Before discussing the CFA ESG Certificate, it is essential to understand ESG as the environmental, social, and governance factors that investors consider when evaluating a company’s sustainability initiatives, performance, and overall impact.
There is a growing trend among investors who now aim to allocate their capital towards businesses that prioritize positive impact on the world alongside financial success. This approach is known as ESG investing and it involves a set of principles used by conscientious investors to assess potential investment risks and opportunities.
Environmental considerations involve evaluating how a company takes measures to protect the environment, such as through policies addressing climate change. Social criteria focus on how a company manages its interactions with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities in which it operates. Governance encompasses aspects related to a company’s leadership, executive compensation, auditing processes, internal controls, and the rights of its shareholders.

The CFA ESG Certificate and the CFA Institute

The CFA ESG Certificate (CFA ESG or CFA ESG Investing Certificate) was introduced in 2019 to address the increasing need for expertise in integrating Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors into investment and business decision-making.

The CFA Institute

The CFA Institute (The CFAI) is the proprietor and administrator of the CFA ESG certificate, as well as several other educational programs and certifications. The CFA designation is the most widely recognized of these.

Other CFA Institute Programs

The CFA Institute is a global organization that offers investment professionals education, a code of ethics to adhere to, and various certification programs.

To obtain the CFA designation, one must pass three consecutive examinations (referred to as CFA L1, L2, and L3 in the graph below).

difficulty levels of financial qualifications 300hours
The CFAI’s certification programs have varying levels of difficulty and unique objectives. The CFA ESG, which is a level 4 certification, is more accessible than the CFA L1, which is a level 5 certification. While the CFA designation primarily concentrates on financial considerations, the CFA ESG focuses on ESG considerations. As a result, these two programs complement each other.

CFA ESG Certificate: What and Who

The CFA ESG certificate is a supplementary program to other CFA Institute certifications, created to fulfill the growing need for ESG standards, abilities, and expertise in the investment and finance sectors.
While the certification was initially intended for investment practitioners, it is also appropriate for individuals working in front or back offices and other positions such as wealth management, risk management, sales and distribution, product development, financial advice, and consulting.
Although most candidates are investment and financial professionals, individuals working in other fields are also pursuing the certificate. These are some examples of non-investment professionals Alma Mundus have supported in their CFA ESG Certificate study journey:

  1. Board Members
  2. Lawyers
  3. Journalists
  4. Marketing professionals
  5. Professors
  6. Environmentalists
  7. Supply-Chain managers

Drivers and benefits of doing the CFA ESG Certificate: is it worth it?

The reasons and motivations for pursuing the CFA ESG certificate may vary among candidates, as the value of the certification is dependent on each individual’s objectives.
Below are the main drivers for pursuing the CFA ESG certificate, which also explains why it may be worth obtaining:
1. Opportunity
Candidates can take advantage of the opportunity to establish themselves as experts in ESG and equip themselves for new career and project opportunities within their organization in the ever-changing business landscape.
2. Career Shift
Candidates may seek to develop their knowledge of ESG and gain market recognition in order to enhance their professional profile and strategize a career shift.
3. Corporate incentives
Several global organizations have adopted the CFA ESG Certificate to educate their employees.
10 Global Companies that have adopted the CFA ESG Certificate
1. AXA Investment Managers
2. Goldman Sachs Asset Management (GSAM)
3. HSBC Wealth and Personal Banking
4. UBS Asset Management
5. Invesco Asset Management
6. Mercer Consulting
7. United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund
9. S&P Global
10. MSCI
4. Government incentives
The CFA ESG Certificate is one of the Eligible Programs under the Pilot Green and Sustainable Finance Capacity Building Support Scheme (Program Identification Code: GTP-287225). Upon successfully completing the certificate, eligible applicants can apply for a subsidy of up to 80% of the exam registration fees, while full-time students can claim up to 100% reimbursement.
5. Global Recognition
The CFA ESG Certificate is a globally recognized certification offered by the CFA Institute and is currently the leading ESG certification worldwide, based on the number of registrations.
6. Fiduciary Duty
The 2005 UNEP FI report and a more recent report published by the PRI in 2019 argue that failing to consider long-term investment value drivers, including ESG issues, in investment practice is a breach of fiduciary duty. Although controversial, this approach has been adopted by several investment organizations and professionals, resulting in an increasing demand for ESG skills and knowledge.
7. The “Big Picture”
While some professionals may already implement ESG strategies in their roles, they may require a more comprehensive understanding of ESG factors – the “big picture” – to effectively integrate and incorporate them into their daily decision-making processes.
We suggest reading our article Is CFA ESG Worth It? to understand more about this topic.

CFA ESG Certificate: Requirements, Registration, Costs and (Global) Availability

If you are thinking about enrolling in a CFA ESG Certificate there is some information you need to know.

1. Requirements

There are no entry criteria, meaning candidates don’t need to have passed other CFAI certificates, have a specific degree, or have a certain number of years of experience.

The recommended study time varies between 100-130 hours depending on the candidate’s background. Investment or finance professionals tend to spend fewer hours than professionals with other professional backgrounds. You may check our article on How Hard is CFA ESG Exam to learn more about the difficulty level.

2. Registration

Candidates can register for the CFA ESG Certificate through the CFA Institute Website. Once registered, candidates have six months to plan, prepare and take their exam.

The CFA Institute offers flexibility, as there are no fixed exam dates, allowing candidates to schedule their exam at any time within the six months period. This flexibility enables candidates, particularly those working full-time, to manage and balance their careers, personal life, and studies.

3. Costs

The registration fee is $865 (for Version 5 or 2024 Edition). If the candidate needs a second attempt to pass the exam, the retake fee is $690. Candidates can also reschedule their exam with 72 hours notice before the exam appointment and a $30 fee.

4. Availability

Although with a global presence, the CFA ESG certificate has yet to be offered in all countries. Candidates have two options to do their exam:

a. In-person at a test center
Search for the CFA ESG test centers worldwide to check if it is a possibility. You may also find the availability of specific test centers (select CFA Institute and then ESG).

b. Remotely through OnVue remote solutions
This option is available depending on local regulations and system capability.
We suggest that candidates reach out to the CFA Institute at info@cfainstitute.org to inquire about the availability of the Remote Option in their country if the Test Center Option is not feasible.

CFA ESG Certificate: Syllabus Structure

The exam is based on the CFA ESG book, which comprises nine chapters detailed below:

Chapter 1

Introduction to ESG (Topic Weight 4-8%)

  • ESG Concepts & Approaches
  • Benefits & Challenges
  • Materiality of ESG Issues
  • ESG Megatrends

Chapter 2

The ESG Market (Topic Weight 4-8%)

  • Size & Scope of ESG Investing
  • Key Market Drivers
  • ESG Issues & Sustainability Trends
  • ESG Implemention Challenges

Chapter 3

Environmental Factors (Topic Weight 6-12%)

  • Key Evidence Based Environmental Concepts
  • Megatrends & Relationship to Business Practices
  • Applying Material Impacts on Investment Opportunities

Chapter 4

Social Factors (Topic Weight 6-12%)

  • Key Evidence Based Social Concepts
  • Social Issues & Relationship to Business Practices
  • Applying Material Impacts on Investment Opportunities

Chapter 5

Governance Factors (Topic Weight 6-12%)

  • Corporate Governance Frameworks & Models
  • Applying Material Impacts on Investment Opportunities
  • Applying Factors to Financial Modelling, Risk Assessment, etc.

Chapter 6

Engagement and Stewardship (Topic Weight 6-10%)

  • Purpose of Engagement & Stewardship
  • Stewardship Codes & Principle Requirements
  • Methods and Engagement in Practice (+ by asset class)

Chapter 7

ESG Analysis, Valuation and Integration (Topic Weight 20-32%)

  • Objectives of ESG Integration by approaches and challenges
  • Qualitative & Quantitative Approaches by Asset Class
  • ESG Databases & Software
  • CRA’s ESG Scoring, Screening

Chapter 8

ESG Integrated Portfolio Construction and Management (Topic Weight 8-14%)

  • Portfolio Construction & Mgmnt
  • ESG Factors on Strategic Asset Allocation Models
  • Evaluating ESG Investments
  • Managing Risk & Return, Passive Portfolios

Chapter 9

Investment Mandates, Portfolio Analytics and Client Reporting (Topic Weight 4-8%)

  • Mandate Construction and Effective Delivery of ESG Investing
  • ESG Screening
  • Client Types & ESG Strategy
  • Reporting, Monitoring, and Measurement
We detailed each chapter of the book per number of pages, relevance in the exam, and difficulty level. This detail highlights the areas candidates should focus on the most. Chapters three, seven, and eight are highlighted as the most important and challenging, with chapter seven being the most relevant for the exam.
Chapter Number of pages Question allocation Potential distribution of questions in the exam Most challenging
1. Introduction to ESG 41 4 to 8 7 0%
2. The ESG Market 33 4 to 8 6 0%
3. Environmental Factors 100 8 to 15 12 16%
4. Social Factors 26 8 to 15 10 0%
5. Governance Factors 55 8 to 15 11 2%
6. Engagement and Stewardship 38 5 to 10 8 1%
7. ESG Analysis, Valuation and Integration 43 20 to 30 24 44%
8. ESG Integrated Portfolio Construction and Management 58 10 to 20 14 35%
9. Investment Mandates, Portfolio Analytics and Client Reporting 44 5 to 10 8 2%
438 100
Source: CFA Institute and Alma Mundus.

It is important to note that the CFA ESG book has around 599 pages. The 438 pages count in our table refers to relevant/content pages only.

CFA ESG Certificate: Stats and Demographics

CFA ESG Certificate is currently the world ESG certificate leader with over 41,000 registrations. This number refers to the total number of registrations from 2019, when the certificate was launched, to July 2023. 
Hong Kong is now the market leader. The top 5 markets also include the UK, USA, Singapore, and Canada.

Alma Mundus is grateful for the opportunity to support thousands of CFA ESG Candidates from over 140 countries since Edition 2 (2020/21). This experience has allowed us to constantly improve our Academy with CFA ESG Materials and Study Solutions.

CFA ESG Demographics 2023
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