CFI programs vs other finance designations

At CFI, we believe passionately in our product. However, we know that it can be tedious to decide between CFI and the various other finance designations on the market. We want to make that comparison easy for you.

As well as the breadth and depth of each syllabus, each program differs in many areas, such as teaching format, the focus on theory vs. practical skills, entry requirements, pass rates, costs, and more. 

So what are the key differences between these financial designations, and which should you choose? Making the right decision to match your learning style, ambitions, budget, and time available is essential to help progress your career in finance.

Below we will compare and contrast each of the significant finance designations to help you decide and show why we think you should choose CFI.

In this article, we will cover the following topics:

Comparing Finance Designations
Making a Choice
FAQ
What our Learners Have to Say
Wrapping Up


Comparing Finance Designations ^

Program Details

In this first section, we break down the overall program level details, teaching styles, and how long it takes to complete and earn your certification.


Program CFI CFA Inst. GARP FMI AICPA ACCA
Length < 1 year > 3 years > 1 year < 1 year > 2 years > 3 years
Programs FMVA, BIDA, CMSA, CBCA, FPWM+ Specializations CFA Level I, Level II, Level III FRM Part I, Part II AFM, CFM CPA CA
Teaching Style Self-paced, instructor-led,Practical, real-world skills  Self-paced, self-led,Theory focus.  Self-paced, self-led,  Self-paced, instructor-led Self-paced, online resources Self-paced, online resources
USP Finance focused data skills certification N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Community LinkedIn Community Voluntary online learning communities Voluntary online learning communities Exclusive FMI community N/A N/A
Minimum Entry Requirements None Bachelor’s Degree or 4000 hrs of professional experience N/A N/A Bachelor’s Degree with a min. of 150 credit hrs of coursework Advanced Placement Exams
Certification Pass Exam Pass Exams, complete 4 yrs of work experience (experience gained prior, during or after passing exams can be applied) Pass Exams, complete 2 yrs of work experience (experience gained prior, during or after passing exams can be used) Pass Exam Pass uniform exam, and complete state requirements Pass exams, complete 3 yrs of work experience


Costs

Next, we should consider not only the initial cost of access to the learning resources but any extra costs for certificates and final exams.

Costs CFI CFA Inst. GARP FMI AICPA ACCA
All Access Courses $597 annual subscription $350 one-time fee $400 one-time fee $195 for fundamentals in financial modeling $999 annual membership $350 annual subscription
Premium Experience $847 annual subscription NA NA $695 for advanced financial modeling  N/A N/A
Exam Fee $0 $900+ $600+ N/A State-specific exam cost Variable exam fee per level


Exams

Finally, let’s explore the exams from each designation, what’s involved in taking the exam, what it takes to pass, and if any further experience is required before you earn your certification.

Exams CFI CFA Inst. GARP FMI AICPA ACCA
Exam Format Online, multiple-choice, open-book, 3 hrs, unlimited retries with an active subscription (1-month cooldown period) Testing Center, closed-book, multiple choice & essay questions, 2 hrs 15 min for level 1, 4 hrs 24 min for level 2 & 3 Testing Center, closed-book, multiple choice & essay questions, 4 hrs Online, Proctored, Closed-book, Excel-based, 4 hrs, unlimited re-tries over 12 months Uniform CPA exam PLUS state requirements (US), Testing Center, closed-book | 16-hrs, four 4-hr sessions | one 4.5-hr session for internationals Testing Center, closed-book, 3-hrs
Exam Dates Anytime February, May, August, November May, August, October, November February, April, July, October (CFM offered only in Oct) N/A March, June, September, December
Exam Results Immediate Within 60 days of taking the exam for Level I & II, 90 days for Level III ~ 6 weeks after taking the exam Within 10 weeks of taking the exam 1 - 2 weeks after taking the exam ~ 6 weeks after taking the exam
Avg. Pass Rate 80.89% across all programs 41% Level I, 45% Level II, 52% Level III 46.2% Part 1, 57.2% Part 2 40% - 60% 53.5% 57.48%
Certification Pass Exam Pass Exams, complete 4 yrs of work experience (experience gained prior, during or after passing exams can be applied) Pass Exams, complete 2 yrs of work experience (experience gained prior, during or after passing exams can be applied) Pass Exam Pass the uniform exam, and complete state requirements Pass exams, complete 3 yrs of work experience

Making a Choice ^

Ultimately, the choice you make should depend on your budget, the time you have available, and whether you want to focus on theory vs real-world experience. We really believe that at CFI, we’ve built an exceptional suite of courses and products to help you thrive as a finance professional.

Below is a quick guide as to how CFI plans could help you shape your own career path.

Choose Your Own Career Path with CFI

Each CFI certification program is designed to help you pursue or strengthen your skills for a different career path: 

FMVA® Program (Financial Modeling & Valuation Analyst)

The FMVA® Program covers a critical body of knowledge that is necessary to become a world-class financial analyst. The core curriculum for the program includes:

  • Financial Modeling
  • Valuation
  • Financial Analysis
  • Presentations
  • Budgeting & Forecasting
  • Industry Analysis
  • Dashboards & Visualization

This program is ideal for anyone who is interested in pursuing the following:

  • Financial Analyst
  • Corporate Finance
  • Valuators
  • FP&A
  • Sell-Side
  • Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Private Equity

CBCA® Program (Commercial Banking and & Credit Analyst)

The CBCA Program offers skills directly applicable to a Credit Analyst's responsibilities. This focused program aims to give students exactly what they need to start their job the next day. The core curriculum for the program includes:

  • Credit Analysis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Management Analysis
  • Industry Analysis
  • Credit Evaluation, Documentation, and Procedures

This program is ideal for anyone who is interested in pursuing the following:

  • Credit Analyst
  • Business Banking
  • Commercial Banking
  • Corporate Banking
  • Real Estate Lending

CMSA® Program (Capital Markets & Security Analyst)

The CMSA® program will teach you trading strategies used in the finance and capital markets across different asset classes and derivative products such as forwards, futures, options, and swaps. The core curriculum for the program includes: 

  • Security Pricing & Valuation
  • Technical Analysis
  • Trading Strategies

This program is ideal for anyone who is interested in pursuing the following:

  • Sales & Trading
  • Asset Management
  • Wealth Management
  • Treasury
  • Risk Management
  • Research

BIDA™ Program (Business Intelligence & Data Analyst)

Our BIDA™ program will show you how to supercharge your Excel skills, using modern analysis techniques, as well as exploring data visualization tools, and use data analytics tools like a finance professional. The core curriculum for the program includes: 

  • Exploratory Data Analysis (EDA)
  • Data Visualization 
  • Data Science & 
  • Machine Learning
  • Python
  • Power BI, Query, VBA

This program is ideal for anyone who is interested in pursuing the following:

  • Financial Analyst
  • Data Analyst
  • Business Intelligence Analyst
  • Quantitative Analyst
  • Risk Manager
The FPWM offers a variety of skill practices to become a strong financial advisor and wealth manager. The core curriculum includes:
  • Financial Planning
  • Practice Management
  • Business Development
  • Relationship Management
  • Investment Management
This program is ideal for anyone pursuing the following:
  • Investment Advisor
  • Financial Planner
  • Private Banker
  • Portfolio Manager

CFI vs CPA Career Paths

We get a lot of questions about the career path differences between CFI and CPA certifications. 

However, it’s hard to compare the two since they’re very different. CPA stands for Certified Public Accountant, which is the designation you need to be a legally recognized accountant. Many of CFI’s content team are CPA holders. 

Overall, CFI has a different mission and teaching strategy - We offer role-based and skill-based learning that’s highly practical and applied so that you can do it on the job.

CPAs come to CFI to get their CPE hours, or in other words, credits needed to maintain their CPA designation.

Our programs help you build your knowledge on a broader scope and give you a competitive edge in the industry. The training compliments your CPA designation by solidifying a true understanding of how to apply the theory to answer questions a management (or other) team might have.

CFI Accreditation 

CFI is accredited by the Better Business Bureau® (BBB) - a private, nonprofit organization advancing marketplace trust for over 100 years. To maintain accreditation standards, CFI follows the BBB Standards in accordance with the BBB Standards for Trust.

CFI is also a recognized continuing education provider by the CPA Institutions in Canada and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) in the US for CPE credits.

It’s crucial to ensure the certification program you want to undertake is accredited. By doing some research and visiting the website, you can find out about which type of accreditation the company holds, in which countries the accreditation is valid, and other standards. 

If the company is not accredited, you will gain knowledge from taking their programs, but if your goal is to grow your career, it might be difficult to get an employer to accept an unaccredited certification. 

CFI’s World-Class Customer Support 

When you have a technical support inquiry or a course content question, every minute of waiting for a representative to get back to you counts. 

Many online learning companies under-value the customer support component, as most courses are pre-recorded anyway. At CFI, we pride ourselves on the support we’re able to provide. We have around-the-clock 24-hour email support and phone support, so you’ll never wait an exaggerated amount of time for your inquiry to be solved. 

Whether you’re a self-study or full-immersion learner, you have access to email our customer support team directly from your dashboard. 

CFI Content Quality

We pride ourselves on developing engaging content. We believe our video courses have the best combination of media design, graphic illustrations, and beautiful Excel templates versus other designations. Our audio quality is second to none, and our curriculum managers specialize in advanced professional education.

Our content is painstakingly curated to give you the best possible learning experience, building on the basics to help you explore more complex topics. We lead you through every step and check in along the way with interactive exercises and assessments. 

CFI Believes in Interactivity

Many other finance designations take a very theoretical, textbook approach to their lessons. This can be useful, but it does not fit every learning style or enforce knowledge through examples and real-world practice. 

At CFI, we believe that the most valuable learning is hands-on, using authentic data to analyze real-world scenarios. With CFI, you’ll learn how to read financial statements, analyze the information, and even build financial models from scratch.

By focusing on a practical approach, we’ll help you explore the theory in a more interactive and direct way.

“As a graduate of CFI and Wall Street Prep, I can say that the CFI curriculum is much more comprehensive and extensive and requires much more time to take advantage of all that the program has to offer. WSP is great for those who want to take a crash course in Financial Modeling.” - Himanshu Chaudhary, Quora


FAQ ^

  • How would CFI help my career?

If you’re thinking of starting your career in finance, CFI certifications can give you a well-rounded knowledge base on the areas of your choice. This will help you present more knowledge in your interviews, and you can put your learnings to the test in your new job. 

If you’re a finance professional, you’ll never regret solidifying your knowledge. It can help you keep your professional skills high and make smarter decisions.

  • How would CFI complement my CPA? 

If you’re a CPA, you need to earn credits on a yearly basis to maintain your designation. CFI has a library of courses that count for CPE credits (307.5 hours in total). 

In terms of complimenting your knowledge, CPAs benefit by taking the theoretical approach offered by the CPA certification and putting it into practice with CFI case studies, skills assessments, spreadsheets, and more. 

  • What can I expect the courses to be like? 

CFI courses cater to interactive learners. All of our courses have interactive exercises, strong visuals, videos with graphs, charts, examples, and thorough explanations. You can listen to the video’s audio and put the subtitles on for increased understanding. 

  • What is the biggest benefit of the Full Immersion subscription?

The biggest benefit of the full immersion subscription is the option to communicate with the knowledgeable program specialist team. If you’re stuck on a module or exercise, you can send a question to the team and they’ll get back to you quickly with a thorough explanation. 

The program specialists are personable and here to help you move through the courses smoothly.

  • Are there any in-person or group learning sessions? 

No, CFI allows you to learn on your own time. If you have a busy schedule, flexibility is extremely important. Many institutions have group registration periods and centers you have to attend to write your final exams. 

With CFI, you can sign up on any day of the year and work through the courses 100% at your own pace. The final exams are held online, and you can take them from your home as soon as you complete all required courses. 

  • What does the subscription price include? 

Both subscriptions (self-study and full immersion) include CFI’s entire course catalog. That means you can complete as many courses and programs as you’d like without having to pay extra, as long as you hold an active subscription. 

Your digital blockchain certificates, assessments, and final exams are also included in the price. 

The full immersion subscription includes extra features, which creates the price difference between the plans. 

  • Can I take your course/certification without prior experience in finance/investment or without a bachelor's degree?

CFI aims to be inclusive of all backgrounds. We create our programs to teach you and help develop and strengthen your skills. We do not require a degree or experience in the finance and investment industry. 


What our Learners Have to Say^

Deepen Knowledge Base and Better Application of on-the-job skills

  • "The Power BI courses and FMVA courses were a great refresher and gave me skills I did not have."
  • "As a business manager and investor, learning more about finance it's always helpful."
  • "CFI provided me with the tools needed to understand how the banking system works In order to have better negotiation and better deals"

Improved Technical Efficiency and Productivity

  • "I have considerably improved my modeling skills, needed in everyday work"
  • "The courses allowed me to develop best habits around how to set up Corporate Finance & Accounting spreadsheets. This took me up a few levels in terms of job performance, which was noticed by my boss and her boss. : )"
  • "As a comptroller in a government entity responsible for all budget, accounting, and tracking all resource requirements. Through training from CFI, my financial analytical and excel technical skills have improved greatly. This helps reduce the amount of time to complete tasks and management decisions/solutions."

Everyday Utility for Seasoned Professionals (CPD, lifelong learning, value)

  • "CPD credits. Continual education. Relevant topics. Good self-managed pace"
  • "Great & handy platform, continuously updates (i.e. new courses), diversified offer, low fee"
  • "Your service is invaluable for helping explain complex topics. As a seasoned professional, I already know a vast array of technical topics. But your courses cement the knowledge even better and show the best way to present conclusions at a summary level. With two professional designations (CPA & CFA), your courses help me meet my annual PD requirements in a cost-effective way and in a very meaningful way (i.e. I learn, or reinforce, a ton)."

Wrapping Up^

Now that we’ve gone over all the details of CFI programs, the choice is in your hands. If you’re looking for a well-rounded platform with interactive learning, world-class customer support, all-in-one subscription plans, and structured learning, CFI could be the right fit for you. 

We’ll close this article off by announcing that Corporate Finance Institute has been ranked #55 on G2’s Best Global Software Companies of 2023, and we couldn’t have done it without our valued customers.