A week ago I attended the annual CFA Charterholder ceremony in San Diego, California. I was asked to say a few words to new charterholders and wanted to share with you the experience.
As you will soon read, my talk’s two main themes were that (1) the CFA Institute provides a roadmap of the “right things to do” as investment professionals, and (2) that passing the CFA program should be viewed as an opportunity, not an award.
“I want to thank Rafi for his speech. I would also like to thank Michelle and Stacy, our board's managing directors, for planning and organizing this wonderful event and for allowing me to speak for a few brief moments.”
“It was only two years ago that I sat where you now sit. And so I can’t reflect on a career as a CFA charterholder and I didn’t earn the right to offer you an advice on your future career. Instead, I will share with you my personal story, since the time I earned the charter.”
“For me, it started when Vanessa, our society's current president, asked if I would be interested in applying for a board position. I knew very little about volunteering for a non-profit and did not know what to expect."
"Frankly, when she said “board position,” I initially thought she was asking a surfing-related question. Yet within a few months, I would represent our society in a regional conference and I would also fly to Philadelphia to attend the Annual CFA Investment Conference."
"If it wasn’t for Vanessa, I probably would not have met, in person, Robert Shiller and John Bogle, nor would I have the chance to speak with you tonight.”
“Now, let’s talk in terms of employment. A few months after I earned the charter, my employer inquired whether I’d be interested in a client-facing position. Soon enough, I turned from a back-of-the-room junior-analyst to a client-facing banker, where I now directly interact with other banks, institutional clients and REITS."
"I don’t think I would have gotten the opportunity to work with these clients, nor would I know how to interact with them, unless I had the knowledge and confidence I gained through the CFA program.”
“So, I hope my short story illustrates that today, you are really not given an award, but an opportunity. You did great by passing all levels of the CFA exam. But now is the beginning of even harder work. It is harder work because you now have to define for yourself what kind of an investment professional you would like to be. Here’s an illustration.”
“If any one of the new charterholders was walking down the street and saw a person drop a hundred dollar bill, they would immediately return the bill to its owner, right? And if I would ask any one of them why they did not keep the bill for themselves, they would probably answer, 'it was the right thing to do.'”
“Well, if we stop and think about it for a moment, there is nothing natural about this answer. In fact, it would be much more natural to take what you can. And to rationalize the decision with “well, it’s not illegal.” As a matter of fact, it takes many years of practice before we define for ourselves “the right thing to do.”
“Similarly, the CFA Institute has provided new and current charterholders with a roadmap of “the right thing to do” as investment professionals. And instead of “learning on the fly,” you were given a roadmap of lessons learned so that you don’t have to experience them for yourselves. And, if you use it correctly, you will see that this roadmap is of much greater value than a hundred dollar.”
“Finally, an award is given for something you have done in the past. An opportunity is a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something in the future. And that's where I hope you will set your attention from now on: on your future as a chartered financial analyst.”