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:
- 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.
- 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).
- External Catalysts—Increasing importance of technology, data, automation, and even artificial intelligence, are the primary external catalysts.
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.
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.
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.