What if advancing your career in M&A meant dusting off your school supplies? Finance and M&A students and professionals should get familiar with M&A designations because, whatever phase you are in, these certifications can help you gain more credibility and achieve your goals. This article is intended to guide you through the CFA, CPA, MBA, CBI, CF, CMAA and M&AMI designations. Find out how to get them, what they cost and what they can do for your career.

Starting Your Search

As a French student from Bordeaux, France, I have been looking for M&A positions in English-speaking countries and have experienced some difficulties due to my lack of experience in M&A. So, I started to do some research on which M&A designations could provide me with a sound foundation and help expose me to international opportunities. Of course, I was also looking to stand out against other competitors in the field I'm passionate about.

I think for people interested in M&A, it's important to find a designation that enables you to keep learning and stay abreast of new developments that are relevant to your industry. Let’s now explore each designation and discuss which are the best for career development.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

The CFA designation is seen as the gold standard in the investment industry. It's a self-study program offered by the CFA Institute and it requires almost 300 hours of preparation for each of the three levels. Yes, that is a lot of work. As a result, this designation is a sort of testament to a professional's in-depth expertise in investment (not to mention work ethic!). It is, therefore, highly valued by top investment institutions.

How to Get It: Candidates must have a bachelor's degree and 48 months of investment work experience before beginning the program, and then must pass three six-hour exams to become CFA charter holders. Candidates must also become a member of the CFA Institute and adhere to the CFA Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct. CFAs also have to complete a minimum of 20 hours of credits each calendar year in order to stay ahead in the investment industry.

What It Costs: $3,000 in total. This, of course, does not include the cost of a college degree.

Where to Learn More: www.cfainstitute.org

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

The CPA designation is granted by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), offering excellent knowledge and real hands-on work experience in accounting, laws and regulations. Even though this is not a direct entry into an M&A profession, the CPA designation provides a solid financial base that can eventually transition into a career in investment banking. Also, there is a real job market demand for CPAs, which ensures career stability.

How to Get It: In order to take the Uniform CPA Examination, candidates must have a bachelor’s degree and 150 semester hours, including a certain number of credits in topics of accounting and business law. This generally equates to a master's degree. Because requirements differ from one state to another, you should check out the specific requirements in your area.

To earn the CPA license, candidates must pass a 14-hour exam that is uniform for each U.S. jurisdiction and consists of four sections:

  • Auditing and attestation
  • Business environment and concepts
  • Financial accounting and reporting
  • Regulation for continuing education requirements
To maintain their license, CPAs must complete 120 hours of continuing professional education every three years, as well as ethics courses every renewal period, depending on the state in which they are licensed.

What It Costs: Between $2,500 and $3,000. This does not include the cost of a college degree.

Where to Learn More:

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

Masters degrees are offered in various forms by top business schools all around the world and are widely acknowledged as career boosters. A full-time MBA is often a good fit for young executives who have limited experience and are able to handle a two-year program. The part-time MBA is intended for individuals who wish to keep their business. Finally, the executive MBA is a shorter training program targeted toward experienced managers; most of the time, companies offer this training as part of a promotion.

How to Get It: Candidates must have a bachelor’s degree, significant work experience (five years, on average) and take the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT). Applying to MBA programs means submitting an application, an application fee, letters of recommendation and providing extracurricular activities, scores from the GMAT and work experience. Selected candidates for an interview may also have to provide an essay.

What it Costs: Between $40,000 and $90,000 a year.

Where to Learn More: Compare various MBA programs at http://business-schools.findthebest.com/

Certified Business Intermediary (CBI)

Awarded by the International Business Brokers Association (IBBA), the CBI designation provides its members with a very good knowledge in business brokerage, networking opportunities and semi-annual conferences.

How to Get It: Candidates must have three years of experience in business brokerage or mergers and acquisitions, pass the examination and complete 68 class hours through IBBA educational courses. At the end, candidates must activate their membership in the IBBA ($450), submit a CBI application ($250) and attend a minimum of one IBBA conference. CBI holders also need 48 credit hours of education every three years to be eligible for the recertification.

What it Costs: $3,500 for all courses, membership and applications.

Where to Learn More: http://www.ibba.org

Certified Merger & Acquisition Advisor (CM&AA)

The CM&AA certification is a designation awarded by the Alliance of Merger & Acquisition Advisors (AM&AA) through a five-day training program for middle market corporate finance, advisory and transaction service professionals (including CPAs, CFAs and attorneys) who want to stay ahead in the field of investment banking and mergers and acquisitions. The certification provides a valuable network of M&A experts.

How to Get It: Continuing education requirements include:

  • Keeping an active AM&AA membership
  • Attending at least one annual conference within each three-year certification period
  • Earning at least 12 additional credits each year by completing M&A courses or seminars, speaking at a conference, teaching a CM&AA course, contributing to the newsletter and being a member of the AM&AA committee
  • Paying an annual CM&AA continuation fee
What it Costs: $4,300 for the five-day program, which includes required course books and materials.

Where to Learn More: www.amaaonline.com

Merger & Acquisition Master Intermediary (M&AMI)

The M&AMI certification is provided by M&A Source and requires solid educational credits and significant work experience in the M&A field with accomplished transactions. It is, therefore, an elite and relatively marketable designation to have.

How to Get It: Candidates must have between three and five years of full-time M&A experience depending on whether they choose the education or experience track. M&A professionals wishing to get the M&AMI designation need to submit an application ($250), attend between 20 and 40 credit hours of M&A Source-sponsored coursework, depending on the track chosen and whether you are or are not a CBI holder. M&AMI candidates must also attend three M&A source conferences and submit three completed transactions as references.

Every three years, M&AMI holders must meet the following recertification requirements:

  • Maintain an active membership in the M&A Source or IBBA
  • Pay an annual maintenance fee
  • Attend at least one M&A Source conference
  • Complete 48 credit hours of education, seminars
What it Costs: $3,870 (experience route) and $5,120 (education route). This includes the application and membership fees, three conferences and the credit hours courses. The cost for the education route can be reduced if you have obtained the CBI designation.

Where to Learn More: www.masource.org

Corporate Finance (CF) Qualification

The CF qualification is granted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and the Chartered Institute for Securities Investment (CISI). It is highly recognized in the corporate finance industry in Europe and also has a presence in Canada.

How to Get It: Through the education route, candidates must achieve either a certificate or diploma in corporate finance and meet several requirements in order to be eligible for the CF designation. This includes at least three years of ongoing corporate finance experience. Moreover, they must provide references and evidence that they've participated in a minimum of three successful corporate finance transactions. On average, 160 hours of study are needed for the Certificate in Corporate Finance, whereas the Diploma is around 500 hours because there are two parts: Corporate Finance Techniques, and Theory and Corporate Finance Strategy and Advice.

In cases where professionals have more than five years of M&A experience, they are eligible to get the CF qualification through the experience route. The candidate will be expected to have led a minimum of six transactions in the last five years.

Members must maintain an active membership with the ICAEW by paying fees, attending conferences or seminars, and staying involved in the ICAEW community.

What it Costs: Between $1,100 and $1,700, depending on the route chosen (educational vs. experience).

Where to Learn More: www.icaew.com

Educational Paths to Get Into the M&A Industry

Everyone needs to consider his/her own career ambitions while taking into account that there is no ideal path to enter into M&A. From the perspective of a student or young professional, here are the things to consider:
  • The CFA, MBA, CPA and CF certifications require more sacrifices and commitments.
  • When fees are taken into consideration, CFA, CPA and CF might be the right compromise whereas an MBA is the most expensive designation.
  • The most marketable are the CFA and MBA designations because they provide their respective holders with international recognition.

If you're already working in an M&A position and want to advance your career, you should ask yourself whether your current role provides you with enough free time to handle an intense program. From my point of view, designations such as M&AMI, CBI, and CMAA could be more relevant because they are based on M&A work experience. They allow you to continue working while attending some training courses to obtain an up-to-date knowledge of this industry.

Taking Your Career to the Next Level

Keep in mind that these certifications are useful to enter into M&A, but the real purpose is to have the right approach with the clients when it comes to assisting them with their needs. Soon I will start a six-month internship within a London-based mid-market corporate finance advisory firm. I am currently planning to enter the CFA program as the first step to getting a better understanding of the M&A field. Wish me luck! And best of luck to all of you in finding your path to that perfect M&A career.