THE Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) charter is widely considered to be the professional credential of choice for the investment industry. Its course is designed to provide the full breadth of knowledge necessary to understand all the major investment products, alongside instruction in financial reporting, corporate governance and economics. All this is underpinned by a grounding in professional ethics.
A GROWING DEMAND
Given the diversity of its curriculum, it’s unsurprising that CFA charter-holders are found in a wide range of positions. While the course is primarily focused on training investment analysts and managers, developments in the way financial products are marketed and sold have contributed to an increase in demand from non-investment staff.
Richard Ker, head of investment management at Odgers Berndtson, says that this demand is “primarily concentrated in the more technically demanding, client-facing positions.” And data from the CFA Institute shows that 5 per cent of UK charterholders now work in sales and marketing. Although dwarfed by the 24 per cent in portfolio management or the 19 per cent in research analysis, the proportion is growing.
One explanation is that new investment positions have recently appeared – notably the product executive. He or she presents investment products to the market on behalf of fund managers, and must therefore master the same level of detail.
But there’s also pressure from clients. Tim Rotherham of Hanover Search Group says that the growing sophistication of customers is influencing the need for the broad swathe of employees to be CFA accredited. “The maturing of the pensions market has meant pension schemes are bringing in investment specialists. Sales teams are therefore having to upskill.”
Outside client services, the CFA can also help staff to better understand their role. Tina Gould of research firm Morningstar says that employees from all areas of her business are encouraged to further their industry knowledge. “We have a number of colleagues in data analysis, for example, who find that the CFA programme adds a further level of context to their work.”
LIMITS OF THE CHARTER
This is not to say that the CFA is for everyone – the programme has its limitations. Its curriculum is not as broad as an MBA, for example. An MBA is also arguably more practical, though it does not cover the investment industry with the same level of depth.
Further, although clients may be comforted by an industry credential, they are unlikely to know exactly what it means. Its usefulness in client-facing roles is still less significant than the ability to build trust and relationships.
Completing the course also requires a heavy commitment, typically three to five years of study, and many never finish. While the CFA programme can certainly widen your horizons beyond your specific role, it’s not to be undertaken lightly.
Occupations of UK CFA charterholders
Chief executive 3.6
Portfolio Manager 24.5
Relationship Manager 5.1
Research Analyst 19.3
Risk Manager 5.9
CASE STUDY #1: TRANSITION MANAGEMENT
KATE LANDER, NORTHERN TRUST
Kate Lander, senior vice president of transition management at Northern Trust, originally became a CFA charterholder in 2003 to aid her in a previous role teaching the programme to others. But she credits it with subsequently helping her find employment in a bank – working across asset management, fixed income securities trading, and now transition management. Lander has been a charterholder for 10 years, but does not feel her training is out of date. “Rather than focusing on current regulations, the charter arms you with the fundamental first principles of finance. Whoever I am talking to, and whatever product we are talking about, I can go back and draw on the knowledge I acquired on the programme.” But it’s a challenging process. “It is a long-term commitment and, if you do it just because you think it will facilitate a step up the ladder, you will find it difficult to sustain motivation.” However, if you have the drive, the CFA program is highly rewarding. “The result is yours, not your employer’s, and you can display the accreditation for the rest of your life.”
CASE STUDY #2: ASSURANCE RISK
SERVAAS HOUBEN, PRUDENTIAL
Servaas Houben heads up the risk scenario generation team at Prudential Assurance. He spent the first four years of his career in the Dutch life insurance industry, before moving to Dublin and then London. He became a charterholder in 2010. As an actuary, the CFA gave him an alternative perspective on his work. “Taking the programme did increase my stamina and my willingness to get things done. But the main reason I would recommend it is that it widened my scope on finance.” Once a charterholder, getting involved in a member society can also add to the professional value of being CFA accredited. “When I first qualified, I did very little, but then I became more active as a member of [the UK charterholder member society] CFA UK. I started summarising articles for the CFA Digest magazine and organising events for its economic capital special interest group. This helped me to expand both my outlook and my network.” Houben’s top tip for parents taking the exams is to “arrange a quiet period over the last few days to concentrate – freeing this up will make a big difference to the outcome.”
CASE STUDY #3: PRODUCT CONTROLLER
DAVID SHAW, RBC
David Shaw is a structured rates product controller at the Royal Bank of Canada. He qualified as a chartered accountant in 2004, and became a CFA charterholder in 2010. He considers the key benefit of taking the programme (from a non-investment analyst’s perspective) to be the holistic view of the financial services that it provides. “An appreciation of the motives of different players, and an understanding of the big picture has been immensely beneficial.” And the benefits of the programme can go beyond your immediate role. “You will carry the investment skills and analysis methods with you throughout your career.” Completing the charter is also a mark of quality. “It is an indication you are disciplined enough to have stayed the course, and have a firm grasp of the body of knowledge.” When you become a charterholder, attending CFA events can be a useful way to network. “I’ve attended evenings as diverse as a talk from a successful hedge fund manager, through to events on the impact of changing regulations – all of which have been thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining.”
CASE STUDY #4: PRODUCT EXECUTIVE
JUSTIN KEW, SCHRODERS
Justin Kew is a product executive in Schroders’ equity investment team. He joined the firm in 2012 – the same year he became a charterholder – before which he worked for five years in various roles at JP Morgan. Kew took the CFA charter with the aim of gaining the knowledge and ability to deal with a “broad range of requests from clients and colleagues in various teams throughout the world.” The programme has helped him meet this target by giving him the tools to understand the work of his investor colleagues. “The most valuable skill I learnt from the course was portfolio construction. I now have a better comprehension of what the fund managers are doing, meaning I am better able to communicate the details of our products and processes to our clients and local offices.” And the professional credibility the charter gives you is not limited to the letters after your name. “The programme has equipped me with useful tools and an improved understanding of my day-to-day role, which will help me add value to the team and the business. I believe it has already enhanced my career, and has established me very well for the future.” And it helps to know why you are making the substantial time commitment, and what you hope to gain. “Having a goal in mind makes it more interesting and much more enjoyable.”