What made you enrol in the CFA® Program and what were your first thoughts of it? What factors did you consider when you decided to pursue the CFA Program?
I enrolled in the CFA Program for two primary reasons. Firstly, I wanted to further develop my knowledge and skills in finance in a structured manner. Secondly, I wanted to acquire a professional qualification in finance that is internationally recognized and would be able to advance my career within the financial industry. Although I was already working in the industry, I did not have a strong background in finance as my educational background is law. Pursuing the CFA Program would enable me to achieve both these objectives.
My first impression of the program was that it was tough and rigorous. I had wanted to pursue the program since I started working but repeatedly postponed it. My wife and I were expecting our firstborn when I finally decided to enrol in the program. I believe becoming a father gave me the courage and the final push to pursue the program.
How did it feel when you obtained your CFA® charter? What competitive advantages does the CFA charter offer you?
It was a big relief. Three years of having to juggle work, study, family, and other commitments was tough. I was fortunate to have passed the examinations in three years. For that, I am very much grateful for the great support system that I had — my wife, my study group, and my boss.
Obtaining the CFA charter gave me the opportunity to learn the latest and most comprehensive body of knowledge in finance and investment, which helped to contribute meaningfully to my work. It was also a major turning point for my career as it got me a role in the Investment Division of Khazanah Nasional, Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund.
How does being a CFA® charterholder make you stand out? How is the designation valued in the nonfinancial industry?
I believe the journey of becoming a CFA charterholder gave me the competency and confidence to compete in a highly competitive industry. The CFA charter is highly valued and respected by the industry, not only for the knowledge you acquire from passing the exams and from your industry experience but also for the commitment to ethical behaviour and professionalism.
Although the CFA® designation is much more renowned in the finance industry, the designation is gaining wider recognition beyond the industry. More people from nonfinancial industries are pursuing the qualification due to the good work by CFA Institute and CFA Society® in spreading the awareness of the program as well as CFA charterholders pursuing careers outside the finance industry over time.
How did you prepare for the exams while managing a full-time position?
Establishing a study plan early was important. Having to juggle many different commitments also called for flexibility in that plan to allow me to catch up when I fell behind with my studies.
To prepare for the exams, I subscribed to one of the exam’s prep providers that provided learning materials and teaching videos. I also did a lot of practice questions and past-year papers.
Additionally, what kept me focused and motivated to complete the CFA Program was my small study group of four. I am very happy to say that all four of us successfully obtained the CFA charter.
Last but not least, preparing and getting through the three levels of exams whilst working was not possible without the valuable support and encouragement from my wife and the inspiration from my kids to do my best.
How was your experience in completing the CFA Program? Have you encountered any challenges in preparing for the exams, based on the fact that you came from a nonfinancial background?
Studying for the CFA Program was demanding, but I truly did enjoy the learning experience. The topics covered in the program had a breadth and depth that made it quite challenging and yet simultaneously interesting and relevant.
A key challenge in preparing for the exams was consistently trying to balance between work and family commitment whilst studying for the exams. The program demands regular studying to sufficiently cover all the topics. Coming from a nonfinancial background, I had to spend a longer time especially in Level I CFA® exam to properly understand the content of the curriculum. Covering the materials in a short period of time is simply not possible.
Do you have any advice for people pursuing finance from a nonfinancial background? What do you think is a reasonable amount of time to get past the steep learning curve?
During the initial phase, the learning curve will be steep as you pursue a finance career from a nonfinancial background. If you are keen to pursue a career in finance, having a solid foundation in finance education is important. This aids in accelerating your learning capability and establishing an equal footing with others within the competitive industry. To achieve this, I believe the pursuit of the CFA Program is one of the best routes.
Completing the program is highly rewarding not just in terms of the qualification that you obtain but, more importantly, the tools and framework that it provides as you continue learning and expanding your knowledge and skills in a challenging and fast-evolving industry as well as an excellent network of professionals that you can learn from.
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A CFA charter can help boost your finance credentials. The CFA Program is designed to equip you with the kind of expertise and real-world skills in investment analysis that will help you advance your career. Once you complete all three exam levels and demonstrate the required experience, you can apply to become a charterholder.
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What books do you recommend for young professionals with a nonfinancial background who have a strong interest in enhancing their financial knowledge?
I would recommend three books:
- A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton Malkiel provides a very good reading on investments and investing.
- Financial Intelligence by Karen Berman and Joe Knight is an excellent book for nonfinance [professionals] to understand financial statements, financial concepts, and analysis.
- Lessons in Corporate Finance by Paul Asquith and Lawrence Weiss provides an excellent introduction to corporate finance using case studies approach.
What is your definition of success? Has your definition of success changed over the years?
Personally, success is about setting goals and working hard towards achieving those. Furthermore, these goals are mainly about fulfilling personal needs and ambitions. However, over the years, my idea of success has included helping others in achieving their goals. Whilst achieving personal goals are significant, believing in something greater than my own needs and ambitions are becoming more important. This can be my family, my team, my company, or my community.
Obviously, achieving success with these goals is more challenging, but I do believe the challenges you faced to achieve goals that are inspired by these beliefs are worth pursuing even if you fail trying.
If you could do it all over again, would you change anything? If so, what?
I would have probably done the CFA Program much earlier and I would have leveraged the extensive CFA Institute network and valuable learning resources more.
Having said that, I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had; the people that I have met; the places that I have visited; the many things that I have learned; and the successes and the failures that I have experienced.
If I could do it all over again, I would have kept these experiences in writing as it would certainly help me better learn from my journey and avoid repeating some of the mistakes.
Disclaimer: The content was written in July 2021 and the video was taken in April 2021. Information, views, opinions, and recommendations expressed belong to the interviewees thereof. They do not necessarily reflect the views of CFA Society Malaysia. In no event shall CFA Society Malaysia be liable for any damages resulting from their opinions.