• James Bond versus Ethan Hunt: The CISI and the CFA in global financial certifications



    Last June, I was in a nationwide Train-The-Trainers road show. We are initiating the first wave of accredited CISI trainers in the Philippines, a selection of academics coming from 24 universities (11 in Southern Luzon, 2 in Central Luzon, 3 in Metro Manila, 2 in Visayas, and 6 in Mindanao) and finance practitioners.

    The CISI is the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment, which launched its Philippine operation in January 2016. It is quite understandable that people have only a vague grasp of what the CISI is and what it actually does. I was in a similar situation before and I could only assume from the name that it had something to do with the capital markets.

    I worked out the simplest and quickest analogy that could immediately give CISI a tangible personality. I refer to the much better known (in the Philippines) Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, which almost everyone in the finance profession and academe is familiar with.

    The CISI is James Bond while the CFA is Ethan Hunt.

    Ethan Hunt is definitely American, with its organization the Impossible Missions Force reporting to the US defense secretary. James Bond is a British Secret Service agent also working for his government.
    The CFA is American, with the CFA Institute coming from a 1990 merger of the Association of Investment Management Research (AIMR) and the Financial Analysts Federation (FAF), which was established in 1947.
    According to itswebsite, CFA has120,000 members in 35 countries and its charter is generally known as the highest standard in investment management.

    In the Philippines, the USAID funded in the early 1990s a development program with the Asian Institute of Management to develop and propagate the CFA designation. Although it has developed lower-tier programs that have less stringent requirements, the primary offering of the CFA Institute is basically a 3-level (one exam for each level) course that you have to go through to earn the right to place charter and the post-nominal “CFA” after your name on your business card. It takes an average of 4 years to complete the levels.

    The CISI is British. It was formed as the Securities Institute in 1992 pedigreed from the London Stock Exchange (originated in 1698 and formally founded in1801). It became the CISI after receiving a Royal Charter in October 2009. There are over 60 CISI qualifications divided into pathways through which you achieve competence in specific areas in finance: Compliance/Risk, Operations, Financial Planning, Wealth/Retail, Capital Markets/Corporate Finance, and Islamic Finance.

    The difficulty and the cost of hurdling through the CFA program make it justifiably elitist and exclusive. The frustration comes when after a couple of years into the forecast three to five years of intensive study, roughly only12.5 percent (2004 to 2013 completion rate) of people preparing for the CFA charter pass the three levels and attain the CFA designation. This may take hundreds of thousands of pesos in exam fees, review materials and training, and man-hours equivalent. Passing Levels 1 and 2 do not authorize the candidate to use this as a certification or qualification.

    Although still quite arduous, the CISI ladderized system chops the study material up and gives a certificate for every passed exam, and a topical certification for every defined pathway (e.g. an Investment Operations Certificate (IOC) which is popular for BPO’s in financial services). Usually, one has to pass three exams and earn a prescribed number of hours of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for each certificate or diploma. As for the designation, the CISI awards the post-nominal (initials that can be placed after your name) ACSI (Associate of CISI), MCSI (Member of CISI), Chartered MCSI, and FCSI (Fellow of CISI), and the highest designation, Chartered FCSI. The “chartered” designation means you have earned many more CPD hours, showing more commitment to your profession.

    As for the cost for the CISI qualifications, the payment is per exam (the entry-level, Fundamentals for Financial Services, costs approximately P8,000, and roughly the same amount for training and review). However, the CISI is a registered charity in the UK, and as the Philippines is classified as a developing country, it gives discounts for both the exams and the initial qualifications registration fee (the one-time QRF) AND the membership fee.

    Like the local Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX), the CISI is also a membership organization of finance professionals. FINEX has around 800 members based in the country; the CISI has over 43,000 finance professionals in 116 countries. Around 700 members volunteer to create the CISI exams, which keep the costs of the exams low. Exams are revised periodically (approximately 18-24 months) to make the content current and relevant.

    Another important difference is that the CFA exams are limited to a few schedules in a year while the CISI exams can be chosen as per your schedule. You can take a break in between exams (within a reasonable time) if you get particularly busy with work, and schedule your progression and take the computer-based test (CBT) on your preferred date. The test center is currently at the Ateneo de Manila building along H.V. Dela Costa St. in Salcedo Village, Makati. More test centers across the country are set to open this year 2016.

    Once you earn a CISI designation, you may opt to go to channel your inner James Bond and attend the annual gala dinner, usually held in a castle-like venue in London. This is an event even Ethan Hunt would want to attend.
    The CFA program is actually viewed by the CISI as a complementary designation. The CISI is equally difficult, but gives you more flexibility and options in terms of subject matter focus, scheduling, and spacing out exam and training costs. The CFA requires 3-5 years of continuous commitment and study and financing. The CISI gives an average of 1-3 months preparation per exam, and you may space these out. Thus, while the ACSI can be earned quickly within a year (3 exams), the top (Level 7) CISI designation (Chartered FCSI) which can be considered a CFA equivalent, may take you over 5-10 years alongside hours of CPD and membership.

    James Bond can be quite complex but smirky and easygoing as well, and so can the CISI programs. Ethan Hunt hurries with the urgency and intensity of the Impossible Missions Force, and that is akin to the hectic CFA designation. Whichever you choose, you will still be setting yourself apart as a committed top agent in the financial services profession.

    Anton D. Mauricio is the country president of the CISI in the Philippines. He is also a trustee in the board of the FINEX foundation.



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