The CFA® Program: Why I did it, and why I encourage other women to pursue it, too!
Women remain significantly underrepresented in the finance community, and there are challenges to advancement. In my opinion, the main challenges include getting in the door at top firms and gaining the respect of our male colleagues. Holding the CFA designation helps provide knowledge and personal conviction from having accomplished such a difficult goal, as well as many other important skills and success criteria. I encourage all women in finance to consider working on the CFA Program or other forms of advanced education for the benefits of heightened industry knowledge, a broadened network, and increased career-related confidence. Given the recent dialogue around diversity and breaking financial industry norms, I am excited to share my personal experience with other women who are either considering the CFA Program or currently pushing through the curriculum.
In 2010, I was the head trader at a well-respected European hedge fund in New York for over three years. It was an interesting time in financial markets, especially given the responsibility of trading our portfolio through the financial crisis of 2007–09. I was the only woman on the investment/trading side of the firm, as is often the case, but I never felt “less than” because of my gender. Our firm was happy to hire talented women into key front-office positions, and I thrived in my head trader role. I truly enjoyed the fast-paced environment and the constant search for the best deal—trading an illiquid block of shares, difficult negotiations to ensure great option prices, and working on interesting proprietary trades.
I had always wanted to work on Wall Street, and luckily my parents encouraged me to follow my goal of pursuing a career in finance, “boys club” or not. In the beginning of my career, I remember one of my first interviewers had asked me why I wanted to work in such a male-dominated field as finance. I didn’t worry about being outside the norm in the finance community; I was rather keen to join an industry that excited me. I remember answering the query with ease, and most importantly, I remember the feeling of achievement when I was offered the job.
While I was actively learning each day in my role, gaining experience trading the portfolio and learning about our investment approach, I knew that it would take more training for me to grow professionally. I wanted to learn more about finance concepts such as valuations, portfolio construction, and active investing. Most of our portfolio team had their CFA designations, and I weighed the decision to study for my CFA charter against enrolling in an MBA program. Reviewing the costs, time commitment, and desire to shift toward investing from trading, I made the decision to pursue the CFA charter in 2010, with the encouragement of my portfolio manager, colleagues, friends, and family as well.
Dealing in European, US, and Asian markets, it was never a simple task to find the time to devote to studying. With a professional schedule that constantly required trading markets overnight, I found allocating a set number of hours to study was important, but I also kept my personal schedule as flexible as possible to adjust and pivot when a window opened to hit the books. I utilized many resources to complete the program, including the Schweser study notes, CFA curriculum, NYSSA course, lots of family support, knowledgeable friends, and a fantastic professional tutor who helped me master the calculus-like problems, like those in Level II involving swaps.
Women are fantastic planners in my view, something I’ve seen with many successful woman friends managing busy careers, personal lives, families, and tasks. I recommend utilizing this innate skill to establish a study plan early in the process, with lots of time to adjust for a successful progression from Level I to completing the program. As my study plan involved both a set number of hours and targeted goals to hit within the curriculum each week, I could spend extra time on a section that was more challenging, while moving more quickly through areas I had strength in.
Women also often thrive in an environment where there is teamwork and collaboration, so I highly recommend finding your study buddy early on to help each other in areas of the curriculum where each of you has strengths. In my CFA journey, I met one of my now-closest industry friends, Jennifer, in a CFA prep class. We spent many weekends at the library together working on practice exams, reviewing tough problems, and exchanging ideas on solutions. It was extremely helpful to have a friend working toward the same goal and being a source of support along the way.
Once I passed Level III of the CFA Program, I was relieved, happy, and proud of my accomplishment. Completing the Program provided me with both the tools and the confidence to speak up in team meetings addressing stock selection, market views, and many other decisions driving our fund’s performance. That said, the hard work of leveraging my CFA designation to find the next compelling opportunity to advance my career was just beginning. Doors do not necessarily start opening in the investment-management community just because you have the CFA designation, but it does lend credibility to your character that you can set a plan and stick to it over a significant period of time.
So cheers to you, women and men, who are putting in the long hours and continuing to strive for professional growth. Keep pushing toward your finish line!
About the Author
Joanna Horowitz, CFA, is currently a Senior Consultant for Monticello Consulting Group’s Alternative Investment Advisory. With over a decade of experience, Joanna has managed the Marketing and Investor Relations functions for a boutique hedge fund, having unique, hands-on experience with global markets. She previously managed all trading activity at the firm, including equities, hedges, derivatives, and FX trading for a hedge fund during multiple market crises. Ms. Horowitz received her BA from Towson University and is an active member of 100 Women in Finance and High Water Women.