What made you enroll in the CFA® Program even after obtaining Financial Risk Management certification? What factors did you consider when you decided to pursue the CFA Program?
Back in 2012 when I was studying for FRM, I remember thinking that the curriculum was very risk-oriented and quantitative-focused. While I enjoy the mathematics given my STEM background, I realized I needed a bigger-picture curriculum that could provide me a strong and well-rounded foundation in finance. At the time, my responsibility involved generating investment theses involving PNB’s portfolio companies, and I found the CFA Program very helpful in providing me a holistic framework to develop my own proposals and evaluate pitches from investment banks and companies alike.
How did it feel when you obtained your CFA® charter? What competitive advantages does the CFA charter offer you?
It felt as if I just graduated with another degree, but this time in finance. I took computer science in the university, so I was committed to take up additional learning at work to strengthen my financial knowledge. It was quite fulfilling to be recognized for the hard work I put in when I finally obtained my CFA charter.
The CFA charter has definitely helped me become a better analyst and get recognition from my leadership. For example, I was able to develop a new performance assessment framework that served as a critical input for my firm’s leadership when engaging with portfolio companies.
How does your company recognize the CFA® designation?
PNB as an investment institution puts a lot of emphasis on continuous learning as part of its human capital strategy, which in itself is the firm's source of competitive advantage. As such, PNB has been encouraging everyone who works in the investment line to pursue the CFA Program given its significant value-add. PNB offers a full sponsorship, which includes classes and grants study leaves. Once you are qualified, PNB provides a substantial monthly allowance as an incentive and as a recognition of the value the CFA designation brings.
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What got you interested in strategic asset allocation?
I started my career in the CEO's Office of PNB and my role then included advising my leadership on initiatives to improve shareholders' value of the portfolio companies. I learned that there is a strong correlation between long-term value creation and effective capital allocation. So, when I was asked to help pioneer the strategic asset allocation process in PNB, I jumped at the opportunity, knowing well the impact optimal capital allocation can have for our more than 14 million Malaysian unit holders.
What changes do you see in the industry in the next three years?
I think we will continue to see significant changes across three dimensions: sustainability, accessibility, and efficiency. ESG and impact investing, which considers social and environmental factors alongside economic returns, have been receiving a lot of attention. However, many still are afraid to take the plunge given the lack of data, which will get better in time as more resources are channeled into this space. Accessibility too is getting traction with the rise of robo-advisory and online wallet platforms which aim to make investing a seamless experience, while efficiency continues to improve with the rapid availability of big data at everyone’s fingertips.
What are the most important skills to excel in this role/industry?
After training and mentoring many analysts, I have to say the top two skills are logical thinking and affinity with numbers and financial concepts. With logical and structured thinking, analysts will have a better chance at generating well-argued investment theses, carrying out problem solving efficiently, and communicating their work effectively. The latter is also equally important because finance involves the need to calculate and contextualize a lot of numbers to support investment decision-making.
What were your goals at the start of your career? Have your goals changed over the years?
What got me motivated to pursue finance was my university experience leading a club called Fairtrade. I learned the impact equitable and sustainable finance can have on the livelihood of millions of people, and I couldn’t be more grateful myself as I too was the beneficiary of one. So, I decided to pay it forward in my own way. My goal then was to become an activist fund manager, but over time it has changed to investment and corporate strategist. My career goals may have changed but my why has remained the same as when I first joined PNB in 2011.
To climb a corporate ladder, one must be good at his/her profession. Is it better to jump between different departments/divisions to gain vast knowledge of the industry OR just stick to what one is good at?
One of my mentors once told me over lunch when I made a remark about other attractive and faster career paths, "You make your own career path." The advice stuck with me ever since. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong path. Your career growth very much depends on how much value you give, not how much knowledge you take. So, my advice would be to find a place where there are a lot of critical problems that need to be solved, be it in your current role or in other departments. The more problems you own, the more impact you can have.
Do you have any mentors or idols whom you look up to who motivate you to be where you are now?
Personally, I have considered all my superiors as my mentors, and because of them, I am able to be where I am today. With a growth mindset, I always try to learn from their personal stories and ask for their valuable feedback based on the unique filter of their life experience and background. In the greater industry, I am particularly intrigued by Jim Simons and Cliff Asness, who run RenTech and AQR, respectively. They are known to use mathematical models and algorithms to make gains from market inefficiencies, which are right in my alley given my STEM background.
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.