The growth of Asia as a financial power, driven by China's juggernaut of an economic engine, is responsible for more job opportunities and career advancement in the region's financial sector than many other industries. Nevertheless, while a diverse range of opportunities exist across the finance sector, key to building a successful career requires obtaining recognised professional qualifications, upholding the highest ethical standards and making a commitment to lifelong learning.
Co-organised by the CFA Institute and Classified Post, participants who attended "How to Succeed in the Rewarding but Competitive Finance and Investment Industry" seminar on Tuesday, heard from senior industry practitioners how integrity, diligence and commitment are vital skills necessary to thrive in the sector.
Outlining expectations from an employer's standpoint, James Hong, CFA, head of private banking, Credit Suisse Hong Kong branch, said in addition to knowledge and ability, employers look for integrity and a commitment to upholding the highest ethical values. Hong said values, including a client-first approach, and ethical standards are instilled and upheld by those who complete the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Programme.
Talking to about 200 participants, Hong said he encourages his staff to study for their CFA charter as it identifies them as serious investment professionals equipped with the practical knowledge and the necessary skills to excel in the complex global financial environment. "CFA is not just an exam, it is a trusted worldwide benchmark that provides confidence to both employers and clients," said Hong, who gained his CFA charter in the early 1990's.
Hong emphasised the importance of demonstrating the highest professional standards by always putting the clients' interests before the personal interests of the finance professional. He said: "Like a doctor [whom] patients implicitly trust, the fiduciary duty as a financial adviser or asset manager is not to compromise professional instincts and always remember that another person's well being depends upon you and your actions. If you serve your clients well, and they are successful, then you will also be successful."
Ashvin Vibhakar, CFA, managing director of Asia-Pacific operations, CFA Institute, also assured participants that, while the CFA Programme is comprehensive and a challenging experience, with the appropriate amount of study, the charter is comfortably attainable. "There is no fast track to completing the CFA Programme," he said. "However, with commitment and dedication it is possible to earn the CFA charter that is recognised globally by employers, finance professionals and investors as the definitive standard by which to measure competence and ethical standards expected of serious finance professionals."
Normally it takes three to five years for most candidates to complete the three levels of CFA exams, with each level requiring about 300 hours of study.
Basic requirements to enrol in this self-study programme include a bachelor's degree, or equivalent, or four years of relevant work experience, or a combination of both. To maintain their CFA status, charter holders must annually sign a code of ethics. Hong Kong has more than 4,500 CFA charter holders. More than 10,000 candidates took the exams last December and in June. Globally, the Asia-Pacific region has the largest number of candidates taking the CFA exams.
Andrew Tsui, chairman of Korn/Ferry International Hong Kong, told the audience career opportunities in the finance sector are being driven by strong economic growth in the region, particularly on the mainland and a shift from West to East by investment banks and financial institutions. Mainland banks are also becoming active employers in the asset management business, he said.
"Global financial firms setting up headquarters in Hong Kong are competing with mainland and local firms for the best talent to strengthen their investment and financial platform," Tsui said.
A survey by Korn/Ferry, conducted earlier this year, indicated a robust finance employment sector, with 37 per cent of respondents saying they planned to increase head count by 10 to 20 per cent this year.
Tsui said a CFA charter holder with two or three years' experience, could expect to receive an annual salary of about HK$800,000. Meanwhile, a CFA charter holder in private banking who can attract clients and build assets under management could receive a salary in excess of several million dollars.
Tsui stressed that alongside competitive remuneration, people should also consider as extremely important personal rewards the satisfaction from helping clients, the impact CFA charter holders make on their companies and working with colleagues.
"In addition to professional qualifications, soft skills including the ability to write reports, communicate with clients, colleagues and other industry professionals are important proficiencies," Tsui said.
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