Professional qualifications can offer a solid route to improving your career prospects. Within the asset management industry, the Investment Management Certificate (IMC) is seen as the benchmark entry-level qualification.

But what’s involved and is it worth doing?

In this article we look at the pros (there are lots) and cons (not many, really) of undertaking the IMC.

What does the IMC cover?

The IMC is divided into two main parts, covering the investment environment (markets, institutions and regulations) and investment practice (economics, accounting and asset classes).

Unit one covers the following topics: financial markets and institutions, ethics and investment professionalism, the regulation of financial markets and institutions, legal concepts, client advice and taxation in the UK.

Meanwhile, unit two covers these topics on investment practice: quantitative methods, microeconomics, macroeconomics, accounting, equities, fixed income, derivatives, alternative investments, portfolio management, investment products and investment performance measurement.

Even though it seems likely you would take these exams in numerical order, some prefer to learn about the mechanics before learning about the environment and regulations.

How long does the IMC qualification take?

According to the body that administers the IMC in the UK, the CFA Society, part one takes around 80 hours of study, with part two taking approximately 120 hours.

So together it amounts to 200 hours. This translates into five solid weeks of full-time study. It is no casual undertaking.

Most students spread this over four to six months and many employers will allow you to take study leave, or even enrol in intensive workshops during company time.

How much does the IMC cost?

Currently the IMC costs £520 to take both exams - £250 for part one, £270 for part two. But if you buy additional study materials and attend dedicated classes the final cost may be double.

For example, you can take courses leading up to the exam which are offered by KaplanBPPFitch Learning and Quartic Training. Some of these even offer a pass guarantee, allowing you to resit the exam if you don’t pass.

However, if you work within a company involved in the asset management industry, the chances are good that your employer will fund you. This will certainly be the case if obtaining the IMC is a compulsory part of your training and/or you operate in an investment-orientated role.

What are my chances of passing the IMC?

The pass mark varies between 65-75% and is distributed throughout the entire exam – so you essentially don’t need to pass every section as long as you pass overall.

Currently, the pass rate is between 65-80%. Your chances of passing are good if you dedicate enough time to studying.

The CFA UK recommends that if you’re studying on your own, you wait to book your exam one month in advance. The exams are offered year-round so there’s no need to give yourself a strict deadline when personal things may get in the way.

Is the IMC right for me?

If you work within the investment sector obtaining the IMC can only be viewed positively. Within a front office or investment operations role its benefits should be pretty clear. It is also a great foundation stone if you wish to pursue the higher qualification of a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA).

But even within a supporting function - marketing, IT, client servicing, communications, etc. - the IMC brings several advantages.

(a) IMC Knowledge

The most obvious and immediate benefit of the IMC is that it improves your knowledge of investment products and the investment industry.

Over and above this, however, the IMC will arm you with the language and vocabulary of the investment industry. This improves your personal effectiveness, especially when collaborating with other parts of the business.

Also, while the use of jargon and acronyms is often criticised, in a situation where all parties share this knowledge it can speed up and make communication much more effective.

More importantly, miscommunication can carry real risks in a regulated environment. Greater understanding between colleagues goes some way to mitigating these.

At a time when public opinion of the investment industry has still not healed completely since the financial crash, educating the people who work in the industry can only have a positive effect and should be actively encouraged.

(b) IMC Credibility

By completing the IMC you will be demonstrating to your peers and manager ambition, commitment and an intellectual curiosity towards the industry in which you work.

If you aren’t already, you’ll be taken more seriously by those around you – especially if you are in a role supporting the front office. And you should find it easier to gain access to, time with and ultimately buy-in from the key decision-makers within your professional sphere.

Whether you are in a marketing, project management, business analysis or IT role, having a better understanding of the funds your company manages will ultimately increase your credibility and with it your effectiveness in doing your job.

(c) IMC Career prospects

Your career prospects will be boosted once you have passed your IMC. It may not lead to an immediate promotion or pay rise, but you will be recognised for your commitment – especially if you chose to do the qualification.

Many graduates who have completed an investment or finance-related degree find the IMC a natural next step in their education, improving their chances within a competitive marketplace.

However, it’s not just a young person’s game. The investment industry is constantly changing, with new products, regulation and even public opinion affecting the industry. Even for someone with several years industry experience, it’s still a valuable part of up skilling yourself and remaining competitive.

If looking for new challenges outside your company the IMC will also stand you in good stead, as it’s becoming more and more of a requirement within the asset management industry.

Of the roles I have dealt with in the past – anywhere between £35,000 and £55,000 per annum – around a third have probably required the candidate to hold an IMC, while a further third have found it desirable.

In addition, with the rise of the internet, online job boards, LinkedIn, etc., employers have instant access to a huge candidate market. This means they need easy and effective ways to filter applicants. A professional qualification is a good solution to this. So the addition of the IMC on your CV could make all the difference.

The IMC Qualification return on investment

In short, I would encourage as many people as possible within the industry to undertake the IMC. It deepens your knowledge, strengthens your credibility and improves your career prospects. If that’s not enough, the curriculum should ensure you have much better control of your own finances.

With the myriad of investment products available in the market it can be an intimidating place. The IMC will give you a much better understanding of the different attributes of the various traditional and alternative asset classes and how they can be used together in constructing your own investment portfolio.

With the development of RDR and the opportunity to invest in SIPPs and stocks and shares ISAs, being aware of your own risk profile and investment horizon will help you make more informed investment decisions.

Even on the basis of this last factor alone, the IMC qualification offers a terrific return on your investment.