CFA Level 1 – Debrief

I finished taking the CFA Level 1 exam on Sunday. My performance was not great. There are so many if-onlys now when I look back… (but when are there not?). However this post is not about that. 🙂 It is about the massive positive learning throughout the process.  About myself, about finance and about the ethics that govern the finance industry.

The reasons I took this exam are the following-

1. To do something worthwhile in my semester.

This is probably the most important reason. As you must know by now, electrical engineering is not my dream. I’ve been trying to prove myself in the business side of things- through sales and marketing internships, managing teams (CCAs), etc. As a result, after my dance and summer internship ended this year, I was faced with the prospect of my final year project, tough engineering electives and job hunting to look forward to. I needed something else where I could actually do something great and prove myself (to myself). CFA seemed like a nice option since it immediately opened up a lot of doors for me.

2. To learn finance

I could have chosen to take NUS modules, but I am already in my fourth year and it was not possible to study all that I wanted to study within 2 semesters. CFA was the perfect option. And there’s the plus of it being a prestigious charter and all.

3. To help me get a job in finance

Again, this is one of the “doors” I was talking about. Having this on my resume has definitely improved my chances of wedging my foot into the industry.

Some thoughts on the entire process..

1. The Curriculum

The CFA books are a masterpiece. Really. Written by experts , they are comprehensive, explain concepts really well and correlate to real-life examples. The Schweser books are good from an exam point of view, since they condense the voluminous information into concentrated sentences, but if you really want to learn, I recommend the CFA books. The economics, fixed income and portfolio management were really enjoyable to read!

Using the Schweser notes for revision was really effective, though. Also these videos were a last minute lifesaver to get a grasp on chapters I hadn’t completed.

Tip: Get to know your calculator well in advance. I had a tough time getting used to mine, considering that I’ve only used scientific calculators before this.

2. The exam itself: CFA institute is crazily rigid!

They had listed everything we needed to know about the exam day on the website. You would think, sure, everyone does that. But the amount of detail these people went to is pretty incredible. For example, in the list of things that was allowed inside the exam hall, the website mentioned calculator batteries and screwdriver to open the calculator. Till that point, it hadn’t even occurred to me that my calculator might run out of charge! And while checking the information about my test centre a few months ago, I was informed that there was a Standard Chartered Marathon being run that day and it would be advisable to take public transport.  This just exemplifies the extent of detail that went into their preparation for the exam.

On entering the exam hall, I was asked to “check-in” multiple times, people triple checked my passport and hall ticket, and the Proctors warned us that so much as looking at the person seated next to us might cause them to conclude that we were about to cheat. I have written exams ever since I was 5 years old (no kidding!), but this exam was by far the most strict and rigid I’ve ever come across. I really didn’t mind the rigidness though. It was because of that attention to detail that the whole event worked like a charm, with absolutely no hiccups whatsoever. Very awe inspiring.

3. Ethics

The CFA Institute places a ridiculous amount of importance on ethics (just two chapters are worth 15% of the exam!). Perhaps a response to the unethical bankers who are so (in)famous today?

I learnt a lot from the ethics as well, though it was irksome to read at the time. The Code is filled with practical information detailing the responsibilities of a CFA Charter Holder/ Candidate. They are not like the Ten Commandments, i.e- they don’t prohibit you from things. They just place reasonable limits and give you a “middle path” to follow. For example- we keep hearing of the huge bonuses offered to investment bankers as rewards for good performance. Now this is not frowned upon by the Institute. They just ask you to disclose the extra compensations to all applicable parties. Basically be transparent about whatever you do. I think it’s a very reasonable code of Ethics and one that the finance industry would do good to follow!

I also read the book “Too Big to Fail” while preparing for the CFA. It made me appreciate the book better since I could really understand the technical terms and comprehend the magnitude of the situation on Wall Street.

4. The people taking the exam

The people who take this exam are supposed to be the “really serious” Investment Bankers who are keen on improving themselves at their existing finance jobs. Since I took this for a different reason, I was initially feeling good about myself since I’m taking the time out to learn something new etc. But on the exam day, I saw so many people from NUS who were also taking the exam with me. Gave me a hard knock on the head that I was not alone in my decision. It surprised me that the $1500 fee didn’t deter people. It sure played a huge role in my thinking…

And what’s more, there were so many empty seats in the exam hall. It is one thing to actually pay for such an expensive exam and study for it, but to skip the damn thing?! Singaporeans are really very well off.

So that’s about the main points for now. Results out in 2 months time!  I’ve decided to worry about that when I come to it.

A big thank you to all the framily (:D) who helped me prepare throughout these six months! For being understanding, putting up with my crazy moods and helping me learn better. THANK YOU! Even though I don’t pass, I’ll be the girl who tried and failed.. as opposed to the one who didn’t even try. So all izz well in the land of Shweta. 😀


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