CFA exam anxiety swells as candidates worry test may be scrapped due to Covid-19

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) – Even at the best of times, preparing for the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam is a nerve-wracking slog. Candidates planning to take the test in June now have to cope with the added worry that their carefully crafted study schedules will be upended by the coronavirus.

As the global Covid-19 pandemic prompts authorities around the world to halt large gatherings, speculation is mounting that the CFA Institute may be forced to cancel or delay its June tests, which require thousands of financial professionals and students to gather in large venues from Hong Kong to London and New York. Many applicants are hoping the designation will offer them better jobs, higher salaries and a deeper understanding of their industry.

The exam’s fate is far from the most pressing concern as the deadly virus infects thousands of people, pummels financial markets and pushes the global economy toward a recession. But it’s top of mind for CFA candidates like Grylls Zhao, who quit his job as a risk officer at an international bank in Guangzhou, China, last month and is taking time off to study before looking for a new role.

“If they cancel it, it means I need to wait for another year and I am really worried about that,” said Zhao, who is planning to retake the second of three exams required for the Chartered Financial Analyst designation after failing the test last year.

The CFA institute is “watching the situation very carefully” but hasn’t yet changed plans for the June exams, it said in an emailed response to questions from Bloomberg News. The Charlottesville, Virginia-based institute declined to discuss potential contingency plans.

The global financial industry has already taken drastic measures to limit contact among workers, with banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co and Citigroup asking many of its employees to work from home. Some cities have prohibited public gatherings, with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio saying his city’s ban may last “a number of months.”

The CFA Institute pushed back its December exam in Hong Kong for three days due to local protests. Candidates could opt for a full refund, sit for the test at another location or delay the exam until June.

“I would risk going if the test is not canceled,” said Pong Wu, who works in the back office at a local corporate finance advisory firm in Hong Kong and is taking the level-two test in June, as well as a financial risk management exam in May. “We have to wait until further notice and candidates have no say in the decision anyway.”

The CFA designation is the gold standard in finance, but it’s not easy to get. Last year, only 41 per cent of more than 157,000 people who sat for the first level passed. The institute administered its December test at 134 centres in 87 cities around the world, with 59 per cent of candidates coming from the Asia Pacific region.

This will be the last year for paper-based exams for level one after the CFA Institute announced computer-based testing starting in February. The first level exam will be offered four times a year starting in 2021.

Crystal Luo, who works in public relations, is taking her level-three exam in June. She’s hoping that with the virus situation stabilizing in China and Hong Kong, the test will go ahead.

“If it is canceled and we are notified in only one month or so, it will be a waste of our study time,” Luo said.

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