Which certification is best for you ?

Not yet sure on which journey to embark? Here are a few suggestions.

If you like mathematics and are sure that you want to become an actuary and work for an insurance company, then you already know that you have to take or continue taking actuarial exams. From which society? If you are interested in life insurance, risk management, the frontiers of finance and insurance, pension funds, health insurance, then you should take the exams of the Society of Actuaries (SOA). If it is perfectly clear that you want to work in the Property/Casualty (P/C) field, then you should take the exams of the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS). The difficult situation is when you are interested in the P/C field, but you also have broader interests. Then, perhaps it is better to contemplate taking the fellowship exams of the general insurance track of the SOA. See www.soa.org or www.casact.org.

If you are not a big fan of mathematics and you have a minimal background in calculus and if you want to work in corporate finance or to apply non-quantitative or semi-quantitative skills to the financial markets by working for a bank or a fund? Then, you should take the three Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exams. The advantage of this certification is that it gives you a very solid and broad knowledge about financial markets, economics, accounting, and other related fields. So many people are taking this certification now that taking the exams seems inevitable. This certification will give you a common culture on which you will be able to build your career. See www.cfainstitute.org.

But, if you like mathematics and you want to work in risk-management for a bank, then, the Financial Risk Manager (FRM) or Professional Risk Manager (PRM) certifications are for you. They are now virtual prerequisites for working in risk management. I will give more details about the FRM certification, because it is the one I took. The FRM exams are very well designed and you can reasonably expect to pass them if you have attended solid quantitative finance classes, in a business school for instance. The FRM exams allow you to build a vision beyond these classes. The curriculum is very up to date. See www.garp.org or www.prmia.org.

The above discussion offers a first-order approximation of what is needed for your career. There are many situations that are blurred or mixed. For example, if you want to work for a pension fund, it may make sense to both take the SOA exams and to become a CFA Charterholder.