Getting Technical with the CQF (Certificate in Quantitative Finance)

CQF

This is a programme that I had been looking at for a while; the course seemed to be very well structured and geared towards people like myself who are interested in learning about the building blocks of quantitative finance in a short amount of time. The course has renowned lecturers such as Paul Wilmott who is very well respected within the quantitative finance community. 

Information regarding this programme can be accessed here.

A bit about myself 

Before delving into the course details I would like to give some context as to why I thought this course would be beneficial for my career. I have around 10 years of experience working in the financial sector and 5 years in derivatives valuations; although I heavily rely on industry-standard pricing models, very rarely do I need to look into the derivations of such models. Although some might argue or question the practicality of delving deep into understanding SDEs, Martingales and Risk Neutral Measures, these are all topics which have been fascinating me for a while and I have always found understand them hard to understand via self-study. I don’t have a maths/physics background so before even starting with stochastic calculus, I was struggling with the basics. My goal was to develop my skills which would allow me to take a stab at an entry-level quantitative research role and progress my learning experience via a PhD (in Financial Engineering); I thought the CQF would be a good starting point and would equip me the necessary skill set.

Before the Course

If you are reading this post, chances are that you are in a situation similar to mine 6 months ago. You might be asking if this course is worth it or if there are any other cheaper and better alternatives. With a price tag of around $16K, it would be foolish to enrol on the course without any proper research. $16K is also an amount where you start thinking whether it would be just better investing a little bit more to be able to get a Masters in Financial Engineering from a prestigious institution. Having done a fair amount of research myself and having gone through the ongoing debates on Quantnet, these were the key discussions that I was seeing on the forum.

For those who have concluded that the CQF does not warrant its tuition fees and instead are just looking for some good textbooks, I can recommend the below: 

– Steven Shreve, Stochastic Calculus and Finance. http://efinance.org.cn/cn/FEshuo/stochastic.pdf

– Interest Rate Models – Theory and Practice: Damiano Brigo, Fabio Mercurio.

– Options, Futures and Other Derivatives: John Hull (this one is a classic) 

 

I could write a longer list but these are the core textbooks that I found particularly helpful.

The CQF also discloses online its core textbooks, so self-studying those materials might also be an option if you already have a certain level of maths (Paul Wilmott Introduces Quantitative Finance, is what I would recommend starting with to grasp the basics).  https://www.cqf.com/about-cqf/program-delivery/learning-resources

Course Structure and Overview 

London based students can attend classes directly. However, since most students are based outside of the UK, they will view the classes online via the learning portal. During the live webcasts, students have access to the chat functionality and can ask/answer questions. All classes are recorded and available on the portal so that delegates can view them at their own pace. 

The whole course is divided into 2 levels and the topics covered in the respective levels are as follows: 

Level 1: Building Blocks of Quant Finance, Quantitative Risk and Regulations, Equities and Currencies

Level 2: Data Science and Machine Learning, Fixed Income, Credit, Advanced Electives

(please note that this information is accurate for the June 2019 Cohort which I enrolled for) 

In my case, I had 2 exams at the start of Level 1each counting 20% towards the final score of the course and 2 more exams for Level 2, another exam counting 20% and the final project counting 40%.

All exams are open book and except for the final project, you have two weeks to complete each exam. In designing these exams, the CQF has focused on the practical part rather than testing whether delegates can just merely memorise formulae and concepts. I found the projects fun and rewarding to do. Without giving away too many details, here are the topics that I was tested on:

Exam 1: portfolio optimisation and VAR / Exam 2: option pricing exotic options / Exam 3: machine learning and fixed income pricing / Exam 4 final project (you have a range of topics to choose from).

There is also a final optional exam that you can take if you want to aim to get a distinction on the course.

Tips for people who already signed up

If you have already signed up and you are eagerly awaiting to start the course I have a few tips for you which I hope you will find beneficial in your journey. 

Tip #1 Do the maths primer

This is also very strongly encouraged by CQF faculty. A lot of the maths that is used relies on: algebra; statistics; and calculus. You will have a hard time-solving PDEs and SDEs if you are rusty on the basics. Be sure to to be comfortable with these topics if you don’t want to quickly fall behind; you should attempt the optional test to gauge your skills.

Tip #2 Choose Python as your Programming Language

Assuming you are looking to pick up a new language, I recommend using python as a lot of the course material and libraries use python. R might also be a good alternative. If you are already comfortable with a programming language then stick to that one, this advice applies to candidates who are not very advanced programmers and who are beginners in numerous programming languages (this was my situation at the start of the course).

Tip #3 There is no shame in asking for an extension for your projects

I assume that a lot of the people are working professionals which adds an extra layer of difficulty in meeting assignment deadlines. You are allowed one extension per exam for each level so you should take advantage of this to ensure that you have enough time to submit good quality work. Please note that if you don’t defer an exam and miss a deadline, you will automatically be deferred to the next cohort so it’s in your best interest to respect the deadlines if you want to complete the course in 6 months.

Conclusion

I think a lot of people might be interested in reading the conclusion. Is this course worth taking or not? I can’t provide a clear yes or no answer (I’m sorry) as I have still not completed it. What I can say at this stage is that taking the CQF made sense for me as I had been struggling a lot in picking up the required entry-level maths for a quant role. The course breaks down quantitative finance into its core areas, which helped me to grasp the basic concepts and taught me to apply them in a practical manner. My aim now is to continue working on the skills that I learned and build a portfolio of research strategies and papers whilst developing my personal views and awareness regarding this fascinating discipline.

I will list some positives and negatives that should give some more colour regarding my experience.

Negatives

– Since the classes take place during London evening hours, this ends up being very late for APAC based delegates. Due to the time difference, I ended up watching the recordings when I would have preferred being able to participate in the live classes without staying up late.

– The course did feel a bit pricy given that it only lasts for 6 months and it felt a bit rushed. I know deferring for 6 months is an option that candidates have but I thought that the content could have been spread out a bit better.

– Although overall the level of teaching was good, I saw huge gaps between the level of teaching by certain lecturers which impacted my learning experience for certain topics (this is an opinion shared by a number of delegates who I spoke with).

– A lot of people still question the rigour and I personally don’t think the CQF at this stage will hold the same weight as an MFE or PHD when applying for quant jobs. I am interested in how the CQF Institute will continue working on the brand in the upcoming years.

Positives

– The course definitely taught me a lot of maths and practical skills which I have found useful at work. This is what I was looking for so I can say that the course delivered what it promised.

– I really enjoyed using the CQF app. Being able to view videos during my commute to work helped me continue my studies, especially during busy days.

– The video library is pretty decent and I will be looking at the additional lecturers in the upcoming months. This concept of life long learning does appeal to me.

– It has a good focus on coding and I will be aiming to spend the following months in testing what I have learned. I felt like the course gave me the required tools to start doing my own research within the field of quantitative finance.

I hope you enjoyed this post and if you have any questions please feel free to email me privately. Good luck with your studies!

 

Disclaimer: Please note that I am not affiliated with the CQF Institute, the above content represents my subjective views about this course. This post was written to help people make informed decisions about the CQF programme, I strongly recommend that you do your own research prior to signing up. 

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