The academic qualification to become a Chartered Alternatives Investment Analyst is being promoted in Hong Kong this week. It is more familiarly known as Caia, which rhymes with the Cantonese ôAiya!ö.

Caia was jointly founded in 2002 by the Alternative Investment Management Association and the Centre for International Securities and Derivatives markets. Today 11% of members are based in Asia. More than half of CaiaÆs participants are North America-based and the organisation is taking steps to ensure that the topics covered within the qualification are applicable globally rather than be excessively America-centric.

Courses are done by self-study and the exams currently have a 70% pass rate, and each are four hours long. It costs a hefty $1,000 to take the exam, but many companies reimburse their employees after they pass. Approximately 3,000 people in 54 countries are taking the exam this year.

In Hong Kong this week to encourage more candidates is Craig Asche, CaiaÆs executive director. He is now based in Amherst, Massachusetts, and was formerly director of Salomon Brothers' foreign exchange department in Hong Kong.

AsiaÆs man on the CaiaÆs global board is Peter Douglas of GFIA. He has passed his Caia exams, and Asche told the putative candidates they donÆt have to be a spring chicken to contemplate doing this programme.

ôItÆs set at the same level of difficulty as the CFA qualification," Asche explains. "They are complementary qualifications as CFA covers traditional investments and we cover alternatives. Our curriculum has an enormous amount of practical application. It has to be designed like that in order to be worthwhile for the candidates.ö

The two-tiered qualification encompasses the core alternatives topics of hedge funds, real estate, venture capital, private equity, energy futures and commodities. Each level also has a section on professional ethics.

Level One of the syllabus also includes scarier topics such as quantitative analysis, valuation theory and option-pricing models, but Asche says that those who are not mathematical geniuses can also master the material.