I took level 1 in december 2012, passed. Taking level 2 in about two weeks (June 7th). I needed about 200 hours of studying, the material is not difficult but there is a wide range. More important in my opinion is getting used to the format/style of questions they ask you. Its all multiple choice, with 3 possible answers, sounds easy, but its not. Also, its not like you need to hit 70% to pass, its a moving average based on how people respond.
There's zero chance it can hurt you, and will definitely be appreciated if you are looking to move to PE/Equity Research/other ventures later. It's not worth as much as an MBA, but its WAY cheaper. If you want to make a career on the sell side, its probably not going to do much for you, but you had mentioned you wanted to move to buy side.
Details: Exam is like 1000$, most employers will reimburse you and pay for study materials. I like Schweser. Its about another $500-$1000 if you are paying out of pocket though. Read through materials from CFA institute once then crush practice tests, you will be good to go.
any other questions, pm me.