Should You Pursue a Master of Finance or CFA Certification?

Financial institutions were greatly affected when the 2008 recession hit the U.S. While the industry, along with the overall economy, has recovered since then, larger financial intelligence firms have felt the ramifications for years and have since taken preventive measures. This includes seeking professionals with a higher degree of knowledge and expertise.

Many firms may choose to give responsibility to individuals who have proven they have a passion and dedication to mastering finance. This means candidates who would like to excel in this field now may want more than a BA in finance to ensure they are noticed.
Employers are looking for a proven record of accomplishment of your dedication to understanding financial theory and practice. Many firms want their employees to have some form of advanced degree to indicate a deeper level of understanding and knowledge.

When you are pursuing a postgraduate financial education, two options stand out: a Master of Finance degree and a Chartered Financial Analyst certification. As these are both advanced credentials, they each require heightened levels of academic work and commitment.

The Similarities Between the MSF Degree and CFA Designation

If your aim is to secure a rewarding job at a respected financial firm, both in terms of salary and with a high degree of responsibility and prestige, both credentials can serve your needs. Upper-level positions in the financial sector are growing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for financial managers will rise by 19 percent between 2016 and 2026. The outlook for financial analysts over the same time period will increase by 11 percent. Both of these numbers are above the average job growth rate.

Both programs will require you to deepen your investment knowledge past the bachelor’s level. For example, both the CFA designation and the MSF may cover subjects such as portfolio management, financial reporting and analysis, and others. While the Master of Science in Finance was considered the more intensive path in the past, part-time and online program formats have enabled students to pursue this graduate degree while still balancing a career and personal life. With the addition of these program modalities to MSF, both the CFA and MSF provide flexibility yet require a strong level of personal commitment. You can manage your own schedule, test when you feel prepared, and study as much or as little as you desire on any given day.

Although both programs have similarities, it is the differences that will help you determine which option is right for you.

How Does an MSF Degree Differ?

A Master of Finance is far broader than the Chartered Financial Analyst designation. According to the Northeastern University D’Amore-McKim School of Business Online Master of Science in Finance program, you can expect to complete the following courses:

  • Financial theory
  • Investment analysis
  • International finance
  • Financial strategy
  • Investment banking
  • Risk management
  • Fixed income securities and risk
  • Real estate finance
  • Portfolio management
  • Mergers and acquisitions

The MSF is designed to give you a versatile understanding of the financial world. This comprehensive approach to understanding the finance sector may be one reason why some prefer the MSF over other degree paths. An article from the Financial Times highlighted that a Master of Finance may be ideal for anyone interested in pursuing a broad foundation in finance.

Another advantage, according to the article, is the classroom atmosphere. Whether in-person or online, earning a Master of Finance places you into a group of individuals all pursuing the same goal. Some excel in this format as it lets you bounce ideas off your peers and use them for support purposes. A complex topic can be broken down through discussion and collaborative study sessions.

Overall, pursuing a Master of Finance is expected to take between one and two years, potentially making it a shorter time commitment than a CFA program, as the CFA Institute’s CFA designation requires a four-plus-year commitment from students to complete the full program. This also turns the Master of Finance into an appealing option if you have already begun your career and want to improve your job prospects.

According to Financial Career Options, obtaining a Master of Finance degree may help you advance up the career ladder. Well-paying positions such as career consultant, capital markets analyst, finance manager, financial analyst, investment consultant, and management consultant all may prioritize applicants with a Master of Finance degree.

How Does a CFA Designation Differ?

The Chartered Financial Analyst certification is technically outside the world of academia. You don’t need to be enrolled in any particular educational institution to pursue it. Becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst charter holder places you into a globally recognized program that has some advantages. If you pass any level of certification, you are immediately eligible for the benefits of the CFA Institute, which has over 135,000 investment professionals in its network, many of whom can help you find additional training and opportunities.
Earning a Chartered Financial Analyst certificate is also relatively inexpensive when compared to an MSF degree. While a Master’s in Finance can cost significantly more, becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst can cost less than $12,000, according to Kaplan Schweser.

That said, becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst may lead to different types of opportunities than a Master of Finance. It is generally seen as a less intensive but still useful certification. Many people first obtain some level of the Chartered Financial Analyst certification before pursuing their Master of Finance.

Looking at the CFA Institute’s CFA designation, applicants only need to have a bachelor’s degree and at least four years work experience or a combination of education and work experience that totals four years. The program is also offered in levels, with each level offered either once or twice per year. This can stretch the full program across multiple years in more controlled timelines, while an MSF may have classes starting in fall, winter, spring, or summer semesters. As a result, it could be quicker to complete a full MSF program compared to the full CFA designation.

Knowing Which Path is Right for You

The Chartered Financial Analyst certification is not the same as owning a Master’s in Finance degree. However, that does not mean it is inferior. If you have already worked in finance for years and simply want to bolster your knowledge and connections, then pursuing a Chartered Financial Analyst charter makes sense. Coupled with your years of experience, the CFA designation can help you become a more robust candidate for upper-level positions.

Others in the financial industry may want to pursue the Master of Science in Finance. This can distinguish you from many of your peers and it can be a more holistic, customizable, and accessible educational path. Graduates of MSF programs may be able to adapt and evolve in the ever-changing field of finance, and that could make them very desirable to employers. The MSF also makes sense if you want to be a financial industry leader.

If you are ready to take your finance career to the next level while continuing to work full time, consider an Online Master of Science in Finance from the D’Amore-McKim School of Business. Connect with an enrollment advisor today for more information.



Master the Financial Side of Business

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Financial Times

Financial Career Options

The CFA Institute

Kaplan Schweser