Why the CFA won't get accountants a buy-side job in Asia

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Stuck in accountancy

A growing number of accountants in Asia are taking the CFA to break into the buy-side – but few are making it.

Accountants constitute 7% and 5% of CFA charterholders in Hong Kong and Singapore respectively, making them one of the main professional groups among charterholders.

And more accountants are expected to add the CFA to their name in the future as the amount of people sitting the exams in Asia continues to expand.

Why is the CFA increasingly found in a field where technical accounting qualifications are far more relevant to finding work and succeeding on the job?

Recruiters say most Asian CFA accountants who are working at the Big Four or in banks’ back offices want to use the qualification as a ticket into another job sector, ideally the buy-side.

“They complete the CFA in the belief that they’re enhancing their chances for roles in front-office financial services – in particular asset management, research, and private equity jobs,” says Jay Abeyasinghe, manager of banking and financial services at recruiters Morgan McKinley in Singapore.

“A number of accountants and auditors in Asia do the CFA in the hope of getting into the fund management industry,” adds Gary Lai, managing director for Southeast Asia at recruitment firm Charterhouse Partnership. “The most common roles CFA holders aspire to are within research and investment management.”

However, despite its focus on investment strategy, the CFA rarely increases accountants’ chances of moving to the buy-side. “It’s difficult for accountants with CFAs to move into an asset or portfolio management job with no previous working experience in those fields,” says Annie Yap, group managing director of recruitment agency AYP Group in Singapore.

“Competition is very high for a very limited number of buy-side roles in Asia,” says Lai. “So the majority of CFA accountants aren’t successful in making the switch into the fund management industry.”

“With moderate demand relative to high supply of candidates, Singapore probably has the highest numbers of charterholders anywhere who don’t make it into the investment profession,” adds Pan Zaixian, general manager at recruitment firm Kerry Consulting in Singapore.

It’s often better to apply to an asset management firm straight after completing your accounting degree rather than waiting until you’re an experienced accountant with a CFA.

“While many accountants in Singapore study the CFA to give themselves options for a potential next career, fresh accounting graduates are actually more likely to be offered jobs by fund managers,” says Pan. “They prefer to hire straight from university and groom graduates into portfolio management via a long-term career plan.”

Image credit: Eucagallery, iStock, Thinkstock

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