6 MOST Difficult Exams & Certifications in Finance Worldwide

3 years ago



Those of you who wish to pursue a career in finance and become top-notch economics specialists must know what to aspire for. These six exams and certifications taken annually all over the world, are the TOUGHEST. If you want to be the best in your profession, check them out!

#1 Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA®) Certification

The CFA certification is an extremely demanding one in terms of time and money. It takes up to 4 years to complete all 3 CFA levels! CFA is mainly focused on portfolio management and investment analysis.

The list of topics in curriculum includes:

  • corporate finance
  • ethical and professional standards
  • quantitative methods
  • financial reporting and analysis
  • equity
  • fixed income
  • alternative investments, etc.

The CFA costs between $4,000 - $5,000 depending on the time of registration exams.

The CFA pass rate is below 20% to obtain all 3 levels.

#2 Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Certification

Specialists in finance often choose an accounting designation over finance certification. If that’s the case, CPA is just the thing for aspiring accountants and is suitable for a career in finance.  The list of topics in the CPA curriculum includes:

  • auditing and attestation
  • business environment and concepts
  • financial accounting and reporting
  • regulation

The CPA certification costs $3,000 and is typically paid by the students’ employers.  

The CPA pass rate for the first attempt is about 50%.

#3 Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA) Designation

The CAIA certification is dedicated to alternative investments, asset management, and hedge funding industries. On average, it takes 12-18 months to complete.

The list of topics covered in the CAIA includes:

  • ethics
  • hedge funds
  • private equity
  • real assets
  • structured products
  • asset allocation
  • risk management

The CAIA finance certification costs about $3,000 (in total) for 2 program levels.

The CAIA pass rate is about 70%.

#4 Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Certification

Aiming at a career in investment or wealth management? The best thing you can do is earn a CFP certification. Whether it’s financial planning, retail or high net worth investment management segment, CFP is one of the top-acknowledged certifications in finance. Please mind: the certification is not very suitable for other careers in finance since it’s narrowly-focused.

The CFP certification cost is about $2,000, but the price can fluctuate depending on the number of course materials purchased.

The CFP pass rate is about 67%.

#5 Financial Risk Manager (FRM) Certification

The FRM certificate is aimed at aspiring risk officers, risk analysts, and those who wish to operate in risk management. This certification is the most niche and targeted, as well as it is time and cost-effective. Please mind, the FRM designation is relatively new, so it’s less recognized compared to other designations.

The FRM cost is about $1,500 and requires about a year to complete.  

The FRM pass rate is about 50%.

#6 Financial Modeling & Valuation Analyst (FMVA) Certification

FMVA is another popular choice for professionals in corporate finance. The FMVA curriculum includes a vast range of topics from how to build a financial model to advanced valuation techniques and sensitivity analysis. The students are taught how to build financial models in Excel.

The completion of Financial Modeling & Valuation Analyst Program (FMVA) at CFI costs $497. The certification consists of 20+ courses and 50+ hours of video instruction.

The FMVA pass rate is pretty high - approximately 70%.

The skills acquired in this certification include:

  • Financial analysis, ratios, and company performance
  • Business valuation methods
  • Real estate, e-commerce, retail and other industry-specific financial models
  • Advanced applications:
  • mergers and acquisitions (M&A) modeling, sensitivity and scenario analysis
  • Creating PPT presentations, Excel dashboards, charts, graphs, and outputs

Check out the Certifications comparison in the chart below:









Number of Levels








$4,000 to $5,000

$1,000 to $3,000





Exam Pass Rate







Content Focus

Portfolio Management, Investments

Financial Reporting, Audit

Real Assets, Alternative Investments

Financial Planning

Financial Risk Management

Financial Modeling, Valuation

Career Application

All Encompassing

Accounting and Finance

Asset Management

Retail and Wealth Management

Risk Management

All Encompassing

Study Time (hrs)

300 - 350 per exam


200 per exam


200 - 300 per exam

100 - 200 total

Completion Time

3-5 years

2.5 - 5

1-2 years

4 years

<1 year

<1 year

Work Experience

4 years

1 year

1 year

3 years

2 years



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