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PART III Comparing Apples to Oranges: CFI and FMI Comparison. Differences Summarized

By Andrew Grigolyunovich, CFA, CFM and now FMVA


CFI and FMI comparison is the third and the final article in the series of reviews of CFI and FMI designations. If you have missed the first two parts of the blog, you can access them here:

PART I – Comparing Apples to Oranges: CFI vs. FMI (Part 1. FMVA Review).

PART II – Comparing Apples to Oranges: CFI vs. FMI (Part 2. FMI Review).

Otherwise, enjoy the moment below.

CFI and FMI Comparison: Differences Summarized

Here I have tried to summarize the key differences between the 2 programs. Before you proceed reading, once again, I’d like to stress that in this article I am essentially comparing apples to oranges. Both programs have different goals and different emphasis. FMI is a global designation and a financial modeling certification. CFI is a global training program that provides an FMVA designation upon completion.

I hope that this article helps you understand what you are looking for and to choose the right program for you.

Scope and Depth of Material

As for the range of the topics covered by FMVA, this program corresponds to the MFM (Level 3) of the FMI. I would even say that FMVA goes beyond with courses like Power Point and design and an elective course on VBA. However, as for the depth of topics, FMVA courses were designed to cover the topic’s essentials but not the advanced items.

For example, the CFM (Level 2) body of knowledge requires the candidate to create a detailed revenue schedule that considers allocations by division, geography, capacity constraints, currency issues. In my opinion this is way more advanced than the typical revenue schedule in FMVA models. My experience from the CFM exam shows that the tasks are much more complex than FMVA exams and cases.

On-site vs. Online Exams

CFI and FMI Comparison

Probably this is the key difference that makes my CFM designation to be much more valuable than my FMVA qualification. It is next to impossible to get the CFM and even AFM certification from FMI if you are not good at financial modeling. You can take the exam only twice a year, there are strict document checks, moreover, it is not allowed to use any support materials on FMI-conducted exams.

On the contrary, CFI allows multiple exam retakes. They also allow to consult whatever materials you would like, including the course videos. This effectively means that with the right level of persistence, even the weakest candidates will eventually pass the exams and will get the FMVA certification.

Multiple-Choice vs. Financial Model Creation

The very nature of online exams requires the questions to be multiple-choice format or type-in the right number. Some of the advanced FMVA courses require to build a financial model to come up with the right answers. Still, mostly it is the multiple choice and probably after a couple of exam re-takes the correct answers could be guessed or memorized.

FMI on the contrary requires candidates to create a financial model and all the aspects of the model are being evaluated by exam graders. Not only the answers provided by the model are taken into account but also the logic of the model, the way it’s being structured, the layout, etc. Paradoxically, it is the CFI that does a better job at teaching financial model design, but it is the FMI that actually evaluates the model design.

Online Learning vs. Self-Study vs. Course Providers

FMVA is a 100% online learning program with video lectures and exercises. In turn, FMI relies on the candidate self-study according to the proposed study plan or on the candidates taking courses from the long list of Approved Training Providers. In this respect I would recommend CFI’s FMVA program especially if you are an analyst looking forward to obtain the knowledge.

Global Availability

Both CFI and FMI are globally available. However, as CFI is available online everywhere as long as you have connection to the Internet, FMI’s testing centers are available on all the continents at the largest financial centers. There are 30+ locations all over the world. Still, in my case I’ve had to fly to Zurich and Frankfurt to take the AFM and CFM exams.

CFI and FMI Comparison

Focus on US vs. Global Focus

FMI has a global focus and tries to formulate and explain questions in a way that are country-neutral. Regardless where a candidate is based, he will be able to understand the tasks as the specific ratios are defined. CFI, on the contrast, specializes on the US terminology and does a good job in helping the candidates to learn the Wall Street jargon.

Additional Focus on Presentation and Design

In my opinion FMVA does a very good job at giving additional focus to model design and chart design. It also has a good course on PowerPoint as a part of the program. FMI requires the candidates to organize and format their models but my feeling is that FMVA has stronger emphasis on design.


CFI and FMI Comparison

CFI’s FMVA program costs $499 while each level of the FMI program costs about $400-$600. So, overall, FMI’s qualification could be about 3 times more expensive, not taking into account the cost of travel to the exam location + the costs of additional courses and study materials as per candidate needs.

CFI and FMI Comparison: Summary

The brief summary is very straightforward. Overall, CFI did a very good job in providing an online training program. It is a good financial modeling course that covers a lot of topics and gives good examples and templates. If you are looking to actually learn financial modeling and presentation/design, I would recommend CFI’s FMVA program for you. I would also recommend FMVA if you are about to move to the US and need to get used to the US terminology.

Still, the certification value is with the FMI who does the rigorous in-person testing. It is next to impossible to get even the AFM (Level 1) from FMI if you don’t understand the principles of finance and are not capable of putting together a 3-way financial model. I would recommend FMI for modelers that need to confirm the level of their skills. It is probably a good enhancement to your CV if you are looking for a new/better job.


Bonus: Q&A Session

Since I have started to publish these series of reviews, I’ve received some questions (privately or in comments to LinkedIn posts). These might be interesting to many people so here are my thoughts. So, here is a small FAQ:

CFI and FMI Comparison

-Would you rather hire a person with CFM or FMVA certification?
-CFM. It actually means that the person is a very advanced specialist in the field of financial modeling. It’s been tested and proven.

-Which training would you use to train your in-house analysts?
-FMVA. The video lectures could be accessed at flexible timing. A specific topic could be learned if an analyst starts a specific project. It’s also less expensive. I would only need to check their progress somehow.

-Can you use FMVA materials to prepare for the CFM or MFM levels of FMI?
-Might be possible to some extent if you need to cover a topic you weren’t previously exposed to. For example, I’ve spent 20 years doing corporate financial models but didn’t have too much experience with M&A models. It might be a good idea for me to review M&A videolectures before the MFM exam. But you can’t rely only on CFI’s materials – I would expect FMI exam cases to be much harder. At least that was my impression of the CFM exam cases at the year when I passed it. Low pass rate for the CFM level probably is another argument here.


Thank you for reading these series of articles. I am looking forward to your questions and comments on LinkedIn. Good luck with your studies and with your financial modeling career!

You are welcome to follow me on LinkedIn or invite me to connect. I also publish other interesting blog posts on financial modeling, so stay tuned for more!


2 Responses

  1. Jacob

    The three-part series has provided great insight into both designations.

    This has been of great help to me.

    Thank you Andrew.

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