Written by: Nik Ventouris

Last updated:


In the competitive field of finance, the decision between pursuing a chartered financial analyst (CFA) or financial risk manager (FRM) certification can seem complex. This CFA vs FRM article aims to make this decision a little easier for finance professionals by breaking down the differences in exam structure, scope, and meaning of these two qualifications.

Read on to determine which certification may be the right fit for you based on your career goals, interests, and industry focus so you can make an informed choice for your professional development.

What’s the Difference?

Understanding the fundamental differences between the CFA and FRM qualifications is crucial for anyone considering a career in finance.

The CFA credential predominantly centers on investment management, covering a broad spectrum of finance topics. In contrast, the FRM credential focuses on financial risk management, diving deep into the complexities of financial risks.

Before making a choice to pursue either qualification, you’ll need to understand some of the main differences between them as outlined below.

CFA Overview

The CFA qualification provides candidates with a holistic understanding of the finance industry in order to prepare them for a wide variety of roles.

If you dream of managing big investment portfolios or analyzing the financial health of companies, for example, the CFA credential will be the better option for you.

Here’s a brief overview of this credential:

  • Focus: A CFA charterholder focuses on investment management, delving into topics like financial reporting, portfolio management, and equity investments
  • Career Path: This qualification paves the way for a career as an investment banker, financial advisor, and portfolio manager
  • Recognition: The CFA charter is globally recognized as one of the most respected designations within the finance industry

Recommended Study Materials

Interested in commencing your CFA studies? We recommend having a look at Kaplan’s in-depth study materials.

4.7 out of 5 starsKaplan Schweser

Alternatively, see our in-depth What is a CFA article.

FRM Overview

For aspiring finance professionals, the FRM designation can be a game-changer. Offered by the Global Association of Risk Professionals (GARP), this certification delves deep into risk management to help finance professionals develop skills in risk analysis, control, and measurement.

Unlike the broader CFA credential, the FRM qualification is more specialized and focuses on the nuances of financial risks.

For someone facing the decision between pursuing a CFA or FRM qualification, it’s essential to recognize the FRM credential’s specific value — especially if you’re passionate about mastering the multifaceted realm of risk management.

Here’s a brief overview of this credential:

  • Focus: This qualification revolves around risk analysis and control, market risk, and credit risk related to banking, investment, and corporate finance
  • Career Path: It’s suitable for those eyeing roles in risk management within banks, investment firms, or corporate finance departments
  • Recognition: While it may not match the sheer numbers of CFA charterholders, the FRM credential is a gold standard for professionals in the risk management field

Given the complexities of today’s financial systems, understanding and managing risks is of utmost importance. The FRM qualification prepares you to handle these challenges head-on, which makes you even more appealing to financial institutions.

Recommended Study Materials

Interested in starting your FRM studies? We recommend checking out Kaplan’s in-depth study materials.

4.7 out of 5 starsKaplan Schweser

Interested in learning more? Check out our FRM Designation article.

Certification Requirements

Getting certified isn’t just about passing exams. You also need to meet a set of comprehensive criteria to ensure you’re ready for the challenges ahead.

CFA Requirements

The journey to achieving the CFA designation is comprehensive and demanding. It’s essential for potential candidates to understand the key components of this process, which include:

  • Exams: The certification process includes three rigorous levels of increasing difficulty that test a candidate’s grasp of finance, economics, and ethical standards
  • Work Experience: Candidates need a bachelor’s degree or four years of professional work experience. Two years of investment-related work experience is also mandatory
  • Membership: All candidates must join the CFA Institute in order to qualify

Think of the CFA certification process as a journey. You’ll start with the basics of finance, delving deeper with each level before achieving a robust understanding of the financial world.

CFA Exam

To earn the CFA designation, candidates must pass three rigorous assessments. It’s a challenge that dives deep into the intricate realms of investment and financial analysis.

Here’s a quick look at each exam:

  • Level 1: This first exam tests candidates’ foundational knowledge of finance, ensuring they understand the basics of asset classes, financial instruments, and portfolio management
  • Level 2: The second level focuses intensely on asset valuation and wealth management to begin to polish the real-world skills prospective CFAs will need
  • Level 3: During this final test, candidates must demonstrate their mastery in applying all they’ve learned to actual portfolio management and compliance scenarios

Each level requires an average of 300 hours of preparation, which emphasizes the depth and complexity of the material. Those who clear all three levels earn a badge of expertise within the financial sector.

In order to prepare for these rigorous exams, candidates should take several mock exams. To get started, check out our Mock Exam CFA Level 1 article.

FRM Requirements

In order to obtain a FRM designation, you’ll need to complete the following prerequisites: 

  • Exams: This qualification requires you to pass a two-part exam, which focuses on risk analysis and control, market risk, and other related subjects
  • Work Experience: After passing the exam, you’ll need to showcase a minimum of two years of relevant risk management work experience
  • Membership: While there’s no official body you must join like the CFA Institute for CFA charterholders, the GARP is the primary institution associated with the FRM designation

Compared to the CFA certification, the FRM certification journey is far more specialized. As you progress, you’ll gain expertise in identifying, analyzing, and managing risks in various financial scenarios.

FRM Exam

Navigating the world of financial risks requires not just intuition, but also a solid grounding in complex concepts and strategies. The FRM exam is a structured assessment designed to ensure candidates are well-equipped to handle these challenges.

Specifically, this exam involves two parts:

  • Part 1: This foundational segment covers the tools used in risk management. Topics here range from quantitative analysis and financial markets to fixed income and the theories underpinning risk modeling
  • Part 2: This part evaluates candidates’ understanding of market risk, credit risk, operational risk, and risk management and investment management decisions. It’s all about applying knowledge, making those critical calls on financial risks, and devising strategies to counteract them

The entire journey toward FRM certification involves approximately 300 to 400 hours of preparation, which underscores the depth of information this exam covers.

For aspiring financial professionals, acing the FRM exam is more than just a notch on their belt. It’s proof of their proficiency in one of the most crucial aspects of the financial world: managing risks.

Which Qualification is Better For You

Ultimately, determining if the CFA or FRM designation is better for you will depend on your specialities and career aspirations. Below are several factors you should consider before making a final decision.

Passion and Interest

Do you see yourself making investment decisions, analyzing stocks, or managing portfolios? If yes, the CFA designation is the way to go. On the other hand, you may opt for the FRM designation if analyzing risks, studying market trends, and ensuring financial stability sounds more like you.

Career Opportunities

CFA charterholders often land roles in investment banks, mutual funds, and private equity firms, among others. On the other hand, FRM professionals typically hold risk management roles across banks, asset management firms, and hedge funds.

Level of Investment

Both certifications require a significant investment of time and money. Assess your resources and determine which certification offers the best return on investment for your unique situation.

Making the right choice between the CFA and FRM qualifications can profoundly influence your career trajectory. Take time to examine our goals, evaluate your interests, and consult with mentors in the field. Remember, it’s about the destination as well as the journey these qualifications offer.


Is an FRM certification better than a CFA certification?

Neither is “better” universally — the choice should align with your career goals. The FRM qualification focuses on risk management while the CFA qualification covers a broader range of finance topics. For more information, we recommend having a look at our CFA vs FRM article.

Is the CFA exam tougher than the FRM exam?

Both exams are challenging, but the CFA exam often proves trickier because it requires candidates to pass three stages of exams while FRM exam is a single exam with two parts. Taking mock exams for each CFA level is one of the best ways to overcome this difficulty. Check out our CFA Mock Exam Level 2 article as a good starting point.

Should I pursue both the CFA and the FRM certifications?

If you’re aiming for a diverse skill set in finance and risk management, then yes. Both designations can complement each other and enhance your career prospects. If you’re still looking for more information on these qualifications, see our What Is a CFA article.

Is a CFA certification useful for risk management?

While the CFA certification covers broader finance topics, it does delve into risk management concepts. However, the FRM designation is more pertinent for a specialized focus on risk. Interested in honing your professional skills? Check out our Mock Exam CFA Level 1 article.

Read More

For all related articles, have a look at our Financial Advisor Resources page.