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You’re Not A True CFA Until You’ve Made It To Little-Known Level IV

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]

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64 Responses to “You’re Not A True CFA Until You’ve Made It To Little-Known Level IV”

  1. Stroke It says:

    “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. Backdoor Bess says:

    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. Anonymous says:

    Do they allow cats at the grading table?

    -Nova MBA thinking about adding the CCFA to my resume

  4. PasteSpecialFormats says:

    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. Guy who watches paint dry says:

    Sorry, Can’t do it, I’m busy

  6. Meistro says:

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

  7. Tripper says:

    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.

  8. GUEST says:


  9. Anonymous says:

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

  10. 25th Hour Trader says:

    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.  

  11. Cuttlefish says:

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


  12. EMH says:

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

  13. Financial_Servicer says:

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

  14. CFA level IV exam question says:

    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

  15. generic desk head says:

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

  16. Hungry Intern says:

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

  17. chicago mom says:

    as always Bess priceless tags

  18. Anonymous says:

    “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.

  19. Anonymous says:

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

  20. AmericanBandersnatch says:

    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

  21. rymu says:

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

  22. Safe Sound says:

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

  23. Guest says:

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

  24. So Not Worth It says:

    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!!!!

  25. Jared says:

    Golly, all this just to belong to the Cat Fanciers Association?