Having spent more than 17 years of his career as an equity investment specialist, Richard Mak believes it was the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) programme and a lot of hard work that helped him move on to the next stage in his career.
Mr Mak started his investment banking career in sales as a broker in the early 1990s after graduating from the University of Hong Kong with a tremendous interest in finance.
Searching for a programme that could lead him to expand his knowledge of the industry and following a friend's recommendation, he learned about CFA Institute and its self-study qualification programme.
Along with about 80 other candidates in Hong Kong, Mr Mak embarked on the programme in 1991, which was not very well known at the time, he recalls. "We didn't have the privilege of accessing and sending information in a fast and user-friendly way through the Internet and other technology like we do now. I got a photocopy of the application form from one of my friends and had to send my application to the US by fax. There were only about 120 candidates in Hong Kong for all three levels of the programme in 1991," says Mr Mak.
Road to specialisation
After earning his CFA designation in 1993 by passing the three levels of examinations and possessing the required relevant work experience, he seized an opportunity in 1995 to move into the investment management business. He managed equity portfolios for an European insurance company and mutual funds until 2003. Looking back, he believes the CFA programme laid a solid foundation for him to move on to the second stage of his career on the buy-side.
"Level one laid the foundation for me to master the basic tools in financial analysis while level two enabled me to focus on applying those tools to investment analysis. Level three was instrumental in building my fundamental understanding of portfolio management and investment decision making processes," Mr Mak notes.
After spending 17 years as an equity specialist, Mr Mak made a significant shift in his career path in 2003 to get into the private wealth management industry. Thanks to the booming Asian economy, especially in China, wealth accumulation by Asian entrepreneurs accelerated rapidly in the past two decades. The private banking industry experienced tremendous growth in Asia and created huge demand for investment professionals to serve high net-worth individual investors. Like many of his peers, Mr Mak undertook a major career conversion to explore the attractive opportunities offered by the industry.
Change of pace
With limited experience in the private banking business, given his specialisation in equity investment, Mr Mak again relied on the CFA programme. "My career conversion from managing institutional funds to private funds was a big change for me. Thanks to the knowledge on various asset classes gathered from the CFA programme, which is designed as a generalist programme, the conversion process was smoother than I expected. The programme really turned out to be a long-term asset that is both practical and valuable the second time around," he says.
Currently the head of equities advisory ¡X Asia at BNP Paribas Private Bank, Mr Mak spends most of his time leading a team of equity specialists in providing investment advice to their clients on global equities. Mr Mak is the president's council representative for the Asia-Pacific region of CFA Institute. From 2002 to 2005, he was also the president of The Hong Kong Society of Financial Analysts, the affiliate member society of CFA Institute in Hong Kong and a non-profit organisation comprising members who are mostly local CFA charterholders. He is also a member of the examination committee of the Hong Kong Securities Institute and the investment committee of the University of Hong Kong.
His advice to young professionals in the field is "to work hard and work smart", be patient while learning through economic cycles and stay competitive by continuing education, which is key. Being proactive is also important for prospective entrants as much investment knowledge and skills sets are accumulated through on-the-job training and most mentors are usually too busy to coach unless people take the initiative to ask the right questions. "Solid experience is important and that takes time, but those who are willing to take the extra step will always shine," he stresses.
While communication skills and a strong personality are important in today's competitive market, Mr Mak emphasises the importance of continuous education. "If you stop learning, you may easily become a 'dinosaur' in the investment business. New products and services are being developed every day in this industry and it's important to stay on top of the game, know the latest trends and be prepared to serve the clients' needs," he says.
"The CFA programme is only the first step of a life-long learning process and although a CFA designation doesn't guarantee you a long-term successful career in the investment business, it is an ingredient that can help you on your way," Mr Mak concludes.