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Datuk Zainal Izlan Zainal Abidin, CFA

Deputy Chief Executive

Securities Commission Malaysia

Datuk Zainal Izlan Zainal Abidin is deputy chief executive of the Securities Commission Malaysia (SC). He provides direct oversight on the SC’s Surveillance and Supervision functions as well as the People and Corporate Resources division. He joined the SC in 2011 as executive director, Islamic Capital Market, and was appointed managing director, Development and Islamic Markets, in 2016.

Izlan is currently chair of Capital Markets Malaysia, an entity established by the SC to promote the Malaysian capital market, and a board member of the Securities Industry Development Corporation, which is the SC’s training and development arm. He has more than 30 years of experience in the financial services industry, starting his career with Citibank before moving to MIDF Amanah Asset Management (when it was known as Seacorp-Schroder Capital Management). Just before joining the SC, he was CEO of i-VCAP Management.

Izlan holds a bachelor of science in economics (dual concentration in accounting and finance) from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, USA, and is a CFA® charterholder.

“The investment industry has become more globalized and the CFA® designation is a highly recognized qualification that becomes a global benchmark for both employers and investment clients in the industry.”

Datuk Zainal Izlan Zainal Abidin, CFA


Why did you pursue a career in finance? What made you enrol in the CFA® Program?

It all started in school as I enjoyed the maths and accounts subjects. This interest spurred me to pursue a degree in accounting (and later expanded to include finance) in the university. So upon graduation, it was quite a natural progression for me to pursue a career in finance. I enrolled into the CFA Program as it was part of my job requirement at that time when I joined a fund management firm. On hindsight, I am thankful for having been “required” to pursue the qualification. No regrets!


How has the CFA® designation helped to shape your career progression?

While having the CFA designation does not mean one has to work in the investment industry, the depth and breadth of knowledge acquired during the program had influenced me to work in the industry for many years — progressing in the industry and covering various aspects of the fund management business. Even now, as a capital market regulator, I am very much involved in the regulation and development of the fund management industry.


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Can you identify key decisions you made along the way in your career?

I believe every change of jobs during my career has been a key decision, and by extension, the decision not to change jobs when there were opportunities along the way [to do so] also were key. In a career spanning over 30 years, I have had four jobs so far. In making the decision, I felt each change offered new opportunities and challenges that would add value and enhance my knowledge and experience significantly.


To climb a corporate ladder, one must be good at his profession. Is it better to jump between different departments or divisions to gain vast knowledge of the industry or just stick to what one is good at?

Gaining broader exposure especially at the earlier stages of one's career would typically provide a more well-rounded experience. Over time, the effective approach depends among others on the individual's aspiration — climbing a corporate ladder towards a business management role usually requires broader-based experience, while climbing towards a specialist role may be better served by gaining more depth within that particular area.


How do you embrace risk-taking?

Taking risk must be an informed decision, and the desired/expected outcome should justify the risk that you are taking, for yourself and others whom you are deciding for. So I would gather as much information as possible to take into consideration relevant factors before making such decision. This may include engaging with others who have had experience in similar situations. In addition, in some cases, risk-taking may involve “sharing” risk with like-minded or willing individuals.


What has been the most exciting point in your career?

Becoming a CFA charterholder! To be honest, it was one of a number of exciting points and these relate mainly to achieving and delivering significant milestones and outcomes as well as getting job promotions, which reflect recognition of my work contributions. I have to add that spending two years in London working with an international fund management firm was also quite exciting!


How has your CFA Society® membership helped you in your career? Are you connected with the society community network?

I had the honour and privilege of serving four years as society president and a few years as program chair prior to that. The experience gained during those years was very valuable, particularly in terms of organizational and project management, as well as stakeholder engagements (domestically and internationally), which provided me with substantial networking opportunities that proved highly useful over the course of my career. Though not as active in recent years, I continue to participate in several society activities and remain in contact with some of the members.


What future do you envision for CFA Society Malaysia?

I expect the society to evolve over time to continue providing value to its members that have become increasingly diverse in terms of work experience, sector representation, age profile, and so on. The society will need to align itself and its activities closely with industry developments in order to remain relevant. It must continue to act as a networking platform for its members to connect among ourselves and with other stakeholders. The society should also become a more prominent voice of advocacy for the investment industry especially in promoting highly ethical and professional standards.


Which values got you to where you are today?

I believe honesty would be one of [the values] and for me this covers several facets. It's about being truthful in communicating; it's about being open in sharing views; it's about admitting to shortcomings and being willing to ask for help, regardless of how senior you are in the hierarchy. Another would be working hard — one may argue for “working smart” but, in any case, there are no “shortcuts” to achieving sustained progress and success. I would also like to add collaboration, which includes listening to other views, supporting and reinforcing team members, and adopting a give-and-take approach.


What books do you recommend to increase financial knowledge and to stay relevant with the evolving investment industry?

There are many informative and relevant finance-related books that are good references for either general knowledge or specialised areas. In addition, many journals and articles are a good read on various financial topics. As choice of books is typically a personal one, I would just recommend that for a particular subject matter, try reading two or more books that offer different views in order to get a more well-rounded perspective.


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.

Be inspired by CFA® charterholders and learn how theirachievements can guide your career path.


Be inspired by CFA® charterholders and learn how their achievements can guide your career path.