Friday, July 10, 2009

Credentials beyond the MBA

Does a CPA, CFA or MA in finance, financial engineering or computational finance make sense when you already have an MBA?

Many MBA graduates have asked themselves the same--especially in the current environment when they look to gain an edge, set themselves apart or prove they bring something special to the table.

It's fair to ask the question; it's harder to answer it. Weighing the costs vs. benefits is complex. For experienced MBA graduates, time is another variable. Is it worth the time away from a defined career path or time away from family?

Some executive coaches and recruiters say it can make a difference. It can be a meaningful advantage--particularly in the first rounds of recruiting new candidates. Employers, they say, in the initial-screening stages look carefully for credentials--experiences, degrees, certifications, responsibilities, titles, etc. Having a CFA designation certainly doesn't hurt among a stack of MBA resumes'. The same credential, however, may count for less in final rounds of interviewing.

For finance positions requiring special technical prowess, the designations wouldn't hurt. Employers looking for competence in, say, equity or investment research, mergers/acquisitions, or structured finance (i.e., post-crisis structured finance) tend to look for those who can shine with well-honed technical skills. Having the MBA proves technical skills, but having the CFA (on top of the MBA) or more might prove exceptional ability.

In the post-crisis periods, the study of finance (including accounting, capital markets, and investment analysis) will likely evolve. It will include some lessons from the past year and will emphasize topics it neglected in previous years: risk management, financial systems, asset valuations, etc.

Some finance experts even say finance needs a new approach or needs to be re-taught differently. (Old models--for example, "Black Scholes" or "capital-asset pricing" or "efficient markets"--will be taught, but will be challenged or not always accepted as gospel.)

No doubt, pursuing that extra credential will introduce you to novel or updated approaches to finance. You would be in the middle of something new.

In finance, the MBA alone is still a strong degree--having covered important financial topics and issues, having introduced graduates to all aspects of financial theory, and having provided a foundation to pursue other topics in depth. The CFA, CPA or MA is icing on the cake.

So as with many career-oriented subjects, for those already armed with an MBA in finance from a strong program, the answer to the above question comes down to you--your goals, your interests in specific topics, your long-term objectives, and of course your time and budget.

Tracy Williams

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