Going back to the exam room can boost a career

Annabel Denham
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THE investment management certificate (IMC) is both a foundation for those with future plans for the chartered financial analyst (CFA) programme, and a qualification that demonstrates regulatory competence. Run by the CFA Society of the UK, roughly 6,000 students sit the exam each year, and it’s appropriate for anyone entering an investment-related role, be it investment management or a support function.

It doesn’t have a market monopoly, however. There are other qualifications available, such as the papers on investment management from the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment. But “for those at the more junior end of the asset management job market or for graduates, the IMC acts as a differentiator and will increase a candidate’s chances of securing a role,” advises Colin Webster, co-founder of Bruin Financial recruitment.

The IMC tests candidates’ knowledge and understanding of markets, accounting, economics and statistics. “It’s a good all-rounder for anyone in financial services who would benefit from better understanding the market context, or as a warm up to the CFA,” says Carolyn Valahu of Morningstar.

But it can be hard work. Unit one costs £220 and delegates will typically need to spend 30 hours studying to complete; unit two costs £215 and will require 40 hours of study. So it is worth it?

Statistical analysis carried out internally by Bruin found that it has signed up 3,060 candidates with an IMC qualification over the past two years. The recruitment agency’s success rate in getting these candidates interviews with its clients was 29 per cent higher than for investment management candidates without this qualification.

Additionally, in the UK many job functions in financial services require a formal qualification endorsed by the FSA. This is exactly what the IMC offers. According to Jeremy Smith, head of benchmark examinations at Kaplan Financial, the IMC is a “recognised qualification which is commonly undertaken as a regulatory benchmark”. And after the credit crunch, the unit on investment environment is of particular importance to employers. “Clients want credibility, and employers want to hire people who have a good understanding of the risks, the regulations, and who understand how important professionalism and ethics are”, advises Nicole Haroutunian of the CFA Institute.

The workload is “challenging but realistic”, says Craig Hurring, director at the CFA Society of the UK. How you prepare for the exam depends entirely on your circumstances and personal study preferences. Studying through the training companies is definitely a benefit for the guided instruction and peer support. But, says Valahu, “feedback from Morningstar staff who have studied for the IMC suggests that most get along just using the online resources and the IMC self-study materials”.

But, if you already have a good track record in operations roles and don’t have the IMC qualification, there is little benefit adding it to your CV. Experience outweighs the qualification, Webster believes. And for those looking to move into the front office, the CFA programme is a more relevant qualification.

Indeed, where the IMC would be considered a basic foundation course, which can be completed in a short space of time, someone fully CFA qualified is very “well regarded”, says Aoife Crawford, director at CuttingHedge recruitment. There has recently been a huge growth in candidates across the board who are either part or fully CFA qualified, from sales people through to the analysts.

So if you are contemplating completing the more intensive CFA programme, the investment of time and hours spent studying may be worth it.