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Things CFAs Like (and Don’t Like)

HP-12C CalculatorGoing through the CFA program is a lot like joining a club. All clubs have social norms and common practices among its members.

CFA charterholders and CFA candidates are no different. If you are new to the CFA club, it's high time you learned how the club works and how to walk and talk like a CFA.*

In a bit of a break from the more serious 2,000 word articles, I thought I’d mix things up and take a more lighthearted look at some things CFA charterholders and candidates can’t live without and some things they probably should live without.

Let’s begin with the absolute, number one favorite thing for all finance geeks …

Favorite Electronic Device: The HP-12C

Apple is awesome. I'm typing this article on my Macbook and I sleep with my iPhone and iPad under my pillow (slight exaggeration). But there is one device that even Apple can't touch.

The HP-12C calculator is the one device no one in the CFA club should be without.

What about the TI business calculator and the basic HP business calculator? Trash 'em. Those other calculators look just like any other calculator. They lack the classic style and status of the 12C.

For example, I was just at a conference where I met with management teams of the companies we cover. There wasn't a single CFO who didn't have a HP-12C nearby.

Don't know reverse Polish notation? You will learn it. In fact, I don't know how NOT to use RPN anymore (another slight exaggeration).

My retired father has one of the original HP-12Cs from the early 1980s. No joke. My 12C is approaching 15 years old. When HP introduced the HP-12C Platinum, there was a run on the old 12Cs because people thought they were getting rid of the original.

No Platinum, no TI … stick with the classic HP-12C.

Have an iPhone? There's an app for that.

Excel Hacks

Microsoft Excel is the analyst's tool of the trade. Most of your days will be consumed by financial models and other analyses in Excel.

With all this time spent using Excel, you are constantly on the lookout for new Excel tips and tricks. Analysts will brag about the models they've created and the Excel hacks that created them.

In our office, I have a dynamic charting sheet that has become almost a legend. It uses a generous amount named ranges and a dash of the OFFSET function. It's simply awesome.

How did I do it?

I have to freaking clue. I had a Will Ferrell at the debate in Old School moment where I temporarily blacked out and produced pure brilliance. It was my one experience with greatness. I hope you can one day experience that Excel zone.

If you need help getting started in Excel, check out my colleagues over at Breaking into Wall Street today.

*Not Using CFA as a Noun

CFA candidates probably caught my error in the use of the CFA designation in the opening paragraphs and the title. You can never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, use the CFA designation as a noun.

The CFA Institute will smite you if you use the CFA as a noun. They are serious.

Hopefully they will forgive me for this article as I was just illustrating a point.


Do you really have to ask the MBA vs. CFA question again? They are not mutually exclusive.

Taking the CFA Exam in a Suit

During every CFA exam I took I saw at least one person wearing a suit to the exam.

Dude, why?

Don't be that guy. You are not going to a job interview. You are taking an all day exam that will rip your face off and make you want to drink heavy amounts of alcohol. It’s OK if you show up in jeans.

As a side note, just remember this simple rule of thumb on Wall Street: If you have to wear a suit to work every day, it means you are on the sell side.

Models and Bottles

Let's save the models and bottles talk for the over-the-top investment bankers.

Saying You Are “Short” Something You Don't Like

I am “short” any calculator other than the 12C. I am “short” people who wear suits to the CFA exam. I am “short” skinny jeans.

I get the “short” references. It's all part of the macho bravado of Wall Street speak. I don't know exactly when it started, but it's been around a long time and will likely be here for a long time to come.

It's OK to use the “short” phrase once in a while, but please use it sparingly.

Your Turn

What did I miss? What are your favorite things that CFAs like (or don't like)?

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Salvator

    If you are a professor, you definitely like to use “CFA type” questions your exams…

  • Oreos

    Those with the CFA loves using CFA as a noun, makes us feel rebellious.

  • The HP-12C calculator at one point may have been the supreme calculator of choice of the finance world, but its monopoly on the market is fading.

    Because of TI’s strong grip on the graphing calculator market and Schweser’s focus on explanation using the TI calculator, the TI BA 2 is quickly becoming the calculator of choice for young analysts in the CFA program.

    Anecdotally from my CFA studies, I’d say the TI/HP split is currently 50/50 of the market.

  • Students who are gunning for the CFA Exam (did I use it right?) generally opt for the TI BA II plus model since they are not aware of the awesomeness of RPN. Ideally, they should teach this things in grad school!!

  • Jack

    Whenever you win a discussion at the office you say: “You just got CFA’d!”
    It will annoy people a great deal and amuse you even more.

  • what if one proves they better with a TI financial calculator than all the other guys with their snazzy HP calculators?

    I certainly am not, I’m just a college senior who barely signed up for the exam a couple weeks ago.

    all I’m saying is shouldn’t one’s pure calculation skill transcend the type of calculator they happen to choose?

    I mean I understand the whole “club” deal and I certainly will prove myself worthy to be in it; but I never understand these kinds of highschoolish popularity antics. Now I’ll admit I tend to root for the underdog, but I think I’m always going to end up having a lot more respect for the guy who does higher quality work regardless of what calculator he happens to choose.

  • BondGoddess

    As someone who’s used all of the calculators above (and passed all three levels using the old HP17b), I can give one other very good reason to learn the 12c…you never want to say to your boss that you don’t know how to use his calculator because it’s in RPN…NEVER! Learn it even if you don’t intend to own one…it just may grow on you…mine has. Oh, and keep your passport up to date…don’t want to miss out on that trip to London/Singapore/Sydney/Johannesburg because your passport is out of date. Just sayin’

    • I second the passport thing. You may not use it much, but you never know when you might need it.

  • Jim in saigon

    I teach finance in Vietnam (A nation where it is still difficult to find financial calculators. ) I am partial to the HP 12-C, as I have owned one since I began my Master’s degree work in the early 1980’s.

    I have tried to ween myself from the HP 12C but without success. There are many business calculators with capabilities far superior to my humble 12-c. But when I am in need of those capabilities I find them in my notebook computer programs.

    No other hand held business calculator is as well-designed as the HP 12-C. It fits perfectly in my blazer (inside) pocket or my shirt pocket. It is elegant, and can be retrieved at the table of a 5-star restaurant without any fear of appearing tacky. The HP-12C has a solid feel, and the is sufficiently heavy that it does not meander across the work space when entering numbers. And above all, RPN (!) Once you’ve walked on the wild side and experienced RPN, you will not wish to see an “equal” sign again.

    Ultimately, owning and using an HP-12C tells the world that you have arrived as a professional in the finance industry.

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