Building a solid foundation

by Colette Wong

Patricia Lau, director
equity risk management
Photo: Nolly Leung

Evolving structured products bring new opportunities to budding financial analysts

In order to cater to increasingly sophisticated client needs, financial analysts must keep abreast of the latest market trends and be up to date with knowledge particularly in new or less familiar products.

For instance, analysts working in the field of structured products are inevitably tasked with product development, a role that requires keen observation and foresight, as new products must meet the demands of the market while keeping up with new trends, notes Patricia Lau, director, equity risk management, UBS.

An engineering graduate, Ms Lau joined UBS in 2002 and was quick to build up her financial knowledge through her work in the equity capital markets team. She switched to her current role three years ago and found that the move brought her into a much more dynamic investment world.

"UBS offers an ideal platform for aspirants in the business. New recruits undergo six weeks of training in London or the US, getting an initial feel of the global financial markets," Ms Lau says. "Considering our company's worldwide network, there is great emphasis on teamwork and we have plenty of opportunities to coordinate with team members in our overseas offices."

Market response

Ms Lau embarked on the three-year Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) programme in an effort to broaden her skill sets and perspectives. She passed her examinations two years ago and found the programme instrumental in her adaptation to her current role. "The programme has been particularly helpful to me, as I had no formal training in finance at university. It has given me comprehensive training in financial and investment knowledge, plus new business insight," Ms Lau says. "My CFA studies have also enabled me to see the bigger picture when it comes to financial markets. Through my studies, I've developed a real interest in derivatives and have acquired knowledge that is relevant to the structuring of products."

At UBS, financial analysts working in the structured products field collaborate closely with other departments, she says. "There are many opportunities for new CFAs to explore the global financial market and look into new investment solutions. Such exposure is helpful for employees switching to different job functions, which is very much encouraged in our company."

In her current position, Ms Lau focuses mainly on the structured product retail markets in Hong Kong and Singapore. She enjoys taking the initiative when designing new products and appreciates the flexibility and room for creativity within her chosen profession. "It gives me great satisfaction to see my products available at retail banks," she says.

Evolving field

The structured products business is particularly appealing to young, dynamic CFAs, Ms Lau points out. The ever-changing market sentiment, coupled with new regulations and technology in this evolving field lead to constantly changing products and marketing strategies. CFAs must not only keep a close eye on market trends, but also pay constant attention to their clients' changing demands.

"For example, products that used to be the exclusive preserve of private banking clients are now appearing with increasing frequency in the retail market. With a wider variety of products available, a whole range of interesting opportunities are open for retail investors," Ms Lau explains. "In accordance with market sentiment, different types of creative investment solutions are being tailored to suit individual investors' needs. CFAs must have a firm understanding of all the various factors involved and pick the right products for their clients. Alternatively, they must package products in new ways that relate to current trends."

Ms Lau believes adaptability is the key to success in this fast-moving world and that the CFA designation offers a definite advantage, as it shows that a candidate has mastered a broad range of investment knowledge and is dedicated to continuous learning.

"Newcomers to the field of structured products get to work on different aspects of the business," she emphasises. "Depending on individual performance, CFAs may move up the corporate ladder at varied speed."

New CFAs are encouraged to consider their fields of interest in the financial market and rotate through different jobs if possible. "This will give them the exposure and edge to progress in their careers in the long term," Ms Lau concludes.


Taken from Career Times 23 May 2008, p. A8
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