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Prospective or existing financial professionals who planned to take their exams for the CFA, CFP, QAFP or various other designations will have to wait until later this year to do so.SIphotography/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced numerous certification bodies in the financial services industry to postpone or cancel their examination dates for this spring. While these organizations had little choice because of government-implemented measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, many prospective and existing financial professionals say these moves have thrown their career-development prospects into disarray.

The first week that stay-at-home measures took effect in mid-March, the CFA Institute, a global organization based in Charlottesville, Va., that oversees the chartered financial analyst (CFA) designation, took to Twitter to share the news that it had cancelled all June examinations. The organization also announced that it had transferred the registrations for the June exams to its next sitting, in December. One scroll through the replies is enough to glean how many prospective test-takers are feeling.

“This is ridiculous,” one person wrote in response. “I’m already five books into my level 3 and had a specific plan for completion that was tied into my MBA. This is going to force me to take classes while [studying and working].”

“I left my job to prepare,” another stated. “It will be tough for me to find a job in this recession.”

Steve Horan, managing director for the Americas region at the CFA Institute, says cancelling the exams wasn’t a choice. The organization administers all of its exams by paper in large testing centres, many of which had already closed around the world.

“It seems crazy to even contemplate such a thing in today’s environment,” Mr. Horan says, noting that some of the testing centres the CFA Institute uses hold up to 10,000 people.

In fact, he says he’s seen many prospective test-takers expressing gratitude for the cancellation because they’re too distracted by pandemic-related anxiety to study productively.

While the CFA Institute’s decision was a global one, some Canadian certification bodies made the same choice on a national scale. The Canadian Securities Institute (CSI), which doles out dozens of professional designations for members of the financial services industry, announced that it had suspended all in-person exams until further notice that same week. FP Canada, which administers the certified financial planner (CFP) and qualified associate financial planner (QAFP) designations in Canada, took the same measures the following week.

As test-takers across the country reorient their study schedules, all three organizations say they’re working to find solutions that reduce logistical concerns for students. For example, FP Canada has enrolled students automatically in the next scheduled examinations taking place in November.

“We didn’t want to put any undue burden on anybody, so we’re saying, ‘Sit tight, do what you have to do, don’t worry, you’re enrolled automatically,’” says Cary List, president and chief executive officer of FP Canada.

The decision to cancel the June examination dates for the CFP and QAFP was a difficult one that Mr. List says he and his team contemplated for almost two weeks before making the call at what felt like the last possible minute. While FP Canada’s staff monitored the situation closely, a key point of discussion was what will the students, who’ve put their lives on hold to study and take these exams, do when they’re cancelled?

“So many candidates who have been studying so hard and working feverishly to the June exam timeline, many of them still no doubt would very much like to write the exam in June and not have to wait until November,” Mr. List says. “We know there’s a lot of candidates [who] are going to be very disappointed.”

Similar discussions took place at the CSI, says Marie Muldowney, head of the organization and managing director of financial services training and certification at parent company Moody’s Analytics. The CSI started preparing contingency plans in February, when the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Canada.

They considered all possible health and safety measures they could take without cancelling the exams outright – including sanitizing examination rooms, asking students who travelled to make alternate arrangements and instructing exam invigilators to refuse admittance to visibly ill test-takers. In the end, these efforts proved futile as the CSI felt there was little choice but to cancel the exams entirely when Canada went into lockdown in mid-March.

“The decision to suspend exams was not an easy one,” Ms. Muldowney says in an e-mail.

In turn, the CSI has extended every student whose course was set to expire from March through to July until Oct. 31, automatically. This extension will give students the opportunity to take their exams once bookings resume. The organization will extend the deadline for exams further if needed.

Although the exam cancellations and postponements have thrown a wrench into many prospective and existing financial professionals’ short-term plans, Mr. List says that those who will eventually take these exams and obtain their certifications will come out stronger on the other side.

“Those who do further their education … and continue to focus on their differentiation and their professionalism [will come] through the crisis [better off] relative to others,” he says.

To that end, FP Canada’s educational arm, FP Canada Institute, announced last week that it’s making special exceptions for students who are enrolled in prerequisite courses necessary to begin the CFP certification process.

In normal circumstances, candidates must complete these courses, for which exams also have been cancelled this spring, before enrolling in the CFP Professional Education Program. But the organization will be allowing certain students to enrol in that program beginning next month if they’re currently enrolled in one of those prerequisite courses.