For many young business professionals, deciding to sit for the all-encompassing Chartered Financial Analyst exam may seem like volunteering to wrestle a bear.
Still, as panelists from the CFA Society Miami explained to a room filled with Florida International University (FIU) College of Business students, the test yields a top-notch credential while reinforcing knowledge acquired in school.
“The process is unlike anything you’ve done before,” said panelist Christopher Lentz, managing director of Ackman-Ziff Real Estate Group. “The depth and breadth of information is staggering. Those who have it know what you’ve been through to get it.”
His message was echoed by panel colleagues Marcel G. Laniado, vice president and investment specialist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank in Miami; Duncan T. Blount, responsible for Emerging and Frontier Markets Commodities at RWC Partners; and Lynn Herald, wealth management advisor at TIAA. Moira McLachlan, senior portfolio manager, Bernstein Global Wealth Management, moderated the March 2, 2016 event held at FIU Downtown on Brickell.
The evening’s presentation was the first partnership between FIU’s Master of Science in Finance program and Miami’s CFA society. It gave students a chance to hear about the panelists’ experiences, and network with them and CFA Society Miami board members before and after the event.
“I always encourage (students to sit for) the CFA,” said Shahid Hamid, professor and chair, FIU College of Business’ Finance Department and a society member since the 90s. “It covers everything: accounting, different areas of finance, economics, statistics.” It’s the field’s most difficult certification, he said, and translates into a big professional step up.
Certification helps professionals get what they need.
McLachlan asked panelists about their work and how luck and opportunity factored into their journeys. Each participant had their own story. But all showed persistence in identifying and pursuing their goals.
Lentz’s father was a banker, and he felt that might be his direction as well. Still, he said, he wasn’t inspired by today’s data-heavy practice. Lehman Brothers gave him his first taste of commercial real estate. After its bankruptcy, he worked at Lazard, earned an MBA and sat for the CFA exam. Eventually, he decided Miami offered more opportunities than New York or other East Coast cities.
“Real estate is a tangible asset, I understand it well from Lehman,” Lentz said. “I knew it suited my skills well, and I was confident that my work was worth more than what anybody would pay me – working on commission suited me.”
He signed with Ackman-Ziff because he hit it off with Principal Robert Kaplan. “I knew my mentor was going to be an impressive individual and I knew I would learn the most from him.”
For Laniado, “what helped me was constantly evaluating myself,” he said, giving as an example his decision to improve his knowledge by staying abreast of current events and new market trends. “I also worked to see things from the perspective of my clients so that I could better identify opportunities or potential issues.”
“What experience was pivotal?” McLachlan asked.
“I think the hard skills,” Blount said. “Working on models 24 hours a day (as he did early in his career as a first and second year analyst) you don’t sleep.” And, he added, you will “learn Excel “better than you speak English.”
Lentz also cautioned students that the CFA – and a career — is a long race. “Don’t be frustrated where you currently are, learn as much as possible.” Along the way, find mentors who invest in you, he said: “That is really what shaped my career the most.”
Student attendees were happy with the panelists’ openness on a difficult professional challenge. “FIU is highly committed to providing students and alumni the greatest networking opportunities — through different sources — that help us achieve our professional and personal goals,” said Claudia Rubio, who is earning a master’s in finance and already has an international real estate master’s obtained at FIU.