Ashvin Vibhakar, managing director of Asia Pacific operations, CFA Institute, talks to us about ethical investment, the importance of a global qualification, getting through all that study, and the remarkable popularity of the CFA charter in Asia.
It’s all about ethics
Vibhakar says the CFA programme is developed through “practice analysis”, which includes surveys of investment professionals around the world and focus groups with members and industry leaders, to determine the knowledge, skills and competencies that are most relevant to the profession. “We are always asking financial leaders what’s important to them – that’s what makes the CFA relevant and current.”
The charter is well perceived in terms of educational, professional and ethical standards, says Vibhakar. “Our emphasis on ethics means working in the interests of the client. We adhere to the general principle that markets respond to ethical standards.”
He thinks that the CFA’s value becomes even more apparent during periods of economic turmoil. “The GFC was caused mainly by greed, people not doing due diligence, and violations of ethics. We promote an ethical, transparent market and believe that in order to invest money, people have to trust you and trust the market. If trust in the markets is waning, the CFA charter has added advantages.”
The CFA charter also acts as a “benchmark” that is recognised throughout the financial world because most firms like employing people with an international qualification, according to Vibhakar.
“It’s a global passport. You can travel everywhere and everyone will know exactly what you have gone through. I met a woman in Sydney recently who was from Pakistan, and she told me that the CFA got her through the door into her new job.”
That MBA question
Although some financial professionals consider the CFA as an alternative to doing an MBA, Vibhakar has a different point of view. “We never claim to compete with any degree programme – we are purely finance based. Don’t look at the CFA as a substitute to your degree, look at it as a compliment.”
“In the finance field it’s something that gives you an edge: practical knowledge and a relevant curriculum. It’s based on what the industry itself considers relevant. It’s also a global gold standard: while there are thousands of MBAs, of differing quality, there’s only one CFA.”
Vibhakar warns candidates not to treat the CFA programme like a university course. “It’s self study – you’re not going to class every day. It’s critical that candidates discipline themselves. Based on our survey, candidates spend at least 300 hours to study each level of exams.”
Enrol early to give yourself sufficient time before the exams and do a few hours of study every day are two key pieces of advice. “People can get into trouble. It’s a rigorous programme, you can’t cram at the last minute. But it is possible – I did mine with two kids, working full time. I did an hour or two each night when the kids had gone to bed.”
“We also provide candidates guidance, such as learning-outcome statements, which give them a checkpoint as to whether they have mastered the knowledge required after studying the curriculum.”
The amount of CFA charterholders (e.g. people who have successfully passed all three levels of exams and accumulated at least four years of relevant work experience) and CFA candidates has been growing in Asia Pacific.
Charterholder numbers have expanded from 11,670 people in 2007 to 16,170 today. Hong Kong boasts the highest proportion (5,088, or 31.5 per cent of the Asia Pacific total) and the other top markets are Singapore (2,731) and China (2,257).
Perhaps more importantly for the future, 43 per cent of CFA exam registrations came from Asia Pacific in fiscal year 2011. And the growth is mainly coming emerging countries like China and India, which have 26,030 and 20,460 candidates registering for 2011 exams respectively, making those markets the second and third largest behind the US.
Vibhakar says this growth indicates that people in the region value professional development and want to distinguish themselves from others in the industry.
Are you toying with starting the CFA charter. Are you already a candidate or charterholder? Was it worth it? Did the CFA help get you a job? Let us know below.