I took finance's toughest exam (CFA Level 1 of 3) this past weekend in London's ExCel Centre, along with 5,800 others. It featured a Doomsday Clock projected on the wall with your minutes remaining for each 3-hour session (6 total). It's far more quantitative than any pilot exam! While I felt comfortable taking the exam, which is usually a good sign, they use an endless combination of tricks and deceit to make you pick the wrong answer, so we'll see.
The CFA is a great return on investment. It focuses primarily on the knowledge needed for Investment Management. For less than $5000, you can take all three levels of the exam, while a master's degree can be 5-10 times as much. Both are highly regarded for career development, but I feel like my master's degree only went as far as Level 1 of the exam, so the CFA seems more in-depth.
In the finance world, we also have CPAs, FRMs, CFPs, attorneys (JDs), Series licenses, and actuary designations. All prove that you have specialized knowledge related to your subject area of expertise. Are there any other designations others are interesting in knowing more about?