Taking and passing the Series 7 Top-Off Exam is necessary for launching many financial industry careers. Sitting for this exam requires sponsorship by a FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) member firm. find a full list of FINRA member firms here.

Sponsorship means that an active financial firm regulated by FINRA submits your personal information to FINRA’s Central Registration Depository (CRD) and pays the testing fees required for your exam. Your testing window is then opened, giving you 120 days to pass your exam without restarting the process and paying a new fee. After exam success, you become eligible for registration, and the sponsoring firm assumes responsibility for supervising your ongoing activities in the securities business.

How to Apply for Series 7 Exam Sponsorship

The sponsorship process begins with the candidate’s completion of FINRA’s Form U4. This 39-page form requests detailed information including:

  • Personal information about the candidate
  • Examinations requested (e.g., Series 7)
  • Professional designations held
  • Residential addresses for the past five years
  • Employment history for the past ten years
  • Other business activities, like outside employment or business interests
  • Disclosure of liens, bankruptcies, or other financial settlements
  • Disclosure of criminal, regulatory, or civil litigation matters

The sponsoring member firm electronically submits the completed U4 Form and filing fees to FINRA. The firm must complete background and public record checks to verify the accuracy of the U4 and to ensure there have been no omissions of critical information or new items that would require disclosure.

U4 disclosures may result in statutory disqualification, which prevents candidate registration. Felonies of any type within the past ten years, or misdemeanors involving securities or cash within the past ten years, are examples of events that cause statutory disqualification. If disqualifying events have been reported, a firm may apply to FINRA for a waiver to register the individual, but additional costs and supervisory procedures may apply. Bankruptcies and liens, while reportable on the U4, do not result in statutory disqualification.

Fingerprinting is an additional step in the process, and a candidate’s fingerprint card must be received by FINRA within thirty days after the Form U4 is filed. The fingerprints are searched against criminal databases for any other possible misconduct history that could cause statutory disqualification.

Don’t Have Series 7 Sponsorship? Explore the SIE

The Securities Industry Essentials Exam (SIE) is a co-requisite for most securities registrations, including the Series 7. In 2018, FINRA broke the original Series 7 exam into the SIE, as well as a Series 7 “top-off exam.” However, the SIE is different than other FINRA exams, as candidates may take the SIE without sponsorship. Some firms sponsor new candidates for the SIE as part of the hiring process, but for individuals who don’t have sponsorship, studying for and passing the SIE independently can differentiate you from other job candidates. Taking the SIE is also a great option for:

  • Those who are confident they’ll get Series 7 sponsorship, but who don’t want to prepare for the SIE and the Series 7 at the same time, or in rapid succession.
  • Those looking to change career paths and work in finance, whether in a FINRA member firm or not.
  • Those who work within finance, but perhaps in a different function (i.e. HR or marketing within a financial firm, financial reporter, etc.), looking to better understand the securities industry, build credibility or otherwise differentiate themselves.
  • Those in between jobs or returning to work, looking to show commitment and knowledge about the securities industry.
  • Those otherwise passionate about finance, looking to challenge themselves and learn more about the industry.

If you are not sponsored by a firm, you may enroll for this exam directly with FINRA; Form U4 filing is not required (SIE enrollment steps for independent students here, and analyst program students here). Independent students will be responsible for choosing study materials and paying a filing fee of $60 to take the exam.

Pass Your Exams the First Time

Passing securities exams takes hard work and commitment. Across the industry, only 74% of candidates pass the SIE on their first attempt. We at Knopman Marks are proud to provide the best study materials and guidance throughout the exam prep process. We care about our candidates and provide them techniques and tools to perform on their exams, but also in their careers. For the 15 months of SIE data available through December 2019, an incredible 97.5% of our students passed the SIE on their first try. If you’re interested, learn more about the SIE and download a free practice exam — and good luck with launching a successful securities career!

Update May 18, 2020: This post was updated to add relevant information and reflect the latest SIE pass rates.

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Written by Marcia Larson
Marcia Larson is Vice President, Faculty, at Knopman Marks Financial Training, New York, NY. She has extensive experience in financial licensing and regulatory training, having authored, developed and presented courseware for numerous securities and insurance exam preparation and continuing education and compliance programs. Before joining Knopman Marks, Marcia was Director of Annuity Products and Business Development at CUNA Mutual Group, where she developed and marketed industry-leading annuity products and retirement solutions and implemented distribution relationships. She was previously VP, Securities Products for Kaplan Financial, managing securities training products and subsequently, international training and businesses development. Marcia has trained thousands of financial industry exam candidates throughout their careers, and also college students as an adjunct professor. Marcia was a summa cum laude graduate of Wartburg College with degrees in Business Administration and Piano Performance. Marcia also holds the designations of Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®), Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU®), Certified Employee Benefit Specialist (CEBS), and Fellow Life Management Institute™ (FLMI®). She currently teaches the SIE, Series 6, 7, 24, 50, 52, 63, 65, and 66 exams.