Success on the third and final step to Chartered Financial Analyst status dropped to a record low in June as the number of people taking the test surged to a record high.
Of the 21,462 people who put themselves through the six-hour ordeal, only 46% passed, compared with 49% last year. Historically, 64% of candidates have passed the third round.
One storyline is that in the mad scramble for the "CFA" designation -- a major feather in the cap for any investment pro -- a larger share of less-qualified candidates signed up. There's also rumblings about the test being more difficult now.
But here's a contrarian take: It may be more likely that the test has drawn more qualified candidates, not fewer -- people who may have been simply working too hard to study for the exam.
Consider the recent Level III candidates, who might best be called the Class of 2008. Because of the testing schedules, the people who just completed the third installment likely took their first CFA test in December 2008, as the financial world was blowing rivets.
At the time, nearly everyone was scared, even the best and brightest. Enrollments for the CFA test that December were up by one-third over the previous year.
But the panic started to wear off in a matter of months. Bernanke hadn't gone gray. Gun sales fell back to normal levels. And enrollments for the Level II test in June was up only 17% over the previous year.
Following through, enrollments for the third round this summer were up only 10%. About a quarter of those surveyed said that they wouldn't retake the test if they failed.
Going the distance is still a commendable and arduous process. The average CFA candidate preps for 300 hours per test. Unless your career was truly adrift, you might pass a few of those hours up in favor of real work or an Entourage marathon, care of Netflix.
After all, the CFA club is not as intimate as it used to be. Another 9,880 people are eligible to join now.
Write to Kyle Stock
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