250 individual testing sites. Close to 150,000 registrants. Political unrest and upheaval. It’s all part of the Chartered Financial Analyst exam administered by the CFA Institute during one intense, time-zone-spanning 24-hour period.
Larger CFA test sites can have as many as 9,000 candidates take the exam on a single day in December or June. Outdoor tents are sometimes necessary to protect people from the elements.
On May 31, event specialists at CFA Institute, a global association of investment professionals with headquarters in New York City and Charlottesville, Va., were keeping a close eye on political demonstrations taking place in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. In less than 24 hours, several hundred people would be gathering nearby to sit for the CFA exam — a rigorous test that awards candidates the prestigious Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation — and CFA staff were concerned about how the protests might affect the safety of their registrants.
In many ways, this scenario is familiar to experienced meeting professionals. Whether it’s political unrest, a weather event, or labor issues, there are numerous emergency situations that can disrupt an event at the last minute. And having a crisis-management plan allows you to react decisively to even the most unpredictable situations.
But what made the situation in Istanbul truly noteworthy was the fact that, as tense and serious as it was, it was just one part of a much larger operation. While most contingency plans address how an event team can respond to an isolated weather disaster or political turmoil, few delve into how it might manage both at the same time. At CFA, however, wide-scale doomsday planning is the norm, as event specialists routinely prepare for the possibility of simultaneous natural disasters, war, political demonstrations, and more. Such is the complexity of its CFA exam — which is administered to tens of thousands of participants on the same day, at hundreds of sites around the world. “Whatever you see on the news,” said William Guilford, CMP, CFA’s director of exam administration and business solutions, “chances are we’re dealing with it.”
CFA offers the exam two times a year: the first Saturday in December and the first Saturday in June. While a weather event or violent protest might disrupt the test in one city, the show must go on everywhere else. Convene spoke with members of the CFA test center planning team before and after this year’s June test, to learn more about how the organization plans for the worst and hopes for the best on such a large scale. “Every exam, there are things happening that are completely beyond our control,” said Caroline Winters, director of test-center planning. “What we’ve learned is that we must do a really good job of controlling what we can control, and that puts us in a position to better deal with the unexpected.”
Specific CFA test sites are kept in strict confidence to prevent potential cheating schemes. Test venues around the world range from very large exhibition centers to universities, smaller-scale conference centers, hotels, and banquet halls. CFA creates a separate Event Specification Guide for each test center.