I get a lot of questions about this one, but I’m relatively clueless when it comes to investment management career in the Middle East.
Luckily, that’s not the case with our readers – many of whom work in the field or are planning to shortly.
This interview comes to you from a friend and reader, Joe Francis, who landed an Asset Manager position at Bahrain National Holding.
Read on to learn all about asset and investment management, how it’s different from investment banking and how you can break in.
Can you tell us about your background?
After completing Mechanical Engineering; I worked for three years for Schlumberger, which is the largest oil field service company in the world.
Some people are incredibly lucky to find their passion in their first job. I was not that lucky. As time passed by, despite being able to travel to different places for jobs, meet new people on the job and of course a big oil pay cheque; I was not happy about my job. While traveling and in my free time on the field jobs, I noticed, I was attracted to TV channels like ‘CNN Money’ and I was interested in price movements of stocks and commodities. Then a novel idea came to my mind that instead of ‘working for money’, it would be great to ‘work on money’.
I resigned from Schlumberger and joined in a branch Geojit Financial services as an Equity dealer to be close to that markets and explore further into the world of investments.
After almost two years in Geojit, I joined for the Securities Market Program offered by Indian Institute of Capital Markets- now NISM. From there I gained theoretical knowledge on investments and also came to know about internationally recognized certification like CFA & FRM.
I got placed, from the campus itself, in Punjab National Bank’s Treasury division as Financial Analyst. I competed for my FRM in 2007 and CFA in 2010. In 2011, I got an offer from Bahrain National Holding Co to join their investment department. I am working as Investment Manager in Bahrain since then.
Breaking into Investment Management
In your current role, describe some of your overall responsibilities.
At Bahrain National Holdings, we have a global portfolio of Equities, Bonds, and Alternatives.
I have primary responsibility for Bonds and Alternatives investments. I am also responsible for long-term investment ideas that are based on ‘Mega trends’. These are ideas which require a lot of deep research and needs time to unravel, but if pan out as anticipated would give high returns.
I am also responsible for finding & testing productivity enhancing tools that can improve the quality of works produced by investment team. This year I am also working on an algorithm based trading system.
What were the key challenges you faced in breaking into a career in Trading/ Asset Management?
I think the biggest challenge I faced to break into investment industry is my language. I have done my schooling in my mother tongue and was not very good in English. I faced difficulty in articulating my investment thesis in a coherent and confident manner.
Until your investment ideas speak for you, which needs time, you need your communication skills to clarify what your investment views are and why do you think that way, in a precise and concise manner.
Proficiency in English also helps you in the preparation of investment proposals, an important part of the job if you are working in the investment department of a regulated entity like a Bank or an Insurance company.
I must say my superiors were extremely accommodative, and I worked hard in improving my language on daily basis.
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What about the recruiting process in the Middle East? How is it different from other regions and India?
InMiddle East, recruiters, do not follow the procedure of calling applications by setting deadlines. As and when there is a vacancy, they collect CVs from job sites, consultants or associations like CFA Institute and shortlist candidates from those CVs received.
If you are looking for an opportunity in the Middle East, I think it is important to have yourself registered on Gulf-centric job sites like ‘gulftalent.com,' ‘efinancialcareers-gulf.com’ or other similar sites. Building LinkedIn Gulf contacts also may help.
So you already had the odds stacked against you, and you were in an extremely competitive market with a lot of experienced traders/ Asset Managers trying to make the switch into a profile like yours. How did you set yourself apart from everyone else?
Having globally recognized certification helped me a lot. I was also helped by my engineering background which spoke for my analytical and numerical skills. It is also important to build your CV regarding measurable performance that can be put in numbers.
Frankly speaking, I was also helped by time, as I was out with a certification in 2007 and placed at PNB before the financial crisis of 2008. PNB gave me good launching pad as it had huge integrated treasury department where I could learn about all markets from Equity to Debt to FOREX.
Can you identify a way in which being a CFA and FRM qualified is an asset to you in your current role? I get a lot of questions on the usefulness of CFA and FRM certifications. How much did it help you?
As I mentioned earlier, having a globally recognized certification speaks for your commitment and passion towards investment. CFA is the global standard for the investment industry.
CFA Institute, with its network of the alumni association, can help you to find a job in any part of the world.
Though I am less of a risk professional and more of an investment professional, FRM has helped me to understand, evaluate and measure risks associated with an investment, giving me an edge over the competition. FRM also has a similar alumni base that can link you to a potential job.
Maybe you can walk us through your networking process. I get a lot of questions on how to find names and contact information in the first place – how did you do this? Of those methods, which were most effective in getting you interviews?
Networking is important for any skill based industry. Networking can introduce you to someone who holds the key to your dream job. Though I understand the importance of it, I must admit, I am not very good at it. Maybe my basic introvert nature is the impediment. I am working on it. Now I make it a point to meet at least three new people when I go for seminars, address them using their name and maintain the contact through emails.
How do salaries and bonuses in the Middle East compare to what you would earn in North America / Europe/ Asia? Is everything based on local rates, or are you paid the equivalent Dollar / Euro salary?
Jobs in the Middle East generally gives you enough to enjoy life and have decent savings. Savings is important as there is no retirement benefit for the expatriates in the Gulf. Salaries are generally in local currencies unless you are like a big shot in the investment industry and demand payment in a specific currency. As of now, there is no problem in receiving either in local currency as local currencies are pegged to USD or a basket of currencies in the case of Kuwait.
What advice would you give to FinanceWalk readers thinking about a career in asset management and trading?
Try to find your passion. As Warren Buffet says to find something you would do if you are already rich. If your passion is in investments, regularly read investment news sites like Bloomberg.com, reuters.com. ft.com etc. Read annual reports and analyst call transcripts of your favorite companies.
Go for at least one globally recognized certification like CFA, FRM, CAIA, etc. Read books on investments and read “The Intelligent Investor”. Start your investment portfolio. Whenever you get an opportunity to play with Bloomberg or Reuters, utilize it. CIOs love people who are conversant with such tools. Start early and never give up.
Note: You can connect with Joe on LinkedIn