For the vast majority of those on the quest to become a Chartered Financial Analyst, there are three tests to be conquered and then they’re set. They’ve gained the keys to the kingdom. Three tests, they think, and you’re in. That’s because these people are not true children of the CFA. If they were, they’d spend their nights, weekends and holidays hosting CFA trivia night with friends, they’d scour eBay for CFA collector’s items, such as the first exam ever given, and they’d know that passing Level III? Doesn’t mean jack. Because after III comes the ultimate test: Level IV, AKA gaining access to Camp CFA.

What is CCFA? A weeklong “retreat” wherein the ultimate charter holders gather to decide who will be given the green light to spend the next 6 months of their lives studying for the next level and who will be punted back to square one. Whereas Levels I, II and III have pass rates that range from (ballparking it) 29 to 53 percent, i.e. anyone can get in, Camp CFA changes the lives of a mere 15 percent of people. And make no mistake, being chosen to attend Camp CFA is viewed as a life changing event. Some might even call it an honor.

Although most of the graders were chartered by the institute years ago, for many, the invite to Charlottesville is the ultimate honor in the arduous CFA process.

And it’s not simply about grading exams. No, only a philistine would think such a thing. It’s about so much more than that. It’s about bonding with people who share the same burning passion for securities.

Joe Biernat, 57, has been wanting to grade tests since he became a CFA in 1982. He was always too busy running European Credit Management, a firm that invested for institutional clients. Biernat made the trip to Virginia for the first time last year after Wells Fargo bought his business. “It’s an amazing group,” Biernat said. “And it’s very easy to get to know people. At the end of the day, you’ve gotten through 200 to 250 exams and you’re cross-eyed, so it’s just good camaraderie.”

It’s about using two weeks of vacation time for free coffee and unlimited karaoke.

For the past 12 days, 541 CFA charter-holders have been holed up in a Charlottesville, Va. high school, grading almost 23,000 completed CFA exams. The group works for two weeks, roughly seven hours a day — no more, no less, in order to finish on time and still remain sharp. In off hours, they play golf, sip wine at nearby vineyards, tour Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate and belt out bad pop songs at an annual karaoke night. They are paid a few hundred dollars a day and plied with a steady supply of food, coffee and alcohol.

Most of all? It’s about coming home.

John Richardson started grading CFA exams in 1986, along with 76 other volunteers. He has made the trip to Charlottesville every year since, including in 2000 when a record 978 graders descended on the sultry city. “I really feel like I’m getting on a plane and going to see family,” Richardson said in a phone interview last week as he waited to take off from a Phoenix airport.

Wet, Hot CFA Summer [FINS]

63 comments (hidden to protect delicate sensibilities)
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Comments (63)

  1. Posted by Stroke It | July 7, 2011 at 5:59 PM

    “At the end of the day, you’ve gotten through 200 to 250 exams and you’re cross-eyed, so it’s just good camaraderie.”

    No wonder I failed so many times, these fuckers are all cross-eyed

  2. Posted by Backdoor Bess | July 7, 2011 at 6:04 PM

    Bess, everyone knows that you cannot use CFA as a noun….please fix your title.

    CFA Level II candidate for the past six years

  3. Posted by Anonymous | July 7, 2011 at 6:05 PM

    Do they allow cats at the grading table?

    -Nova MBA thinking about adding the CCFA to my resume

  4. Posted by PasteSpecialFormats | July 7, 2011 at 6:16 PM

    J.J.: He gets so uncomfortable whenever we talk openly about sexual issues. You know he’s never been with a girl before. Gary: McKinley needs to experience “The Ultimate” And I think you know what I’m talking about. J.J.: You mean, penis-in-vagina? Gary: No, dickhead. Sex.

  5. Posted by InfiniteGuest | July 7, 2011 at 6:17 PM

    How CFGay.

  6. Posted by Guy who watches paint dry | July 7, 2011 at 6:20 PM

    Sorry, Can’t do it, I’m busy

  7. Posted by I_want_you_inside_me | July 7, 2011 at 6:20 PM

    It pisses me off that FINS used Wet Hot in their title, even though the reference, besides the place being like camp, has zero relevance to the story. Show some fucking respect.

  8. Posted by Meistro | July 7, 2011 at 6:26 PM

    No such thing as a CFA, only a CFA charterholder :)

  9. Posted by Tripper | July 7, 2011 at 6:26 PM

    But, the real excitement, of course, is gonna come at the end of the summer, uh, during Sexual Awareness Week. We import 200 hookers from around the world, and each camper, armed with only a thermos of coffee and $2,000 cash, tries to visit as many countries as he can and the winner, of course, is named King of Sexual Awareness Week and is allowed to rape and pillage the neighboring towns until camp ends.

  10. Posted by GUEST | July 7, 2011 at 6:27 PM

    NERD ALERT! NERD ALERT!

  11. Posted by Anonymous | July 7, 2011 at 6:27 PM

    They better have at least tried a Gus Burger from the White Spot or they are NOT invited back.

  12. Posted by 25th Hour Trader | July 7, 2011 at 6:29 PM

    The greatest honor of my life was spending 2 weeks not trading, sitting in a high school classroom, grading a test for a person I don’t know or care about, topped off by playing horseshoes.

    -Not from a trader who would rather be in front of his Bloomberg, drinking red bull and reading dealbreaker.  

  13. Posted by Meme De La Meme | July 7, 2011 at 6:33 PM

    Admitting you’re from Virginia=New Kill Yourself.

  14. Posted by Cuttlefish | July 7, 2011 at 6:36 PM

    I knew Bess was going to post this before blogging was even invented. 

    /iGartman

  15. Posted by EMH | July 7, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    To all EMH propaganda people, we thank you! Keep going.
     

  16. Posted by Financial_Servicer | July 7, 2011 at 6:46 PM

    One time, at CFA Camp, I stuck an HP 12C up my ass…

  17. Posted by CFA level IV exam question | July 7, 2011 at 6:54 PM

    Which of the following are true statements?

    I. It is legal to guarantee 12% annualized returns to gullible institutional investors in Louisiana
    II. Material, non-public information can be used if your name is Raj
    III. A pay-fixed swap is legal to undertake between two consenting adults in Clark County, NV
    IV. All CFA Charterholders must genuflect in the presence of Warren Buffet, who is not a Charterholder himself

    A. IV only
    B. I and III
    C. I, II, and III
    D. All of the above

  18. Posted by Anonymous | July 7, 2011 at 6:54 PM

    I was easily Top Gun at this camp.

    -DSK

  19. Posted by 2007 | July 7, 2011 at 7:01 PM

    Seung-Hui Cho?

  20. Posted by 2007 | July 7, 2011 at 7:01 PM

    Seung-Hui Cho?

  21. Posted by Anonymous | July 7, 2011 at 7:13 PM

    Enough already?  A bit of a stretch perhaps?

  22. Posted by generic desk head | July 7, 2011 at 7:15 PM

    Super article.  I’ve always wanted to know what my quants do when they call in “sick.”

  23. Posted by trojan | July 7, 2011 at 7:21 PM

    Camp CFA, we hold you in our hearts.
    And when we think about you (it makes me wanna fart!)

  24. Posted by Fdsaf | July 7, 2011 at 7:23 PM

    No need to hate because you can’t afford Vineyard Vines or a North Face.

  25. Posted by Anal_ist | July 7, 2011 at 7:25 PM

    I knew someone was going to post a hackneyed Gartman comment before you did. Seriously.

    /Me

  26. Posted by Fact Man | July 7, 2011 at 7:31 PM

    No respectable person wearing vineyard vines travels south of the mason-dixon.

    Fact.

  27. Posted by Texashedge | July 7, 2011 at 7:35 PM

    I gotta like this one–putting a fried egg on a cheeseburger and then charging UVA undergrads $12 a pop for them at 2am is brilliant.

  28. Posted by CEO of Major Energy Company | July 7, 2011 at 7:36 PM

    Bullshit.  One night during Sexual Awareness Week at CFA camp, the older guys said we were going to have a “beat-off” contest with the lights out.  Sure enough the lights went out in the cabin and you couldn’t see your hand it was so dark.  I started beating away and could hear the sound of my fellow campers doing the same: a crowd-like staccato “slapping” sort of noise.  Suddenly the lights went on and everyone fell to the ground laughing at me wildly whipping away at my skeeter as they were all slapping their bellies it seemed.  The joke was on me.  The bastards.

  29. Posted by Cross-Eyed Exam Grader | July 7, 2011 at 7:38 PM

    A fur burger from the wet spot????

  30. Posted by Duh | July 7, 2011 at 7:39 PM

    It’s “I hope we never part,” now say it right or pay the price!

  31. Posted by Null | July 7, 2011 at 7:53 PM

    So you’re an Yale man huh? Good to know…

    G Dubds

  32. Posted by Hungry Intern | July 7, 2011 at 8:00 PM

    CFA Camp (Virginia) < MBA Camp (freshman dorms)

  33. Posted by Charleston Guy | July 7, 2011 at 8:09 PM

    Ever been to Charleston? 

  34. Posted by chicago mom | July 7, 2011 at 8:29 PM

    as always Bess priceless tags

  35. Posted by Anonymous | July 7, 2011 at 8:31 PM

    “John Richardson started grading CFA exams in 1986 … has made the trip to Charlottesville every year since,”

    25 years straight grading exams is the NKI.

  36. Posted by Brian1284 | July 7, 2011 at 8:37 PM

    I was more of a “Bar None Dude Ranch” kind of guy. 

  37. Posted by Anal_ist | July 7, 2011 at 8:47 PM

    I am pretty sure most people on DB would disagree. Are you are part of Mr. Richardson’s “family?”

  38. Posted by Wahoo | July 7, 2011 at 9:19 PM

    Or maybe just went to school there.

    -Guy who went to school there

  39. Posted by Wahoo | July 7, 2011 at 9:20 PM

    Gotta go to Coupe’s for that

  40. Posted by Ray Finkle | July 7, 2011 at 9:25 PM

    And we have a winner….

  41. Posted by Anonymous | July 7, 2011 at 9:26 PM

    Sound like Wall Street version of Scientology……where is the xenu?

  42. Posted by AmericanBandersnatch | July 7, 2011 at 9:26 PM

    It’s good to see you make fun of Dungeons & Dragons but don’t you dare make fun of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

    - Level 5 Half-Orc Fighter / Level 11 Virgin

  43. Posted by Guest | July 7, 2011 at 9:49 PM

    I am pretty sure most people on DB would know that the above comment was sarcasm. Are you a retard or do you just play one in the comments section?

  44. Posted by Everyone | July 7, 2011 at 10:05 PM

    Go fuck yourself

  45. Posted by Anonymous | July 7, 2011 at 10:13 PM

    They’re not nerds, nerds are smart!
     
    -Milhouse Van Houten, CFA

  46. Posted by Ddd | July 7, 2011 at 10:38 PM

    Is that the Minetta Tavern meet-up spot of C’ville or would that be the Biltmore? You will know it is me by my Eljo’s V pants.

  47. Posted by Ddd | July 7, 2011 at 10:40 PM

    apparently that includes you

  48. Posted by Ddd | July 7, 2011 at 10:44 PM

    Dude, they charge the $12 because you get served by an Elvis look-a-like. 

    -Guy who really understands “Porter’s Five Forces”

  49. Posted by LAX bro | July 7, 2011 at 11:04 PM

    Thank God.. When I first read the title I thought the next 11 months would be devoted to studying for level IV.

  50. Posted by Guy who got beat, CFA | July 8, 2011 at 1:12 AM

    Sir,

    I have never laughed harder at a comment on this fine blog.

  51. Posted by Guest | July 8, 2011 at 5:54 AM

    This one had me in tears laughing.

  52. Posted by Guest | July 8, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    Sprayed redbull on 3/12 monitors. Thanks.

    - CFAL2Lazy

     

  53. Posted by Guest | July 8, 2011 at 12:44 PM

    I now share your ire at others liking posts you like.

    -Guy who thought you sounded kind of pretentious at first but now realizes the valuable community service you provide. 

  54. Posted by Guest | July 8, 2011 at 12:44 PM

    I now share your ire at others liking posts you like.

    -Guy who thought you sounded kind of pretentious at first but now realizes the valuable community service you provide. 

  55. Posted by Wahoo | July 8, 2011 at 1:34 PM

    By Minetta Tavern meet-up spot do you mean “the place where dreams come true in a bacchanalian orgy of supressed sexual tension and free flowing alcohol with a side of regret and self entitlement”? Then yes, it is the Minetta Tavern of Cville.

  56. Posted by Wahoo | July 8, 2011 at 1:34 PM

    By Minetta Tavern meet-up spot do you mean “the place where dreams come true in a bacchanalian orgy of supressed sexual tension and free flowing alcohol with a side of regret and self entitlement”? Then yes, it is the Minetta Tavern of Cville.

  57. Posted by rymu | July 9, 2011 at 1:34 AM

    One time at CCFA I stuck a HP-12 in my pussy

  58. Posted by NS | July 12, 2011 at 12:34 AM

    Actually, “Chartered Financial Analyst” is a noun. . . 

  59. Posted by Poop | July 26, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    but CFA is not you newfag

  60. Posted by Safe Sound | September 4, 2012 at 8:34 AM

    Nice blog do you fancy renting banner ad space for a monthly fee?

  61. Posted by Guest | June 19, 2013 at 9:25 AM

    Scary to think the person grading the exams doesn't know you are not allowed to use 'CFA' as a noun ("A True CFA").

  62. Posted by Guest | June 19, 2013 at 3:03 PM

    That's the author's phrase. She is not a charter-holder and does not grade exams.

  63. Posted by So Not Worth It | July 23, 2013 at 5:33 PM

    Haha, good one Bess! For a second there, you had me thinking that CFA III's were actually so lame they would actually want to OH MY GOD!!!!