More back office employees are taking the CFA, just to keep up with their peers

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Kate Lander, the new head of education for the CFA Institute’s EMEA operation, is keen to point out that taking the qualification doesn’t automatically open up career opportunities. In the “buyer’s employment market”, the CFA is more likely to demonstrate your commitment to finance than have a potential new employer open their door to you, and needs to be combined with work experience.

This attitude is reflected in her career path – she spent years in education, primarily teaching the CFA qualification, before moving to Northern Trust in 2005, initially as head of fixed income, securities lending and then as a transition management specialist: “I went into banking to gain some exposure to the real world of financial markets – there’s only so much you can learn in the classroom. However, education was always a passion and I intended to go back into it, so when the opportunity at the CFA came up I saw it as a chance to combine my training and practical expertise.”

With more new entrants to the CFA coming from Asia, is there a need to reinvigorate its appeal in EMEA?

The Indian and Chinese markets are the fastest growing for new CFA candidates, which we find encouraging, but we’re not concerned about the sign-up rate in Europe. We still have some very fast-growing markets in EMEA – notably the UAE (35% increase since 2011), South Africa (17%) and Russia (29%).

In the current competitive job market in London’s financial services market, is a qualification like the CFA really enough to enhance your employment prospects?

I don’t think having the CFA charter alone will automatically mean you’re able to secure a new job – it’s a buyer’s market and employers are being very selective with who they take on. People need the right blend of attitude, experience and qualifications and the 300 hours of study required to pass each level of the CFA exams is a clear demonstration of commitment, as well as the ethical side of the business which is more important to employers now.

Around 23% of CFA Program candidates are students. Are you targeting university students with the qualification? Is this an alternative to, say, a Masters in Finance?

Working with universities is one of the key elements of our outreach programme – we work with 3,500 students at 775 universities through our annual Research Challenge competition. We’re trying to encourage more undergraduates to increase their knowledge of the financial sector before they leave university so that they’re prepared for the workplace, but it’s more about getting them off to the right start than encouraging them to take the CFA in addition to their studies.

We’re hearing of MBA students also studying for the CFA in order to enhance their job prospects. Are people having to be more qualified than ever to make it today?

It just shows how tough the job market is at the moment. The debate about whether to take an MBA or study for the CFA has been ongoing for some time. The MBA will give you the combination of management and softer skills valued by employees at a slightly later stage in your career, but the CFA Program will supply the technical expertise. In the current climate, it’s about trying to differentiate yourself from the competition, so there’s definitely an argument for doing both, depending on the direction you would like to push your career.

Do people take the CFA Program in order to make career switches? If so, can you give some examples?

Not necessarily to switch careers entirely, but they definitely use it as a tool to facilitate a move into a different part of the business. Historically, people in middle office positions would have used the CFA to gravitate towards a front office position, but we’re now seeing more people in back office positions signing up. This is not necessarily even with a view to switch into a revenue generating role – the world of finance is much more competitive and complex than it was ten years ago, so financial services employees in any role need to demonstrate a greater depth of knowledge.

Over 80% of candidates who signed up to the pilot version of your new Claritas qualification passed. What’s their typical background and what’s their aim from a career perspective?

Most people are from outside the ‘core’ elements of finance – operations, IT, sales, marketing, legal and even journalists writing about the markets. Again, most people don’t view it as a passport to a new job, but something that will help them perform their job better and demonstrate skill-sets that current or future employers would find attractive.

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