(Bloomberg) -- The CFA Institute is working to expand its membership network in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia a key focus as the country opens up its financial markets and looks to diversify its investment industry.

The non-profit educational organization for chartered financial analysts aims to double the number of members in the kingdom to about 1,000 over the next three years, while also growing the pool of candidates by 20% a year, said Marg Franklin, its president and chief executive officer. 

The country has about 1,800 candidates planning to sit for CFA exams this year.

The push comes as Saudi Arabia reforms its financial system in an effort to advance the banking and insurance industries, evolve its capital markets, and encourage more startups.

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In doing so, the kingdom seeks to draw local workers into finance professions and lure more foreign investment, part of efforts to diversify its income streams away from oil. 

“Most of this is really around trajectory and direction,” Franklin said at the CFA Institute’s Middle East Investment Conference in Riyadh on Sunday.

“When you look at the last five years, the ambition is clear,” she said. “It’s a young population and they know the most important levers that will help it to become a more diversified, resilient economy and much bigger global player.”

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The CFA is considering offering added certifications in Arabic and is exploring ways to incorporate more training on Islamic finance, where it’s seeing high demand, Franklin said.

There’s a unique opportunity in Saudi Arabia as the country aims to draw more women into the workforce in line with its Vision 2030 agenda, Franklin added. 

“As they are beginning efforts to have a more inclusive workplace with regards to the type of talent and the inclusion of more women, we think there’s quite a bit we can do,” Franklin said. 

Read more: CFA Level I Pass Rate Drops to 35% as Deferrals Hurt Results 

Saudi Arabia currently has 520 CFA members, of whom about 12% are female, said Fahad Kordi, a CFA board member and head of investments and structured finance at Banque Saudi Fransi. That’s up from 8% in 2022. 

The female membership rate was next to nil before the kingdom undertook key initiatives in 2017 and 2018 to promote women’s rights, including allowing females to drive and open businesses without the consent of a male guardian. Khlood A. Aldukheil, now CEO of Erteqa Financial Company, became Saudi Arabia’s first female CFA member in 2003 and was the only local woman to hold the certification until 2015.

While the CFA declined to give specific pass rates for its exams in the Middle East, about 44% of global candidates were successful in the Level II test in November. Some 35% passed Level I. Both rates are below the historical 10-year average. 

The CFA societies of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain also on Sunday signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on professional development in the finance industry.

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