Once you earn a finance degree, you may want to become a CFA or a CFP.

What’s the Difference Between a CFA and a CFP?

Money makes the world go ’round. But that money doesn’t get things spinning on its own. That takes the help of people like Charted Financial Analysts (CFAs)® and Certified Financial Planners (CFPs)®.

If you’re considering earning a financial degree and applying for one of the many finance degree jobs, you’ve probably encountered the abbreviations CFA and CFP. But other than the fact that both CFAs and CFPs often hold a graduate degree in business, management, or finance, they are quite different.

They Have Different Focuses

A CFA handles investments for large organizations. They advise on and buy and sell stocks, mutual funds, and bonds with the intent of managing the wealth of an organization. They focus almost exclusively on investments and the growth and/or management objectives of their organization.

A CFP works with individuals to plan their financial future. While they can and do handle investments, they also advise individuals on other financial issues such as buying a home, saving for retirement, and setting up college funds for children. Their focus is primarily on the long-term financial security of their clients.

They Have Different Career Paths

CFAs work for large organizations. They can be part of an investment team at a bank, hedge fund, or other financial institution; work in the finance department of a corporation; or work at nonprofits such as universities, helping grow endowments. Some CFAs are tasked exclusively with choosing investments and executing trades. Others serve in an analyst role, working with leaders at their organization to set investment strategies.

CFPs work in private practice or in the divisions of financial institutions that are focused on helping individuals with financial planning.

They Earn Their Title in Different Ways

Becoming a CFA requires a number of steps. You must pass all three levels of the CFA exam in sequence. You must acquire 48 months of what the CFA Institute considers acceptable professional work experience. And you must join the CFA Institute, a process that includes completing a professional conduct statement. These steps help ensure that only the most committed and knowledgeable professionals earn their charter.

Becoming a CFP takes multiple steps as well. You must complete a CFP Board-registered education program. You must pass the 2-day CFP exam. You must have 3 years of full-time relevant personal financial planning experience or 2 years of CFP-oriented apprenticeship experience. And you must satisfy the CFP Fitness Standards, which measure your ethics and professionalism. Similar to a CFA, the steps to becoming a CFP help ensure certification is given only to those who are truly qualified.

You Can Prepare to Become a CFA or CFP With a Master of Finance

While a CFA and a CFP are distinctly different, you have time to decide which to pursue. That’s because becoming either can begin by earning an MS in Finance. It’s one of the best master’s degrees out there for those who want a career in finance, and it’s great for anyone who already holds a business degree, management degree, or accounting degree. The MS in Finance programs at the best business schools will even provide you with hands-on preparation for the CFA exam and/or the CFP exam.

Better yet, you can earn your master’s degree at an online university. Instead of attending classes on a campus and at specific times, an online master’s degree program lets you complete the majority of your coursework from home. Plus, as with most online graduate degree programs, you’ll enjoy a flexible schedule that lets you choose when in the day you focus on earning your finance degree and when you spend time on your other responsibilities. That’s what makes online education such a great choice for working adults.

Becoming a CFA or CFP can be quite the career boost. When you earn your MS degree in finance online, you can gain the knowledge you need to become either.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online MS in Finance degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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