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Morning Coffee: The CFA sabotage squad. Goldman Sachs’ surprisingly productive Twitter feud

Woody Allen famously said that 80% of success is just about showing up. Although he probably wasn’t talking about the CFA qualification, the CFA Institute might consider including that quote in its brochures, because for the last four years, roughly 20% of candidates registered to take its exams don’t make it to the hall. And although the institute does its best to get that number down, it’s unlikely to succeed, because the reason for a lot of these no-shows is actually quite sinister.

Because although the institute can give leeway for childcare emergencies and calendar clashes, and do its best to mitigate exam nerves, everyone, including the CFA Institute itself, knows that one of the biggest causes of CFA exam no-shows is work pressure. The CFA is a qualification which is typically taken by early-career employees in markets and investment banking jobs, and these are some of the most time squeezed people there are. The qualification is described as “a marathon, not a sprint”, but to many candidates, it feels more like training for an Iron Man triathlon while also holding down a day job running marathons in lead diving boots.

The CFA Institute encourages employers to “support their employees on their CFA journey”, and that support is the crucial issue. There’s not much that can be done if you’re unlucky enough to suddenly hit the crunch period of a billion-dollar deal on the day when you were meant to be sitting the exam. But those circumstances are comparatively rare. What’s much more common is the situation where someone no-shows because they are aware there is no point in sitting the test, because their initial estimates of how much studying they were going to be able to do have turned out to be hopelessly over optimistic.

And what’s the root cause of that? Well…sometimes there’s a reasonable excuse, workload is unpredictable, but it’s also often the case that the promised study leave turned out not to be given because the boss fundamentally doesn’t want you to get that CFA qualification. He knows that you’re trying to get it in order to further your own career ambitions, and that those career ambitions might not include continuing to do what you’re told for him. People who pass qualifications tend to ask for raises and to look for promotions. The ideal junior employee is the one who’s got enough smarts and experience to ace the CFA, but somehow never seems to get it.

You won’t find anyone admitting that they do this, obviously. It’s real bad-boss behaviour, and destructive to morale over the long term. But there are plenty of selfish and short-sighted managers out there, and it definitely happens. If you’re looking at joining a team, and it seems to have people on it who have CFA study guides on their desks from three or four years ago (but who’ve never taken the exam), that ought to be a really big red flag.

Elsewhere, Lloyd Blankfein’s ongoing Twitter beef with US Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is beginning to become an election issue. As we’ve noted before, it’s quite entertaining as these things go; the Goldman movie showed that Lloyd is naturally sharp-witted and enjoys a quip, while the socialist Senator from Vermont has just the temperament to keep rising to the bait. It seems to be a rare social media interaction in which both sides have something to gain. Sanders has added Goldman Sachs to his populist “anti-endorsement list”, while Blankfein gets an opportunity to remind everyone of his own rags-to-riches story and to point out that while the two protagonists are “both millionaires from Brooklyn” (actually, LB is probably a billionaire unless he’s had some bad luck since 2015), Bernie actually grew up in a significantly nicer neighbourhood than the famous Linden Projects.

And Goldman Sachs’ public relations team can’t be too disappointed at the way things have turned out. Although it’s clear which side they’re cheering for, they can’t be held responsible for anything their retired CEO says, and in the meantime his well-pitched and never too aggressive social media burns help to humanise the brand in a way that a corporate response to Bernie Sanders’ accusations never could.


In a different political corner from the Lloyd and Bernie show, Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg has hired a former Goldman VP to be his national policy director. (Yahoo News)

“Burnout” is a bit of a problem word, as it can describe anything from feeling tired after a few all nighters, to clinical depression that needs urgent medical treatment. Comments from FT readers seem to cover this whole spectrum; there’s some fairly good advice there, but not necessarily for everyone. (FT)

The Paris market for top-tier investment bankers continues to be a hot spot; UBS has now hired Nicolas Paquet from Barclays to be head of French M&A under their recently hired head of investment banking, Regis Turrini. (Financial News)

Ten years after the scandals first broke, the Switzerland/US tax agreement has been finalised, putting an end to the episode that cost the Swiss banking industry tens of billions of dollars. (Finews)

At JP Morgan, there’s a new opportunity for Marc Badrichiani to fill a top vacancy with one of his own people, as James Pearce leaves the head of credit sales post after 23 years at the bank. (Financial News)

Philip Wehle, the new head of wealth management replacing Iqbal Khan at Credit Suisse, has strong growth ambitions and a surprisingly robust attitude to political risk. (Finews)

Martin Shkreli, the infamous “Pharma Bro” has lost the appeal against his jail sentence. (Bloomberg)

People who work in banks can get surprisingly attached to the IT that they use every day, and don’t like to see them go. Bank of America’s CTO reckons that he has to be both a psychologist and a sociologist to decide when to get rid of old systems. (Business Insider)

And how does it feel when your boss is an algorithm? Generally, not too good. (Bloomberg)

Image credit: kontrast-fotodesign, Getty

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AUTHORDaniel Davies Insider Comment

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