terms of scope. It's a great route if you want IB but worthless if you want corporate finance work in industry.

CPA and CFA are both extremely challenging as Ben points out. Impossible to do both.

Patrick Zanoni
Title: Exabeam
Company: NA
(Exabeam, NA) |

You're ambition is outstanding. At the same time a CPA, the CFA, and an MBA are all somewhat different educations and certifications which will help qualify you for different career paths/industries.

A CPA => Operationally focused; In house or Audit or Tax

The CFA => Investment Management industry requirement but not typical for IB

An MBA in Finance (from good school) => Financial Securities focused and a good means to get into IB

Getting all 3 broadens your skills but does not accelerate any one early on. Later in your career, they are all useful since the broad base of knowledge is most useful.

I am licensed CPA, a CFA Charter holder, and earned my MBA from Chicago before spending several years in IB at Lehman, Merrill, and Credit Suisse so I speak from experience on the above.

Note that IB Analyst roles are usually filled by I-banks via on-campus recruiting from many schools (not just top tier schools). Since college on-campus recruiting is no longer an option, then your next chance into IB is most likely via a top tier MBA which are feeders to big IBanks for Associates. The top MBA programs prefer students to have work experience so I suggest the accounting path and CPA focus at first. It is a great education and highly valued by IB.

The CFA is a required credential for the investment management industry but not required for IB and not typical of I-bankers. It is a great education and the depth into valuation and portfolio management and financial markets is excellent.

IBanking is very financial securities/markets focused and the technical skills required are valuation skills, deal structuring, and tax. While the CFA is deeper into securities valuation, IB does not require it.

Good luck, stay ambitious and driven!
btw, I also recommend a business law education. It is an outstanding means to understand business

(Director of Operations) |

Hello Patrick,

Thank you for the wonderful insight as it is very informative. I was just wondering how it's possible getting into a top 10 MBA program without having work experience that these schools value. Would it just be killing the GMAT for starters? Do MBA admissions also value having the CPA, CFA, etc.?

John Argo
Title: Consultant
Company: Independent Advisory Services
(Consultant, Independent Advisory Services) |

MBA with a CPA would provide the greatest options with the least overlap. A good MBA program will require a few years of post-undergrad experience. A good way to spend that time/experience would be completing your CPA. An MBA/CPA combo can carry you anywhere you want to go in the career you describe. If, after your MBA, a firm want you to have a CFA, let them pay for it while your working through the experience requirements.

What you think will be a good career track today will change as you gain experience. Focus on getting solid experience that will tee up your MBA and then go for the best program you can get into for the discipline you want to pursue.

Arthur Yip
Title: Audit Supervisor
Company: On Assignment Inc
(Audit Supervisor, On Assignment Inc) |

I think option 3 is the best route for you. My brother-in-law is a Portfolio Manager for a Hedge Fund company. He has an MBA from a top business school. Some of his colleagues have Ivy League MBAs plus CFAs. However, he's survived longer than some of them due to his work ethics and personality. Keep in mind that credentials are great but it's ultimately your work results and how well you get long with people that makes a huge difference.

Robert Ewalt
Title: Exam Development Manager
Company: Institute of Certified Management Accoun..
(Exam Development Manager, Institute of Certified Management Accountants) |

A couple of words of advice for anonymous (student). First, if you missed the campus recruiting, try to get in the next go-round, even if you have already graduated. Altenatively, maybe the placement office will give you the contact info of the recruiters who came, and you can contact them directly. Second, when the MBA schools say they want real-life experience, they probably mean it. No GMAT score or certification can substitute for experience (my certification, CMA, also requires two years of appropriate experience). Of course strong GMAT plus certification, plus experience makes you a strong MBA candidate, as well as a strong job candidate.

Topic Expert
Patrick Dunne
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Milk Source
(Chief Financial Officer, Milk Source) |

I would pursue option 2. You will find a number of options with this choice.

Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

What you want (or think you want) to do now may NOT be the path you will want in the next 3 - 4 years. Getting a taste of the industry; working/market environment; maturity; or events/opportunities that will happen later on will give you more clarity on your path.

I suggest building the base and progressively narrowing down your choices/path as you go on with your career. By completing or trying to complete several certifications early on, you are limiting your choices early on in your career.

As others have suggested, get your MBA (your foundation) and get some experience AND THEN reevaluate your career path every 2-3 years.


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