Candidates hoping to earn the coveted Chartered Financial Analyst designation are wondering whether what to do about the December exam.

Earning the CFA designation requires passing three different, challenging exams that take 300 hours of study each. Typically described as grueling, the passing rate for the first two is below 50% and only somewhat better for the third.

Despite the effort to pass and the cost — several hundred — to take each exam level, annually almost a quarter million finance professionals from across the globe register to take one . When the CFA Institute, which administers the tests and awards the designation, cancelled the June exams due to the COVID pandemic 245,000 were signed-up.

Many re-registered for the December exam.

Now, with the outbreak still not under control and voluntary postponement deadlines approaching, candidates are uncertain whether to stick with the December test date or switch to a date next year. Complicating the decision is that next year’s exams will be conducted online and will be shorter by 90 minutes. That might seem a good enough reason to delay, but many disagree.

Adding yet another uncertainty is the possibility some of the 193 testing locations may not meet local health and safety requirements. The CFA Institute explains this on its website saying, “Beginning in October, we expect to make preliminary determinations about our ability to administer at each test area. We will inform candidates who are impacted by exam cancellations via email as soon as possible following each decision.”

In an article for eFinancialCareers, Zee Tan, founder of the CFA help site 300Hours.com, says apprehensive candidates have been asking him what to do..

“Personal choices and circumstances will drive a lot of your reasoning,” he writes. “But at the same time, there are some definite advantages and disadvantages of postponing to 2021.”

He gives candidates three reasons for and three against postponing. More test dates, a shorter exam and the reduced chances the 2021 tests will be cancelled are good reasons, he says, to postpone.

On the other hand, sticking with the December schedule means getting it over with. “Don’t delay the pain,” is Tan’s bullet point. Another reason applies to those hoping to get their fees refunded. If the test is cancelled, the CFA Institute has promised to refund the money.

Some, Tan says, just want to take the test on paper. “Whatever the reason, there is genuine preference by many candidates for a paper-based CFA exam, and Dec 20 will be the last chance to take the CFA exam in a paper-based format.”

What’s his recommendation? Postpone.

“Personally, I’m leaning slightly towards the idea that it might be better to postpone – it’s likely COVID-safer, more certain to take place as planned, and will be a shorter, more flexible exam.”

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash


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Pay Is Only Part of Attracting and Retaining Accounting Talent

While the rest of us may be having sugarplum dreams, accountants are seeing stacks of spreadsheets and tax forms and year end reports in their future.

For accounting professionals at firms across the country the end of the year brings the beginning of their busiest months. The long hours, routine, if important, tasks and the lack of flexibility that marks these next three months puts traditional firms at a disadvantage, says a whitepaper from Thomson Reuters.

Though the COVID pandemic may have cooled the intense talent wars of the last few years, it won’t last. “Competition is bound to only intensify,” the report says. And compensation is only part of the formula. Firms, need to “focus on more intangibles like employee engagement, and nurturing a positive and inclusive workplace culture.”

As its title says, the whitepaper details 4 Ways to Elevate Your Accounting Firm’s Talent.

The first step is to elevate the firm’s visibility among those professionals you want to hire. Recruitment marketing is as essential as marketing to attract new clients, says the report.

“Change begins with developing and raising awareness of your firm’s reputation as a place to work,” says the paper. “The visibility and awareness of your ‘employer brand’ among prospective candidates is important.”

The place to start is with the firm’s website. Think more like a candidate, than an employer when crafting the careers pages. What is it your firm offers? What makes your firm unique and a good place to work?

Most of the report focuses on building a strong culture to retain and attract talent. You do that, says the Thomson Reuters paper by emphasizing career development and learning, by focusing on engagement and developing a positive work environment.

“What is the ideal culture? For many associates, a positive corporate culture is one rich in diversity, inclusion, and flexibility. This is especially true among younger associates.”

For many diversity is associated with “a forward-thinking mindset that involves tolerance, inclusiveness, and openness to different ideas or ways of thinking.” In addition, empowering associates and providing a path to a better work/life balance through flexible work schedules, telecommuting, compressed workweek, etc. helps promote a positive workplace culture.

“Attracting and retaining top accounting firm talent is challenging for many firms. Shifts in employee expectations, greater competition from tech players, and a constricting pipeline of accounting graduates means that the job market will only intensify,” the report observes.

A competitive paycheck is important, the report concludes, but “earning the loyalty and commitment of your employees is about so much more.”

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash


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5 Questions to Improve Accounting’s Leadership Diversity

Noting that “Women are underrepresented as partners and top executives in the accounting profession,” a panel of women accounting leaders said the way to change is for firms to focus on talent acquisition, retention, and promotion.

In a session at AICPA’s ENGAGE 2020 online conference the four women leaders explained it’s not enough for firms to simply hire more women accountants. Partners and managing executives have to provide women training and career support in an environment that shows them women can succeed.

With only 23% of CPA firm partners who are women, “[E]very organization should assess their talent pipeline and the career life cycle to identify the peaks or trends for where they are losing women and if they are experiencing career stagnation,” advised Latoria J. “Tori” Farmer, executive director of inclusion and diversity at KPMG LLP

Senior partners need to be asking themselves some uncomfortable questions if they want to improve the representation of women on the leadership team, according to the account of the session in the Journal of Accountancy.

Five questions emerged as among the most essential:

  1. Do women see future opportunities at the organization?
  2. Are women provided with the right and adequate career support?
  3. Do women feel comfortable in the environment?
  4. Are women held to higher standards for promotions?
  5. Are women receiving the critical training they need?

Leaders need to identify high-performing or high-potential individuals, Farmer said. Then they need to ensure the firm is providing “on-the-job experiences, executive education, and other leadership development opportunities that validate and showcase their potential.”

Just as important is sponsorship. Different from mentorship, the panelists said a sponsor is someone who puts “his or her professional reputation and political advantages on the line to advocate for someone else,” the Journal reported.

It’s also important for women who may be mothers, caretakers or partners of other working professionals to know they won’t be overlooked because of those responsibilities. Explained Farmer, “Women desire the ability to connect with role models at those similar life stages. When they find that network, that becomes a reason for them to stay.”

For women of color, these issues are even more important, the panelists said.

“They don’t see the representation at the top. They don’t see leaders of similar profiles and roles of influence and power,” Farmer said. “They’re navigating this intersectionality of race and gender.”

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash


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