Transition Techniques

Eric Schweitzer, vice president, global outplacement and executive coaching consultancy at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. lead a panel discussion about employment transition on Tuesday, August 7 for members of the CFA Society Chicago. In addition to leading the conversation, Eric shared his experience transitioning from a bank trust department to an outplacement and coaching position. He emphasized the importance of preparation to identify relevant skills and brand.

Nancy Fehrenbach, CFA, a financial planning analyst with Phase 3 Advisory Services, Ltd. shared her process “re-entering” the investment advisory business after an extended time working as a mother, for non-profits, and as a school board president. Fehrenbach found that networking with friends and acquaintances helped her gain insights into how her experiences and skills could translate into a new role in the financial services industry. She found that investment advisory firms often look for new hires with “a book of business.” Her time away from the industry and skill set focused on analysis and customer service versus new business development. She eventually found the appropriate role for her providing financial planning services to individuals.

Daryl Brown, CFA, a director of market strategy at TransUnion, found self-evaluation tools and books, like What Color is Your Parachute, helpful in “boiling down” his skill set to effectively sell himself. Brown emphasized the importance of networking through LinkedIn. He used LinkedIn to find people that had a connection to employers that he wanted to pursue. He found that people wanted to offer assistance. Daryl encouraged the audience to reach out, even if it feels uncomfortable. Brown subscribed to the LinkedIn premium level and used the skills and endorsement features.

Phil Jandora, CFA, a senior transitions analyst in the Investments group at Willis Towers Watson, supported the critical importance of social media in his job search process. He used LinkedIn to learn about opportunities and to build out second and third level contacts. Jandora’s experience supports the advice presented in various “Jump Start Your Job Search” messages- your resume is a necessity but your network is critical. Jandora also noted that programs like Toast Masters or improvisation training can help build the communication skills necessary for the job search process.

Tim Byhre, CFA, director of business valuation at RSM, emphasized the importance of level two connections in the job search process. Most significant, he noted the importance of maintaining and building relationships before you need them. Byhre also noted his use of Glassdoor to learn about the culture of companies. He read Glassdoor reviews about what it’s like to work at the firm to determine if the firm would be a good fit for him. Tim emphasized the importance of writing down your skill set along with an explanation of how they can be used to further the success of a potential employer.  He found this preparedness very helpful when interviewing.

Eric Schweitzer supported the importance of networking and emphasized that you should know the answers to the following questions before making calls – why am I calling, what am I looking for, and why am I looking? He also noted that you should ask the individual to “do something”- offer a reference, referral, opening to a company, etc.

The panel emphasized the importance of finding a cultural fit. Fehrenbach noted her desire to work with people that she liked and enjoyed being around. Schweitzer noted that the right role at the wrong company can lead to failure. Brown said that potential employers will probably recognize a cultural mismatch, so don’t waste time compromising for a paycheck.

All agreed that a disciplined process with a focus on the future that reaches out to second level contacts can produce a successful employment transition. Throughout the process, focus on the audience’s perspective with an emphasis on “how” or “why” versus “what”. A final thought from Schweitzer – employers want to know how you are going to help them fix their problems without bringing any of your own along.

Starting Your Own RIA Firm (Part 3): Infrastructure and Regulatory Requirements

The final event of this three-part series was to explore the infrastructure and regulatory requirements new RIA’s need to satisfy. The two previous events focused on the initial personal challenges of starting your own firm and the marketing and business development challenges.

The four speakers featured for this event included:

Carson BoorasMr. Booras is vice president of Institutional Sales for TD Ameritrade. Booras has over 20 years of experience working within the Financial Industry and has been working directly with Financial Advisors for over nine years. Prior to joining TD Ameritrade, Booras built a fee based advisory practice working with Charles Schwab.

GJ KingMr. King is President of RIA in a Box. RIA in a Box currently helps nearly 1,500 RIA’s overcome the compliance and technical challenges of starting a firm. Prior to RIA in a Box, Mr. King held positions at Goldman Sachs serving advisors to high net worth entrepreneurs, families and foundations.

Joseph Mannon Mr. Mannon is an attorney with Vedder Price Investment Services Group, a legal firm with 35 attorneys serving independent advisors. He focuses his practice on legal and compliance matters for investment advisors, mutual funds and vehicles such as hedge funds.

Ravi Wadhwani – Mr. Wadhwani is the Illinois regional sales director for Morningstar’s Advisor Solutions Group, responsible for building relationships with startup and established RIA’s. His focus is on helping advisors build their practices by leveraging research, data aggregation and practice management technology.

Shannon Curley, CFA, began the event with a brief introduction of the speakers followed by a short presentation from each addressing how their firm helps newly formed RIA’s. King provided event participants with a presentation entitled “RIA Registration 101”, which outlined the steps needed for registration and licensing of an RIA. Wadhwani provided a questionnaire entitled “Taming Your Technologies” which helps evaluate the effectiveness of technology.  Carson stated that TD Ameritrade is a fast growing custodian with dedicated transition teams for RIA’s. As an attorney in his firm’s Investment Advisory group, Mannon has a wide range of experience aiding both new, and experienced, RIAs.

The four speakers spent the remainder of the event responding to questions from the audience, summarized below:

What is the biggest mistake new RIA’s make?

  • Mismatch between the advisory contract and the services you provide to clients.
  • Failure to make clear how your new firm will provide a better experience for clients and result in a better outcome.
  • Unexpected delays due to the ramifications of non-compete clauses with a previous employer. You may not be able to take data with you.
  • Technology does not provide the support envisioned resulting in “biting off more than you can chew”.
  • Using an attorney not experienced with this type of work, or not experienced in working with custodians.
  • Neglecting to create a detailed balance sheet for your new business.

 

What registration is required for trading in alternative assets such as real estate, bitcoin or private equity?

  • Real Estate is not a security, so registration is not a requirement.
  • Private Equity is usually done deal by deal using Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV’s) for each. Registration is not required until the aggregate value exceeds $150 million.
  • Educating clients about bitcoin, does not require registration, but participation in an ICO would require registration.

 

What would be the typical cost of setting up an RIA?

  • If there are no prior employment issues, a bare bones cost could be as low as $2,000.
  • Cost increases dramatically if there are prior employment issues concerning non-solicit and non-compete. In the extreme, costs could exceed $300,000.

 

What are the basics for effective cyber-security?

  • It is important to recognize that typically you are the owner of the data, not the custodian.
  • Ownership of professional business level security software is critical.
  • Stay on top of your vendor’s security practices.
  • If your data center goes down, where do you go? Log on to back-up sites.
  • Consider cyber security insurance and know what is specifically covered.
  • Quick reaction is critical if you suspect the worst. Train staff to deal with situations promptly.
  • Payment of ransom is not recommended, reputational issues may result.

 

What is the most effective way to calculate performance?

  • Use one system to generate ad-hoc reports and fees.
  • Reliance on custodial statements is more common.
  • Clients should have access to all their reports at any time.
  • The trend is for fewer reports (less is more). RIA’s are now involved in more holistic tasks for clients that typically do not require performance reporting.

The brief questions at the end focused on the different requirements for short-only RIA’s or those RIA’s that specialize in hedging or options. These activities are acceptable as long as they are spelled out in the advisory contract.

Charterholder Jobs of the Future

Where can CFA charterholders look for career opportunities outside of traditional roles like research analyst or portfolio manager? That was the focus of the Jobs of the Future event sponsored by CFA Society Chicago’s Professional Development Advisory Group on April 12th. Held in the spacious conference center at 1 North Wacker Drive, the event was comprised of two panel discussions preceded by a keynote speech on employment trends in the asset management industry. The topic was popular with society members with nearly 100 in attendance.

Tyler Cloherty, CFA, global head of research at the Casey Quirk Knowledge Center kicked off the event with a research report entitled State of the Industry: Strategic Change in Asset Management and its Impact on Practitioners. He outlined changes currently underway in the investment management field and the consequent effects they will have on the types of roles asset managers will be looking to fill and the skills they will need. To begin, Cloherty noted that employment in asset management is at an all-time high having grown 8.6% between 2014 and 2016.  However, there are meaningful changes in the makeup of the total:

  • Investment professionals (portfolio managers and analysts) have shown the largest growth from 24.9% to 26.6% of industry staff, driven by increases in illiquid capabilities and allocation teams. However compensation for this group has declined slightly.
  • Conversely, distribution has seen the largest decline (from 28.7% to 26.1%) which masks a shift from institutional channels to retail, and an increase in product development roles. Despite this decline, compensation in this area has risen about 5%.
  • Operations has increase share from 45.2% to 46.2% reflecting the build-out of risk management and compliance functions. Here also, compensation has risen by 5%.
  • Firm management has held steady at just over 1% of industry staffing, but compensation has declined by a significant 16%.

Cloherty then went on to describe three factors defining the changing landscape for talent in the industry:

  1. Evolving Client Expectations—Reflecting a general push for cost control, which is manifested in the shift from active to passive strategies, and also the demand for more consistent performance in active products. Clients are seeking value for the fees they pay. In addition, they want more digital engagement to increase their own efficiency.
  2. Industry Catalysts—Including a host of trends: fee compression, commoditization of products, slow growth (especially in developed markets) and rising fixed costs (for more compliance, technology, data collection, and regulations).
  3. External Catalysts—Increasing importance of technology, data, automation, and even artificial intelligence, are the primary external catalysts.

 

Tyler Cloherty, CFA

Cloherty’s research has defined four strategic paths managers may choose to address this changing landscape.  Each has unique consequences for career opportunities for industry participants. The first strategy is to differentiate on product which requires that products perform well relative to expectations. This in turn means clients must see consistent value for the fees charged. Success here will depend on the effective application of data analysis, risk management, portfolio customization, and/or trading enhancements. In addition, cost containment through process automation and systems rationalization will be important. This strategy is likely to offer increased job opportunities involving the collection, analysis, and interpretation of increased volumes of data; fewer roles for traditional investment analysts; a shift of research and portfolio management resources to satisfy the rising demand for illiquid capabilities and allocation strategies; and greater separation of compensation between top talent and the median performers.

The second strategy is to differentiate on client experience by offering a premium service level built around client outcomes. This will require firms to build effective distribution teams to establish and maintain client engagement over a long sales cycle. This begins with identifying prospects using insightful market segmentation and data analysis, and continues through multi-channel outreach, digital marketing, automated sales and client relations tools, thought leadership materials, cross selling, high touch client reporting with mobile capabilities/apps, and in-person client interaction to close the sale and retain business. This strategy will demand more talent in data management, digital marketing, channel expertise, client service, and advice delivery.

Firms can also decide to compete on cost which requires automation, outsourcing, and realignment of incentives. Automation and outsourcing can both be applied to data management, accounting and settlement processes, distribution (via sub-advisory), back and middle office functions, and clerical duties. Investment management and distribution staff are typically the most expensive and their incentives will need to change to make them more efficient. Shifting incentive compensation to long-term payouts and focusing on client retention rather than gross sales are key here. This strategy will boost employment opportunities at third party/outsource providers and internally toward project managers to drive the transformation.

Finally, firm management can choose to engage in M&A to achieve scale and efficiencies. This route has been increasingly popular in recent years. M&A within the asset management industry reached an all-time high in 2017 with over 200 deals worth nearly $3 trillion. Because cost synergies play a major role in the success of this strategy, it is unlikely to drive growth in employment. All aspects of the organization will feel the impact, but operations usually bears the brunt because it offers the quickest and largest cost reductions.

Two panel discussions followed the keynote address. The first featured three Society members whose career paths led to roles that would have been uncommon for portfolio managers in the past, although they are integral to asset management today:

  • Joan Rockey, CFA, principal and CFO for CastleArk Management LLC, a single family office managing $4 billion. She has special expertise in corporate events and transaction strategy within the private equity, finance, energy, and technology industries. While the investments she oversees could generally be labeled alternatives, or illiquid, Rockey’s role is much more expansive covering firm management, client service, staffing, pricing, product development, and analysis of the competitive landscape.
  • Jeff Kernagis, CFA, vice president and senior portfolio manager for Invesco PowerShares Capital Management responsible for a variety of income-based strategies housed in a new generation of exchange-traded fund products.
  • Warren Arnold, CFA, is a team leader in Northern Trust’s National Wealth Advisor Group. As such he is responsible for both the development of custom wealth management plans and their implementation, which requires an extensive amount of client engagement.

L to R: Joan Rockey, CFA; Jeff Kernagis, CFA; Warren Arnold, CFA

Moderator Andy Feltovich asked the panelists to offer advice to younger charterholders seeking to improve their chances at finding new positions leading to rewarding careers. Arnold, an electrical engineer by education, strongly endorsed broadening one’s skill set and continuously striving to learn more. Adding value often comes from outside one’s primary area of responsibility (in his case, tax or estate planning). Kernagis had two recommendations—looking for ways to marry technology to your job, and networking continuously. Rockey noted that no two people will follow the same career path, even if they end up in similar roles. However as a holder of numerous professional credentials (CFP, CPA, and CAIA among them) she advised attendees to grow their skills with additional professional training.

The second panel comprised three experts employed in corners of asset management that are new for charterholders:

  • Lisa Ezra Curran, CFA, co-founder of FinTEx Chicago, a non-profit organization bringing together FinTech and financial services firms seeking to expand Chicago’s role as a center of financial technology innovation.
  • Marcia Irwin, CFA, managing director of Portfolio Specialists at Manulife Asset Management. In that role she serves as the interface between portfolio managers and client-facing partners to ensure effective communication and positioning of investment strategies as well as top notch client service.
  • David Kiefer, CFA, managing director at J. P. Morgan in the Global Consultant Strategy Team where he services investment consultants who recommend J. P. Morgan products to institutional investors.

L to R: Andy Feltovich, CFA; Marcia Irwin, CFA; David Kiefer, CFA; Lisa Ezra Curran, CFA

Each panelist provided useful insight into their roles. Curran noted how FinTech can be viewed as the application of common technologies across multiple financial services, or the marriage of financial expertise applied with technology to create new roles or enhance old ones. As examples, she pointed out that FinTech has opened up alternative investments to new investors, as well as led to the digitization of mortgage records. This facilitates the flow of information and improves the process of mortgage securitization. It also better informs investors on the intricate details defining mortgage-backed securities. Irwin noted because she is positioned between the sales team (and their clients) on the one side and portfolio managers on the other, communication skills are very important. However, the CFA charter sets her apart and proclaims her investment expertise. Kiefer echoed that point by noting the charter stands out in the sales process. Because he deals with consultants–investment professionals in their own right–he can’t speak from a script about his products. He needs to project deep product knowledge and the charter helps with that.

In providing advice on career guidance, Curran said that was difficult to do because FinTech is so new; the roles within it are still evolving. Kiefer suggested that the RFP team provided an excellent entry point into the investment business. It requires strong communication skills and teaches broad knowledge about a firm’s product set. Irwin’s advice was to approach one’s job from the client’s point of view to understand their needs better and determine how to satisfy them.

Industry Roundtables

On February 28th, CFA Society Chicago hosted its Industry Roundtables event at the Standard Club. This event was an opportunity for members to join in-depth discussions with leading investment professionals and colleagues in a small group setting. Tables hosts covered 10 different sectors in the investment industry. CFA Society Chicago reporters Brad Adams, CFA, and Chris Fry attended the event and provided a recap a few of the discussions held at this popular event.

Emerging Markets: Kevin Ross CFA, Senior Vice President and Portfolio Manager, Advisory Research Inc.

Ross has been at Advisory Research since 2013, first as a research analyst and, since 2017, portfolio manager for the Emerging Markets Opportunities and International Small Cap Value strategies. He has twelve years of industry experience including positions at Driehaus Capital Management and Raymond James. He began with a list of key take-aways he wanted to emphasize for anyone interested in working in emerging markets;

  1. The importance of sound product development
  2. The importance of flexibility in seeking career opportunities
  3. The importance of matching one’s personal investment style to the firm’s

Ross went on to describe emerging markets (EM) as those characterized by an underdeveloped economy or financial markets. He singled out Portugal and South Korea as two with developed economies but underdeveloped financial markets. This puts them within emerging markets in the categorization of the MSCI indices. The index is approximately two-thirds in Asia, and one-third in Latin America, with small allocations to Eastern Europe and the Middle East. He expects the category’s weight in the MSCI All Country World Index to increase because its market cap weighting should rise to match its global GDP weighting. Additionally, impending regulatory changes in China will relax restrictions on trading by foreigners in that country. When MSCI reflects this, China’s index weight should increase by 3-4 percentage points.

Research Advisory is an active manager and EM strategies provide good opportunities to beat passive strategies because the markets are much less efficient.  There are approximately 7000 publicly traded companies within EM countries, about twice the number in the United States, and it is growing. Each is covered by an average of only four analysts compared to 22 analysts for large cap U.S. companies. The category has a history of long term outperformance relative to benchmarks and to developed markets, although it tends to be cyclical. From 2011-15, EM underperformed developed markets.  Recessions in Brazil and Russia, and declining growth in China were the primary reasons. These trends are reversing and the category has outperformed for two years.

Ross noted that his firm’s process relies more on bottom-up analysis (80-90%) than top-down, the better to identify undervalued companies. He also emphasized the importance of research into corporate governance. Most EM countries lack the laws and regulations that protect shareholders in developed markets. Corruption is more common as are complicated corporate structures with interlocking ownership connections. Getting just this aspect correct can form the basis for a success product.

 

Consultant Relations: Jason Brandt, Head of North America Consultant Relations, Global Client Group, AB

Brandt has been with the firm for 23 years in increasingly progressive and geographically expansive roles. He is focused on the firm’s institutional clients through his leadership of the consulting partners’ team, new business development and relationship management. As a leader with one of the majors within the industry, which includes Mercer and Willis, AB has a deep and diverse product portfolio to offer clients. Although product offerings may greatly differ, from alternatives to ones tailored to achieve certain targets within a particular economic clime, the focus on the client and the sales platform’s framework remain consistent. The framework of the “4 P’s” is utilized to differentiate and compete:

  • People
  • Process
  • Philosophy
  • Performance

Competition can be challenging, especially when the client is seeking a more generic product in which differentiation amongst offerings is miniscule, possibly only in the cost. Yet, Brandt emphasized a “friendly competition” environment in which one’s connections to competitors are important for providing the best service for clients as well as fostering a healthy referral environment.

Starting in the sector as an associate for outbound consultants, Brandt mentioned associates tend to be “data hogs.” In addition to supporting consultants in Performance category, Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS Standards) compliance is a key part of an associate’s function.

 

Fixed Income Analysis: Jose Pluto, CFA, Aegon USA Investment Management

Pluto is a structured product research analyst with US centric, fixed income focused Aegon AM US which is under Transamerica Corporation’s investment arm, Aegon Asset Management. Aegon, headquartered in The Hague, acquired Transamerica in 1999. Pluto’s currently focused on asset-backed securities (ABS) research, analysis, and underwriting. Pluto has developed an interest in equipment leases as well as esoteric ABS. Within the later category, Pluto stated the emerging solar financing market and its complexities are of particular interest. He was previously a fixed income analyst with Thornburg Investment Management in Santa Fe. Initially, Pluto focused on interest rate derivatives and government bonds with JP Morgan Securities, Bank One, and Goldman Sachs. Before Thornburg, he was a fixed income portfolio manager with Stark Investments actively managing a G-4 interest rate products total return portfolio. Today, Pluto is personally responsible for $14+ million within the ABS subsectors.  He stated by focusing on smaller opportunities that come to the debt market less frequently, Pluto is able to find the best opportunities to generate total returns and capture alpha.

In addition to Pluto’s interest and focus on esoteric ABS, he has a particular enthusiasm for securitized aircraft leases.

For those interested in his thoughts on the future of Airbus’s A380, Pluto conjectures that the airlines’ decreased utilization of the hub-and-spoke model in favor of point-to-point will drive the A380 into niche markets with decreased route applicability.  This trend will keep the future of A380 program uncertain and likely reliant on the 13 current operators.

 

Fixed Income Portfolio Management: Ronit Walny CFA, Managing Director, Global Investment Grade Fixed Income, Neuberger Berman Investment Advisors, LLC

Walny is portfolio manager for multiple fixed income and inflation strategies at Neuberger as well as part of the team that sets portfolio strategy for global investment grade fixed income. Previously, she was a portfolio manager and trader at PIMCO, and had held various trading, analytical, and advisory roles at MSCI Barra, Northern Trust, MacroMarkets, and Kellogg Capital Markets. Her current functional title at Neuberger Berman is client facing portfolio manager, a role that requires a significant amount of face time with clients explaining the details of the firms fixed income strategies and performance, as well as collecting client feedback to report back to portfolio managers. She finds the role to be a good blend of her in interest in trading/portfolio management and client communication. This satisfies one of her primary keys to a successful career: being involved in something that interests one to a great degree making it easy to develop a proficiency.

Walny got her start in fixed income because of its dependence on the application of mathematics. The fact that changes in bond valuations are more easily explained by changes in the metrics that define the market appealed to her greatly. The “stories” that can affect equity valuations play much less of a role in the bond market (and also commodity and currency markets where she participates for inflation-hedging strategies).

Besides working in a field one finds naturally comfortable, her other keys to success include:

  • Working with a team one finds enjoyable to work with,
  • Learning constantly through observation and experience, and
  • Reading to improve oneself (both financial literature and general topics).

Her advice to someone seeking to make an entry into the business includes:

  • Taking baby steps to gain experience,
  • Networking to get referrals from people in the business,
  • Investing free time in learning on your own.
  • Learning not only your key products thoroughly, but also why your clients use them.

 

Private Equity: Michael Sullivan, CFA, Kinzie Capital Partners

Sullivan is an investment associate at Kinzie Capital Partners, responsible for evaluating and executing new investment opportunities, and for managing portfolio investments. He described Kinzie as an independent sponsor of private equity investing.  They use their partner capital to position them in the lead of new investments, but add in funds raised from the outside (primarily from family offices). In addition they use debt financing to lever up the firms they acquire. They seek to invest in firms that are in a transition, which might involve the exit of a founder, switch to a new generation of owner/managers, or a company ready to make a jump to a larger scale from a plateau in earnings. They focus on the consumer goods, manufacturing, and services industries, and limit technology investments to applications rather than development.

Before working in private equity Sullivan was involved in consulting at Accenture and fixed income analysis at CNA Insurance. Following those experiences he sought a role that combined what appealed to him most: the “Fix it” function of consulting, and investment management. Private equity offered both, as well as a constantly changing environment that Sullivan finds appealing. Sullivan is currently working on an MBA degree to complement his CFA charter. He sees the MBA as a marketing tool because clients recognize and value it.  However, it doesn’t offer practical training or experience that the charter offers. Having the charter “catapulted” his progress toward the masters degree by allowing him to skip introductory courses and take a greater number of higher level elective classes. That greater depth of classroom work allowed him to present a better profile when seeking internship positions.

Kinzie’s investment process is highly selective. In a given year the firm might research 300-500 potential investments but close deals on only 1-2%. Their keys to success are determining if the attributes Kinzie excels at can add value, and whether a target firm is the “right fit” for Kinzie’s management. They need to get emotionally invested before they are willing to make a financial investment.  The debt capacity of the target is also paramount, as leverage is important to their strategy. Sullivan noted the importance of working with a bank experienced in the target firm’s industry. This will make the bank more comfortable to extend credit on favorable terms and may also speed up the due diligence process. Relationship management is important in managing an acquired firm since the holding periods average 5-7 years, but can extend longer. It’s also critical for raising funds, arranging debt financing, and sourcing new deals.

 

 

 

How to Improve your Quarterly Investor Newsletters

Do you ever feel stressed out when it’s time to work on your investor newsletter or other client communications? Do you wonder if investors understand the key points and theses you want to drive home?  If you answered “yes” to one or both of these questions, you are not alone.

Read on to learn about techniques and tips that will tighten up your investor communications while giving you confidence and peace of mind.

Why versus How

Many of us are technical writers and are used to expressing large amounts of details that investors can use to help inform a buy or sell decision. In his second writing event offered by CFA Society Chicago, Scott Wentworth, Founder and Head Financial Writer of Wentworth Financial Communications, offered a new framework to use when creating investor communications. He encouraged us to always think of the “why” versus the “how”. Thinking about why you are putting out your letter or communications and using this as an opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of your investors and the markets can create a big win. What are the three key things we should focus on?

Three Focus Areas

One useful tip Scott offered was on engaging the reader by providing your conclusion first. This is different than the typical legal opinion approach of citing the facts first then following up with a conclusion.

There are three key areas to focus on when developing investor communications.

  • Telling a compelling story
  • Providing content that is easy to consume visually
  • Streamlining the process for creating investor communications

Final Tips for Stress-free Execution

During the question and answer session, we learned how to refine our communications. Below are some final tips.

  • Use questions to engage readers but be consistent with section headers. Make all the headers questions or not.
  • If you use infographics, make sure they help tell the story and are understandable.
  • Analogies are good but be consistent and don’t take them too far. They should be used to get attention and create branding.
  • Make your main thoughts actionable.
  • Keep it fresh. Look around the industry and garner ideas from communications you like.
  • Have a section highlighting a different perspective or a section you can change in each quarterly communication.

Finally, reading non-fiction and fiction can help you become a better writer.

Writing Tips for CFA Charterholders Video

How CFA Charterholders Can Become Investment-Grade Writers

Industry Roundtables

On September 12th, CFA Society Chicago hosted its Industry Roundtables event at The Chicago Club. There were ten tables that focused on different sectors of the investment industry and participants chose three topics they wanted to learn more about. Each round lasted 30 minutes and gave attendees the opportunity to engage in face-to-face interaction with colleagues in a small group setting. Here’s a recap  by Richard Schiller, CFA, Rida Iqbal, and Susan Zeeb of some of the featured tables!

Equity Research: RJ Bukovac, CFA, CPA – Partner & Equity Research Analyst, William Blair

Bukovac is a partner and equity research analyst at William Blair focusing on Large and Mid-Cap US consumer companies. His team focuses on tech companies like Amazon, Tesla, Facebook, Netflix etc. They focus on market share value add against alternatives. Bukovac highlighted some of the qualities that are required for this nature of work:

  • Knowledgeable – Understand Accounting & Finance;
  • Inquisitive – to add value on top of management forecast;
  • Risk-taker – Willing to take a risk and bet on the company’s performance;
  • Convincing – Ability to sell it to clients to take investment actions.

He briefly discussed Netflix valuations in response to table participant inquiries which enabled him to demonstrate the everyday work challenges.

 

Fintech: Jim Daley, CEBS, CFA, CFP® – Project Manager, Morningstar

Fintech is one of the most popular discussions in the industry but also a very broad one that further understanding by the market participants. Jim Daley, CFA, shared his experience working for the Retirement Planning team at Morningstar. He was associated with Ibbotson Associates and continued to work with Morningstar as a project manager after Morningstar’s acquisition of Ibbotson Associates.

Daley introduced the table participants on basic branches of Fintech: Block Chain; AI Lending; and Machine Learning. He emphasized on the efforts in this area and that CFA Society Chicago is planning a series of events on the topic and how this is becoming a part of the CFA curriculum.

Daley is engaged in the retirement planning platform which is based on robo-advisor model which serves retirement planning (401K plans) by automating the investment strategies for discretionary plans like savings plan allocation of funds, quarterly rebalancing etc. This platform is capable of deploying both active and passive investment strategies. He explained how the traditional process of investment strategies has eliminated a sizeable amount of human interaction which now is only needed to review fund portfolios. Although Morningstar is currently offering a very limited Fintech related service, this current robo-advisor model could be replicated and expanded to Morningstar IRA planning accounts and retail. Fintech appeals to an age group of 30+ with some accumulated assets but the scope is growing constantly as people develop a greater understanding of how Fintech can serve the markets. Daley noted that Programming/Developing Languages, Statistics and Product Management skills are highly sought for in this area of industry and people with Engineering backgrounds and knowledge of C++, R, Python may do well in this field.

 

Fixed Income – Research: Rick Tauber, CFA, CPA – Senior Vice President, Morningstar

Tauber described his experience for the group which included roles as general credit analyst, high yield analyst, bank loan analyst, private placement analyst, and corporate bond analyst.  He explained how his role at Morningstar evolved from credit research to the corporate bond rating agency at the firm where he also covers industrials and manages the corporate team.

Tauber explained the different dynamics between buy side research, sell side research and agency research. Fixed income research on the buy side is usually team focused and the client is the portfolio manager/trader. Sell side fixed Income research is marketing and publishing oriented, with the client being buy side bond investors. Agency research is highly regulated with no conflict of interest as ratings are unsolicited, uses a committee process and is focused on the filing documents. Tauber explained the different research techniques between hedge funds and long-term investors, where hedge funds would be potentially looking for short-term volatility trades such as capital structure arbitrage trades or bond issue covenant violation trades. Long-term bond investors would focus more on long term fundamentals of the bond issuer and where the bond could potentially move if it was upgraded, for example.

He was asked if quantitative analysis methods were used in his position and he noted that Morningstar’s corporate credit uses four pillars to evaluate credits including business risk (which includes Morningstar’s Economic Moat analysis), a cash flow cushion, a solvency score, and distance to default. Tauber noted that the analysts conduct due diligence interviews with companies that issue bonds.

 

Investment Consulting: Chris Caparelli, CFA – Vice President, Marquette Associates

Caparelli has 9 years of investment consulting experience serving primary consultant on several client relationships. His company is mid-sized with 50bn in AUM with 80% clients in the Midwest and competes with companies like Mercer, Aon etc. He discussed the structure of his organization with distinguished fee structures as being contract based retainer fee as against the popular performance based fee.

He pointed out that apart from research and analytical skills, sales and marketing skills are effective in dealing with clients and more of a consultant’s time is spent on such activities as the individual progresses. He discussed his day to day activities including quarterly client meetings, manager selection process etc. He advised the table participants to read extensively and to focus on behavioral finance for self-correction and client correction/dealing to be successful in this field.

 

Manager Due Diligence: Daniel Harris, CFA – Principal, Borealis Strategic Capital Partners, LLC

Harris reviewed his background in the investment consulting, fund of funds, and manager due diligence segments. His current firm is focused on providing seed capital to top tier, early stage investment talent in return for direct economic participation in their growth and success. Harris led a discussion of the hedge fund industry and manager due diligence. He noted that manager due diligence includes reference checks of managers/teams, a thorough track record analysis, and several interviews with managers/teams. It is very important to have an aligned fee structure at the outset and that managers should know their operational level or break even AUM (assets under management). He also noted that it is somewhat more difficult to evaluate quantitative managers but he would focus on their R&D efforts, or what the next alpha signal will be, for example. There are typically several warning signs that put managers on watch lists, including team turnover, AUM size (too big for the strategy), distrust issues, and knowing the reason that managers have sold their business, either to cash out or to get working capital to growth the business.

Harris said that 3 year performance track records are very important and are typical minimums for foundations and endowments for example. Patience is also required. His firm will help hire a CFO and investor relations person if necessary. A manager should also typically have personal money invested in the strategy and/or a large percentage of his net worth in the business, which speaks volumes in terms of alignment incentives. Harris noted that one skill required in manager due diligence is diligent note taking; logging all notes and discussions with individuals and in background interviews. Manager due diligence also includes networking within the industry.

 

Real Estate:  Jimmy Georgantas, CFA, CPA – Assistant Vice President, Asset Management, Boyd Watterson

Boyd Watterson is an asset management firm with a real estate portfolio invested primarily in office assets with over $2.0B in total assets. Boyd operates through three funds with the largest holding $1.5B, or 75% of total real estate assets under management. After a round of introductions, our roundtable discussion started with disruptions that we’re seeing in the real estate market. What many think of as a stable, low volatility, technology-light asset class, real estate is actually being massively impacted by technology. Companies offering shared office space such as WeWork, TechSpace, and Regus are taking large blocks of space in the office sector and then releasing space to smaller users for space ranging from as large as 1kSF to single offices and even just a membership plan offering access to a shared workspace. This dramatic change in the demand profile begs the question what the future of office leases will look like and further what will the tenants demand of their workspaces? What we have seen is that leases rates are getting shorter on average and as a result we’ve seen far less build-to-suit requirements.

The conversation shifted to a very topical retail sector and more specifically shopping malls which have been severely impacted as a result of ~15% annual growth in e-commerce sales. We delved deeper into the what is negatively impacted the sector and we concluded that market sentiment is overly bearish while the majority or retail real estate is experiencing steady occupancy with increasing rents particularly in well located areas. It is also important to realize that not all retail real estate is created equal. Grocery supported retail is still performing phenomenally well while the suburban big box malls in the tertiary markets are struggling. Smaller strip centers in well located areas remain fundamentally sound with the colloquial saying “you can’t get a haircut online”.

Finally, we wrapped up our conversation briefly talking about the commercial mortgage backed securities market (CMBS). This is particularly topical in today’s environment because these securities are typically written with a 10-year term and if you remember the peak of the market before the Great Recession was back almost 10 years ago (2007). Several of the CMBS’s that were issued in 2007 are looking to refinance with their debt coming due in 2017. So far with credit spreads near lows and increasingly low interest rates versus what the market offered in 2007, debtors are able to refinance these loans without much market interruption. To conclude, we can all agree that real estate is relatively illiquid asset class which makes the business a very personal business. Relationships with key leasing and investment sales brokers along with the tenant representatives can be the difference in finding success in this growingly complex marketplace.

 

Wealth Management: Brad Summers, CFA, CPWA, CRPC, Financial Advisor, Wells Fargo

Summers reviewed his background in the investment banking and capital markets before he eventually moved into wealth management. Summers noted several takeaways with regards to why one may consider a career in wealth management including 1) your client base is your own and will generally follow you to another firm if you make a switch, 2) there is flexibility on how to build your client base, 3) there is flexibility on what you do for clients in terms of investing strategies, 4) your career path is as long as you want to keep working with your clients. Summers stated that there are a variety of firms in the wealth management business and fee structures vary as well. A large reputable shop would provide compliance monitoring while a smaller registered investment advisor you may have to perform that role as well. There are also different tasks involved in wealth management including marketing and seeking out new clients to build your base, relationship building with existing clients so they are satisfied and would potentially give you referrals, and staying up to date on industry trends and continuing education. Estate planning is not typically covered in CFA exams but is covered in the CFP, so that would be one area where you would need to learn. There are also additional designations such as CRPC (Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor) and CPWA (Certified Private Wealth Advisor) that can help you differentiate yourself as well. There is no typical day in the job as the diversity of tasks is large but once you are established you will likely spend the majority of your time focused on what you like to do the most.  Summers noted that the career path requires very hard work for up to five years until you have built up a big enough book of business to be stable. If possible, starting your career with a private bank or wealth management firm or working with another advisor would give you good exposure to the holistic client management model.

FEATURED TABLE TOPICS & HOSTS

  1. Equity – International: Bill Fitzpatrick, CFA, Investment Analyst, Manulife
  2. Equity – Research: RJ Bukovac, CFA, CPA, Partner & Equity Research Analyst, William Blair
  3. Fintech: Jim Daley, CEBS, CFA, CFP®, Project Manager, Morningstar
  4. Fixed Income – PM: Brenda Langenfeld, CFA, Portfolio Manager, Nuveen Asset Management, LLC
  5. Fixed Income – Research: Rick Tauber, CFA, CPA, Senior Vice President, Morningstar
  6. Investment Consulting: Chris Caparelli, CFA – Vice President, Marquette Associates
  7. Manager Due Diligence: Daniel Harris, CFA, Principal, Borealis Strategic Capital Partners, LLC
  8. Quantitative Analysis: Shaheen Iqubal, CFA, Senior Quantitative Analyst, UBS Asset Management
  9. Real Estate: Jimmy Georgantas, CFA, CPA, Assistant Vice President, Boyd Watterson Asset Management, LLC
  10. Wealth Management: Brad Summers, CFA, CPWA, CRPC, Financial Advisor, Wells Fargo

Starting Your Own RIA Firm (Part 2): Tips for Marketing and Business Development

Many talented professionals some day dream of having their own business. In the financial industry this usually means being the trusted advisor and investor on behalf of individuals and institutions. On October 4, CFA Society Chicago and its Professional Development Advisory Group assembled a panel to discuss the challenges of building an RIA business for the second part of the Starting Your Own RIA Firm series. The process of business development, brand development and marketing were addressed by the panel.

  • Jennifer Aronson, CFA: Aronson, moderator of the panel, is managing partner with Mosaic Fi, LLC. In that role, she works with family offices and high net-worth individuals. Prior to founding Mosaic, Aronson had over 20 years of experience with Northern Trust and Brinson Partners. She is currently serving on the Board of Directors for CFA Society Chicago for a three year term (2017-2020) and is a member of the CFA Women’s Network Advisory Group.
  • Scott Bosworth, CFA: Bosworth is vice president and regional manager in the Strategic Relationships group of Financial Advisor Services. He is responsible for sales, leadership and management of some of Dimensional’s larger advisory relationships.
  • Andy Kindler: Kindler is managing partner at Xcellero Leadership. Xcellero is focused on facilitating solutions for developing individuals, teams and organizations to spur growth. Kindler has a wealth of experience from different industries both on the corporate side and consulting.
  • Laura Sage: Sage is director of marketing and investor communications at Castle Creek Arbitrage, a relative value hedge fund. Prior to joining Castle Creek, Sage was an independent equity options trader.
  • Mark Toledo, CFA: Toledo has over 40 years of experience providing investment advice to individual and institutional investors. He began his career at Aetna Capital Management and after leaving Mesirow Financial in 2003, he founded Total Portfolio Management, LLC, his own RIA firm. In 2013 he merged his business with Chicago Partners Wealth Advisors.

 

Aronson began the discussion by asking the panel to address the critical tasks of marketing and business development for newly formed RIA firms.

Marketing and Business Development

The panelists agreed that as in any business, a business plan must be created, and that plan must include a path to an effective marketing strategy. The leader of the new advisory firm should spell out his role and have goals. A statement of investment philosophy is critical to the process. Advisors should focus on why they want to do this, what is their passion? You need to stick to your expertise and not try to be everything to anybody. It is important to be true to yourself and be able to tell your story. New RIA’s should attempt to have client meetings scheduled weekly and if you believe a prospective client’s needs are outside of your expertise, refer them to someone else. Client referrals will be critical to your success; often you will get a referral back. It would be useful for a new RIA to have a five-year plan where years one and two would be devoted to getting your story out; you will probably need to pay bills from some other source. Years three through five is when you can expect your business to ramp up.

Targeting Institutional Clients

The universe of potential institutional clients is much smaller. Sage was the panelist with the most experience in this arena. Most pension funds and sovereign wealth funds employ consultants. You will market to the consultant, not the fund directly. There are proprietary databases that contain information on these funds which can be accessed for a fee. There are other platforms similar to “speed dating”, which can gain you some introductions.

Methods to grow the business

  • Social Media: The use of social media is a critical skill to garner and keep clients. Retirees are ubiquitous on social media sites. LinkedIn is a site that can be helpful. Congratulate clients and potential clients on life-events they post online. Follow their work and offer assistance if there are sudden interruptions in their careers. They will remember you for it. A clear and concise website for your business is a must.
  • Referrals: Referrals are the way in which you will grow your business. A vast majority of clients would be happy to give you a referral, however not enough RIA’s ask for this. It is wise to spend time teaching your clients how to sell you. Don’t be shy about asking your client for a referral, however, you never want to put your client on the “spot”, be clear as to why you are asking for this.
  • Public Speaking: The panelists encouraged prospective RIA’s to burnish their public speaking skills. When you present yourself to other people, either publically of privately, be passionate about your expertise. It is important that you are able to communicate your conviction. You may suffer some setbacks, but show no fear in your demeanor. If you are able to keep your level of enthusiasm high, people will want to be part of your success. Clients are more motivated to put their trust in someone who can communicate vision and strategy with confidence.

There was a brief question and answer session with the audience at the end of program. There were inquiries on how to “close”, whether to remain independent or affiliate with an institution, and what functions to outsource. The panelists termed “closing” as the natural outcome of a positive meeting, once again there should be no fear in the “ask.” Typically affiliating with an institution is something that is done after establishing your business. Outsourcing functions can be expensive, but pay dividends down the road. You must look at your skill set to determine if some functions are better left to others.

 

How CFA Charterholders Can Become Investment-Grade Writers

CFA charterholders are by de facto investment writers; Writing is the primary way of communicating investment ideas and we are judged by the quality of our ideas in written format. Bad writing can be a major career risk and it is a skill that we should focus on. There are a few reasons why we financial types typically resist improving our writing skills. One, we say “I’m a numbers person, not a words person.” While you may be a numbers person, you live in a world where you need to be able to be both types of people. Two, you feel that writing is an innate skill and you don’t have it. This is not true, if you focus on writing and practice it, you can become a better writer.

On August 15th, CFA Society Chicago welcomed Scott Wentworth, founder of Wentworth Financial Communications, to help attendees learn how portfolio managers, analysts, and other investment professionals can enhance the returns of their writing efforts by following a disciplined, repeatable process.  Wentworth explained six keys to improving your writing.

  • Trust the Process
  • Tell your Alpha story
  • Don’t bury the Lead
  • Overcome the Curse of Knowledge
  • Attack the Misconceptions
  • Narrow the Scope

Mr. Wentworth noted that in the same way you have an investment process; you also need a process for writing. There are several steps to the writing process including brainstorming, researching, making an outline, writing, and editing. When brainstorming, putting ideas down on paper will help you start identifying themes. When researching, gather your inputs and narrow the focus of the article. Be sure to make an outline, which will help organize the ideas, identify headlines and sub-themes, and will create the roadmap for the article. For the actual writing portion, he suggested getting “chunky” and setting aside blocks of time to write. Writing takes a lot of concentration and you should eliminate as many distractions as possible. Find a different location or empty office, and then just pull the trigger and do it!  The last process of writing is editing. You should first take a mental break and then come back and read your piece out loud. Also have a friend or co-worker edit the article, as it is hard to edit your own work.

When you tell your Alpha story, you need to focus on a compelling way to articulate your thesis, explaining why it exists and telling where it came from in a qualitative manner. You can be more creative in this step. Story telling should incorporate anecdotes, examples, and analogies that help the reader visualize what you are writing about.

The headline is valuable real estate in your article, so don’t bury the lead. You need to be able to capture the reader’s attention span so that they read the article and don’t just skim it. You should write like a journalist: give the conclusion at the beginning and then back it up with your facts and insights.

To overcome the curse of knowledge, put yourself in the reader’s shoes.  Avoid writing over their heads and say things clearly and plainly; be sure to avoid jargon. When you make a complicated topic accessible, you appear smarter to your audience. Be sure to spell out your line of reasoning and take them through your thesis step by step.

When attacking the misconceptions you should be aware of what the audience knows. Then focus on completing their level of knowledge by addressing the myths and facts. It will also allow you to make the topic relevant to your audience. This also saves time and will keep your article focused and shorter in length.

To narrow the scope of an article, it is better to go deep into the subject to showcase your expertise. If the scope is too broad, your article will be too big and too long. Smaller pieces allow more specific insights and avoid high level general insights.

In review, the six keys to improving your writing are trust the process, tell your Alpha story, don’t bury the lead, overcome the curse of knowledge, attack the misconceptions, and narrow the scope.  If you are able to follow these key items, you will be able to produce good writing and improve your writing skills and communication with your clients.

Four Tips to Launch a Successful Finance Career

If you’re just beginning your career in finance, you might feel your career path is defined; head down, work hard, and eventually the real career choices will present themselves down the road. This is of course true to an extent – the finance industry certainly demands earning your stripes – but that doesn’t mean you can’t begin opening up doors during those early years.

You may already be studying for the CFA exams, which is an important milestone in the career of most investment professional’s careers. As you navigate the roughly four years that it takes to complete the three levels of the CFA Program, it’s important to do whatever you can to make these as meaningful as possible.

These tips should help you do just that:

Read, and read ravenously.

Read everything in our field that you can get your hands on (including and beyond the CFA curriculum). Try to read broadly across topics and disciplines; for example, if you’re in equities, take time to learn about credit or commodities to make yourself more well-rounded. Ask people you meet what they read and what they enjoyed learning.

An incredible array of opportunities exist in finance, and the more areas and disciplines you know the more opportunities you’ll have. The most successful people spend a good portion of their day devouring information, asking questions and listening.

Avoid networking at your own peril. (And put the phone away).

Not everyone is an extrovert, and that’s okay. Everyone, though, can benefit from the opportunities made through networking, whether for friendship, commerce or career.

You’ve been reading (you have been reading, right?), so you have strong points of view and pointed questions to ask. Put the phone away, be confident and ask smart questions. Most folks love the opportunity to explain what they do, and they will see you as someone willing to take initiative if you initiate a good conversation.

Don’t procrastinate getting an advanced credential.

I think you need at least one advanced credential (if not two) to compete in today’s job market. Both a CFA charter and MBA are highly useful for financial professionals, so avoid a long, protracted process on deciding which one to get. The earlier you begin the process, the higher the lifetime dividend.

In my case, I immediately plunged into the CFA curriculum just a year into my career, and that gave me a big boost. It helped me interview for jobs that I would never have the opportunity to land otherwise. I strongly believe having a CFA charter in your 20s or early 30s will offer more career optionality down the line.

Listen to yourself.

In those first few years, keep a keen eye out for moments where you feel in the flow, or when you are the happiest during your job. Ask yourself what were you doing during those moments and what about that project or job aspect you really liked. How can you structure your future career to include more of those types of situations?

I’d also suggest taking time to reflect on what you want out of a career. While having money and a challenging, important job is great, many folks find that they are happier with more of a work-life balance, and understanding how much of each aspect you need to make yourself happy is key.

So, hit those books! And remember to keep these tips in mind – when that door does open for you, you’ll be poised to take full advantage of the opportunity.

Big Ideas: Evolving Trends and Skills on the Minds of Investment Professionals

What is happening to the investment industry? Where are we heading? How can I keep up? And, more often, how can I stay ahead of the curve? I attended more than 100 events for CFA Society Chicago in the last year, and nearly every time I find that small talk between CFA charterholders quickly turns to big ideas such as these.

We’re an analytical group, so it comes as no surprise to me that most of our members already understand that the investment industry is rife with change. Many already feel it in their daily work. And as I move between conversations and events, I know that no professional is more prepared for the future than a charterholder.

Take technology, for example. Blockchain, robo-advisors, high-speed trading, you name it; it’s impossible to deny their growing presence in our industry. These forces, along with the emergence of passive investments and ETFs, have put downward pressure on fees. This is great for investors as they will be able to gain more from their investments. However, these forces also put downward pressure on investment companies’ revenues. This leads to an arms race to collect assets, increase use of collective investments (as individual stock analysis is expensive), and ramp up technological investments.

Technical competence is essential to help investors navigate this rapidly changing environment. Starting in 2019, the CFA program curriculum will contain questions on data mining in order to keep this technical edge sharp. For future years, CFA Institute is even considering artificial intelligence questions. At CFA Society Chicago, we have and continue to explore these topics for professional development sessions that keep our members up to speed.

However, technical competence is not enough. As the needs of investors and the nature of investment practice change, ‘soft skills’ are becoming just as essential. Skillful client communication and presentation, brand building, networking, leadership, and improvisation are often needed to provide maximum value to clients. CFA Society Chicago members have already begun taking advantage of the new soft skill workshop developed by our Professional Development Advisory Group.

Ethics, though, will be the skill that will keep us on the right track. Confidence in our profession can only be built through a commitment to a high standard of ethics and embracing rules that protect the rights of investors. Charterholders already lead this charge. Charterholders are already rigorously trained in ethics and embrace the Statement of Investor Rights as drafted by CFA Institute. Furthermore, CFA Institute is a staunch advocate of a universal fiduciary standard.

Whether technical, “soft,” or ethical, every challenge our members see presents an opportunity to demonstrate their skills to meet them – some new, and some old. It’s just another chance for charterholders to prove their value.