What advice do the top women in finance have for those trying to make their way in the sector?
Last year, I interviewed 50 accomplished women from around the world for my 2020 research paper “Top Tips for Business Success,” released on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2020.
As it turns out, five of the women are CFA charterholders and all hail from different countries. They each have charted unique paths to get to where they are today. And in celebration of International Women’s Day, I thought I’d share some of their top tips and insights about what they see as the ingredients to their success.
1. Be curious!
Cathy Hwang, CFA, principal, Zumaya Equity, Taipei.
“In the early years of my career, I decided to pursue an analyst job with one of the big banks (on a whim!) even though I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been for the interview. I recall having an out-of-body experience during the interview and thinking ‘Oh my God, this is going really terribly!’
“The recruiting team conducting the interviews was seeing 12 candidates a day and they expected everyone to recite all of the standard answers to investment banking interviews. During my interview, I somehow ended up talking about the book Freakonomics that had inspired my decision to study economics. For some reason, my story resonated with the guy who was interviewing me.
“Although I wasn’t hired for that particular job, he liked me enough to set me up with someone who could help me prepare for future interviews. I stayed in touch with both of these contacts and our paths have crossed many times over the years. We share information. I have always been generous about sharing because, if you think about it, What does all of that information actually do for you if you keep it to yourself? I love that Derek Sivers quote, ‘If [more] information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.’
“My advice is definitely to stay open-minded, share information, and most of all . . . be curious. Especially if you are in the business of investing. Be fundamentally curious about the world — whether it’s about travelling to interesting places, interacting with different types of people, seeking out new experiences, or being disciplined about reading diverse publications. You need to have a wide lens for information flow.”
2. Your network matters!
Blair DuQuesnay, CFA, investment advisor, Ritholtz Wealth Management, New Orleans.
“Business turned out to be a great fit for me from
the time that I started. My first job was sales assistant at a brokerage firm
in New York. I felt frustrated trying to get ahead and sometimes wondered if a
man would have had the same experience. I was looking for ways to improve
myself and prove myself and as a result I decided to a) take the CFA
designation and b) try hard to find a better opportunity for myself within the
investment industry. Along the way I also became a blogger and this opened up a
“I have had some amazing career opportunities and one of the things I’m most proud of is when 40 Under 40 Investment News included me on their second inaugural national list in 2015. The other people on that list are so distinguished. . . it was a real honor just to be part of that group. When I walked into the ‘40 Under 40’ event, Josh Brown (the CEO of the firm I’m with today) was holding court and he stopped his talk and introduced me to the audience. This certainly helped to further raise my profile and fast forward to today . . . I’m happy to be working with him at Ritholtz.”
3. Pay attention to social media.
Aline Reichenberg Gustafsson, CFA, editor in chief, NordSIP.com, Stockholm.
“Every day I focus on creating ‘business karma.’ Often, I meet someone interesting and highly competent, but we don’t see any immediate and concrete opportunity to collaborate. These ‘unusable’ contacts still make it onto my mental matchmaking list, because I don’t want our interaction to go to waste. Why do I care about this? First, I (selfishly) enjoy being the source of successful introductions. Second, I am paying forward those past introductions that have benefited me throughout my career. Last, but not least, I know that the more I help people, the stronger our relationship will be. They will remember me, talk about me, and generate a positive buzz around me and my business.
“A great way to accelerate karmic situations? Pay attention to the power of social media. Over the years I had often heard how important it is to take care of your social media profile and following. I can’t say that I went straight into posting updates and growing my contact list. I knew I was supposed to do it, but I didn’t understand how crucial it was until I discovered the power of social media, much later. As I ventured into the world of media, I started reaching out to people on social media more and more frequently, and posting updates and articles I wrote to generate traffic. Nowadays, I find that my reputation precedes me when I introduce myself to someone I just met: ‘I know about your business, I’ve been following your posts!’ they may say. Potential clients even reach out to me, whereas it would have taken me ages to get through to them otherwise. The results are worth multiples of what I spend taking care of my feed! ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me before?’ I asked myself. Well, of course they did, but not at the right time.”
4. Focus on your client’s client.
Sue Lemon, CFA, CEO, CFA Society Toronto, Toronto.
“My #1 tip for business success is to focus on your client’s client. What is your client’s main strategic objective when it comes to their stakeholders? Take a serious interest in satisfying both the shorter-term goals of your client as well as their longer-term strategic objectives.
“During my years working in fixed-income sales, I spent many afternoons on the phone with portfolio managers who were directly responsible for their fund’s performance. We would discuss their challenges — I wanted to figure out how their business worked. From there I was able to work with my team of traders and originators to design products that would benefit the objectives of my institutional investment clients. For example, one of my clients was a North American insurance company and they had a view that interest rates were in a secular decline. We designed a series of bespoke products that would work well for the insurance company, their stakeholders, and the clients of the stakeholders.
“Get a clear understanding of the needs of your client’s clients and stay focused on that.”
5. Have a positive mindset.
Cristina Arceo, CFA, vice president, China Banking Corporation Treasury Group, Manila.
“I started my career at a local bank branch doing mostly clerical work. I had to stay close to my support system, since I was a young mother with a newborn child. Having gone to a prestigious state university, it was not something that I initially planned to do, but I endured my stay in the local branch while figuring out how to change my circumstances. My top tip for success in life and business is have a positive mindset.
“This has certainly worked for me. In dealing with my personal situation, I said a lot of prayers — I wanted to be free of feelings of bitterness, jealousy, and regret. I knew this would give me more power to go on and live my life. In terms of my career, from my start as a lowly clerk, I went on to get a scholarship and took my master’s degree and I directed myself to a great career in trading.
“I think trading is a perfect job for me because although there is lots of stress, it doesn’t weigh on me. Just like life, markets have their ups and downs — I don’t let it get to me. Last year was a bad market for fixed income because interest rates increased by 300 bps. This required me to have the discipline to assess the current situation and cut my losses if necessary and move forward. I don’t stay in a bad situation in trading . . . or in life.”
I haven’t interviewed myself, but if I did, my top tip for business success is to show up in person for the right people. Over nearly 30 years in the investment industry, I have learned to follow my instincts about what feels “real” or not in terms of potential business opportunities. I once flew from Toronto to Boston after a well-respected colleague introduced me to the CMO at a large global bank via email. Another time I flew from Stockholm to Copenhagen after a high-profile financial executive in Denmark contacted me via LinkedIn. I somehow knew that if I showed up in person I would land the business. In fact, every time I have (literally) gone out of my way to meet someone I had a hunch would be valuable to me, I have been right. These meetings were worth every penny that I spent in travel time, hotel costs, and other expenses.
So trust your own business acumen and show up in person for the right people.
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
Image credit: Sculpture by Kristen Visbal commissioned by State Street Global Advisors
Professional Learning for CFA Institute Members
Barbara Stewart, CFA, is a researcher and author on the issue of women and finance. She released the 10th installment of her “Rich Thinking” series of monographs on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2020. Stewart uses her proprietary research skills to work as an Executive Interviewer on a project basis for global financial institutions seeking to gain a deeper understanding of their key stakeholders, both women and men. She is a frequent interview guest on TV, radio, and print, and she is a columnist for Golden Girl Finance. Stewart is on the Advisory Board for Kensington Capital Partners Limited in Toronto. All of Stewart’s research is available on Barbara Stewart.