The new investment qualification ending the industry divide

The CFA’s latest offering aims to remove the educational barriers between the front office and supporting staff

THERE’S a new name in the financial education market that looks to use the expertise and credibility of the CFA Institute to provide foundation level knowledge for staff supporting the investment industry.

The Claritas investment certificate is the latest qualification to be released by the CFA Institute, and has just completed its trial run, with pilot participants including BlackRock, Aviva Investors and the BBC. It’s a self-study education programme, aiming to teach the basics of finance, ethics, and investing to staff in support roles like human resources, public relations, operations, IT, compliance, and legal.

As with its Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) programme, the Institute has used its network in the global investment industry to create a body of knowledge that hopes to be both relevant and practical. But Claritas differs fundamentally from the CFA programme. It is aimed primarily at those unlikely to ever require the depth of knowledge a front line investor would need. It is far shorter, with the Institute estimating it will take candidates 100 hours of study over six months to complete. And unlike the CFA, there is no education or experience requirement.

But what’s the benefit for businesses in educating their support staff? John Bowman, managing director and co-lead of education at the Institute, says that a lack of understanding between different areas of a business can create a cultural barrier, and increases the risk of miscommunication errors between the front, middle and back offices.

You may question the use of the programme in a business dealing with complicated investments – how could someone with a bare bones grasp of equity securities understand and communicate the finer points of an event-driven strategy, for example? But anecdotal feedback from those who have trialled the programme revealed an immediate increase in confidence and comprehension among particpants, which has helped investment firms become more productive.

A BUSINESS PERSPECTIVE
Roger Brosch, chief executive of financial advisory company Foster Denovo, says that a base level of financial knowledge across all staff is “very important to the health and wealth of a business”, giving front line investors the confidence to delegate more, and “empowering staff at all levels to focus on doing the right thing”.

With more minds understanding and tackling the problems affecting the money-making areas, the more likely it is that solutions are found and implemented effectively. Teaching support staff how their role helps the business remain profitable, and how they fit into the industry may also have the softer appeal of providing job satisfaction and creating motivation.

The Claritas programme is reasonably priced, coming up at $685 (£445) for individual students, falling to $485 when bought in bulk for 250 or more. But in most cases, it would probably be cheaper to provide training in-house. So what’s the appeal?

Bowman says that, apart from the expertise provided by the CFA Institute, Claritas differentiates itself from the competition because of its global applicability and credibility. “Other courses of a similar nature are geared towards local needs, standards and regulations,” he says. “But courses run by the CFA Institute are designed to teach a common language that can be understood regardless of where you are in the world.”

But curing financial illiteracy among support staff – particularly those in client facing roles – could have unintended consequences if not properly managed. A study by Invesco found that industry jargon often creates a disconnect between investment firms and their clients. Client-facing staff should use their new knowledge as a filter rather than a barrier.

WHICH STAFF PILOTED CLARITAS?
WHAT IS CLARITAS?

■ Claritas is the latest offering from the CFA Institute, teaching a foundation-level knowledge to staff in investment support roles.

■ Topics covered include financial statements, investment instruments like equity and debt securities, risk management and asset allocation.

■ The CFA Institute estimates that the programme requires approximately 100 hours of study over a course of six months.

■ Candidates will be tested using a computer-based exam, consisting of 120 multiple choice questions administered in English.

NUMBER OF FIRMS THAT PILOTED THE COURSE
COSTS AND REQUIREMENTS

■ Individual registration costs $685 (£445). This includes the exam registration fee, access to all study materials, and one exam sitting.

■ When bought in bulk, 25 to 99 vouchers cost $635 each, 100 to 249 cost $585, and 250 or more cost $485.

■ Unlike the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) programme, there are no educational or work experience requirements.