Abundance of professional exams

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The exams fall in to two main categories - the initial mandatory qualifications that have no entry requirements (third column), and the more advanced optional exams that some equate with postgraduate study (fourth column).

The main mandatory qualification for employees of the Securities and Futures Authority-regulated firms is the Registered Persons, or 'regy-reps' exam.

The qualification has seven different variations, and obviously, the one you need will depend on what job you do.

For example, becoming a corporate finance representative takes 30 hours of home study in order to pass a 1 hour exam, which would cost between 70 (€106) and 90, depending on the training company. But aspiring derivatives brokers are looking at around 80 hours of study and three hours of exams. Fully tutored courses are most popular and cost 320 &#43VAT at BPP financial education, and 370&#43VAT at The Financial Training Company. For the very disciplined student, home study manuals can be bought for around 180.

Research analysts and asset managers need to hold an Investment Management Certificate (IMC), which is run by the Institute of Investment Management and Research (IIMR).

The course takes two to three months, and costs between 200 and 600, depending on how and where you study.

To qualify, students have to pass a three hour examination of 140 multiple choice questions.

Operations, administration and IT people who work for an IMRO-regulated firm must pass the SI's Investment Administration Qualification or 'Merit Award'. This takes 30 hours of study, and costs about 250.

SFA 'regy reps' can progress on to the Securities Institute Diploma, which normally takes two years of study and costs around 1,700 in course fees.

'The diploma is quite an undertaking,' says Susan Soper of the Securities Institute. 'Only half the people who sit the exams pass them first time.' The course is split into three modules, with the most popular options being: interpretation of financial statements, private client investment advice and management, and regulation and compliance.

Other modules include operations management, corporate finance, and bond and fixed interest markets.

Candidates can be exempted from up to one module, if they already hold certain recognised qualifications.

A member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants or the Institute of Financial Planning, would, for example, be exempt from the interpretation of financial statements module, and could qualify having taken just two modules.

Those in possession of an IMRO Investment Management Certificate can either go on to become an Associate of IIMR, or a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA).

The IIMR Associate course is divided into two sections of three units. Each unit has a three hour discursive question exam, and the sittings are held in June and November. Technically, you can qualify in one year but most people spread the course over 18 months, taking two exams at each sitting.

Part One comprises the interpretation of accounts and corporate finance, securities and investment, plus economics and applied statistical analysis.

The units of Part Two are portfolio management, investment regulation and practice, plus a 'Case Study' exam. This paper draws on all the other units, and is designed to test your ability to 'carry out an investment appraisal of a company in a macro-economic and sector framework, and to apply knowledge of fixed interest and related securities to portfolio management in a practical and multi currency global context.'

As with the SI diploma, you can get exemptions from specific units if you already hold recognised professional qualifications.

Cheryl Harris, professional development manager at Gartmore says: 'Although they are not mandatory, we require all our relevant staff to take these extra professional qualifications to maintain our high standards. Our fund managers do the CFA exam because it is more recognised internationally. It takes them three years and costs us 4,000 all told.'

Tony Tucker of search and selection firm Shepherd Little is sceptical: 'None of our clients regard them as prerequisites, but they are nice to have, particularly if you don't have a university degree

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