With the prospering mainland China finance sector churning out a growing pool of analysts, Hong Kong financiers have to work that much harder. The self-study, graduate-level CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) programme, culminating in the professional CFA designation, opens doors to international exposure and a varied skill set.
Good presentation skills are essential for investment professionals, regardless of their job functions, says Richard Mak, CFA, head of advisory, Asia, BNP Paribas Private Bank. "Research analysts' expertise lies in their knowledge of the industries they're working in. Yet they must be able to present information and ideas convincingly in order to win the business of potential clients," Mr Mak notes.
Communication skills are important too, and investment professionals should be flexible when interacting with clients. Analysts need to have good listening skills to understand their clients' needs while also be able to raise appropriate questions to management teams during company visits.
Broadening the horizons
International exposure often helps develop soft skills, and overseas education and work experience add value, says Mr Mak, pointing out that this does depend on the financial markets in question. London or New York experience provides a definite edge, but the Hong Kong market is also well developed, giving investment professionals broad exposure and solid training.
While global firms in Hong Kong tend to offer more comprehensive training and networking opportunities, Mr Mak cautions that young investment professionals should consider the roles they will play in such companies, as well as the level of experience they can expect to gain. "A frontline job in a local company may offer a better start than working as an assistant in the back office of a global firm," he remarks.
General management is a viable career option, but not always popular among analysts, says Mr Mak. "It would be easier for an analyst on the buy side to become a fund manager. There are actually not many general management options for research analysts and many high-profile analysts would much prefer to stay in their positions and focus on developing their expertise rather than to move into people management," he adds.
Solid research skills and knowledge of the different sectors are prerequisites for candidates aspiring to management status. "The specific knowledge required varies from job to job, but all analysts should develop their organisational skills, as they will be expected to set the direction for their teams in the future," he notes.
Many young analysts are interested in building their research career in mainland China, but Mr Mak cautions that this is not generally an easy option, as solid knowledge of mainland accounting principles and regulations, as well as field experience in developing industries, are crucial for breaking into this market. In addition, the number of CFA charterholders in mainland China is growing steadily. Many of them were educated overseas and possess excellent language skills.
Yet, it is not impossible for Hong Kong analysts to break into the China market, Mr Mak says. "Analysts considering the mainland market should work on expanding their knowledge, both of society and market structure, and seek opportunities to gain field experience across the border. Good proficiency in written Chinese and Mandarin are another prerequisite." He adds that international experience may provide Hong Kong candidates with an edge, while well-developed presentation skills may also be an advantage.
Futher, the development of the China market and the increase in the number of mainland CFAs present one of the biggest challenges for Hong Kong professionals, Mr Mak believes. He predicts that most global firms will be moving their China research teams from Hong Kong to the mainland in future. The growing prominence of H-shares on the Hong Kong stock market is also increasing the competition between Hong Kong analysts and their mainland China counterparts. It is crucial for local professionals to reinforce their position through ongoing education.
Mr Mak says, "The CFA curriculum covers a wide scope of investment knowledge and equips candidates with essential tools for financial and investment analysis." He advises that investment professionals obtain the designation as early as possible in their careers, since competition with their mainland counterparts is most intense at junior level.
Apart from strong language and presentation skills, good understanding of ethical conduct standards in global financial markets will stand analysts in good stead when seeking opportunities at global firms, says Mr Mak.