CFAs in Australia: 20 years of education and camaraderie

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(pictured: Mark Lazberger)

Members of the CFA societies of Australia, with their genesis in the CFA Society of Sydney in 1996, come together tomorrow (October 5) with an adventurous evening of thought provocation. The original ‘Hypotheticals’ presenter, Geoffrey Robertson, returns to Australia for the occasion with an expected audience of 350.

Robertson, the London-based QC who made the ABC show one of the most influential in the country, focusing on social issues which put various panelists into uncomfortable positions, will be facilitating a return event, this time looking at big issues facing investment management for the CFAs’ 20th anniversary at a dinner in Sydney.

The global CFA Institute is a not-for-profit body dedicated to improving the professionalism of the investment industry. It has its own education designations, which it oversees – the CFA Charter, CIPM Program and Claritas Investment Certificate. It has more than 140,000 members in 148 countries. There are 146 member societies, including Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, under its structure.

Anthony Serhan, the current president for the Sydney society and managing director for research and strategy for the region at Morningstar, says the organisation has come a long way but will also go a lot further into the future. “I think for us on the board it’s like that old saying: you should leave it stronger than you found it.”

Richard Brandweiner, the immediate past president, likes to say of the early years of the CFAs in Australia: “We were on the cusp of relevance”. The fledgling organisation set out to improve its profile and that of the CFA designation, from both the point of view of people’s careers but also as a way of lifting the professionalism of the Australian investment industry.

There are more than 2,500 members of the CFA societies around Australia as of earlier this year and, last year, 5,700 sat the exams. Serhan says he expects that, increasingly, the organisations will collaborate under the CFA Societies of Australia brand.

Jim Savage, a founding director and the second president, recalls that when the formation of an official Australian presence for CFAs was first discussed, in 1995, the concerns were whether they could get sufficient members to justify a chapter and whether they could get enough money to pay for everything. As it turns out, the Australian-resident CFAs were keen to have a local presence, and the US headquarters was happy to guarantee the funding.

Mark Lazberger, then head of State Street Global Advisors in Australia, got the ball rolling in 1995, contacting CFA charterholders to gauge interest in the Sydney society. It was then known as the Australian Society of the Association for Investment Management & Research – renamed the CFA Institute in 2004.

In February 1996, CFA Society of Sydney was approved, starting with 32 members. Mark Lazberger (president), Jim Savage (vice president), Emilio Gonzalez (director), Bruce Tomlinson (secretary) and Raymond Orr (treasurer) were the original directors.

One of the first initiatives of the board was implementing a video review course for the Level 1 CFA exam in conjunction with the L.A. Society of Financial Analysts.

Savage says: “Within six months our bank balance was significant compared to the $50 fee for each member.”

Following the three exams in June 1996 with 150 people sitting the exam, CFA Society of Sydney sponsored post-exam drinks, a tradition which continues to this day.

The first CFA Charter award ceremony in November 1996 had only about 30 attendees around the table – 15 existing members and 15 new charterholders. The organization has subsequently grown at an annual compound rate of 18.5 per cent for members and 20 per cent for exam candidates.

Lazberger, now chief executive of Colonial First State Global Asset Management, says: “I have no doubt it’s going to continue to grow. But I think more importantly, on the qualitative front, I think the CFA [designation] is going to become better understood in the investment management profession, within the financial services sector, and I also believe within the broader community in terms of the value that it offers.”

The big thing for CFAs as a group is that anyone who is a charterholder is, fundamentally, able to demonstrate that the best standards both in terms of professional and technical expertise as well as also professional ethics and standards, Lazberger says.

Serhan says that the CFA societies will become more unified in the future and continue to develop more targeted events and programs for members as the organization grows.

He believes it will also “punch above our weight” in terms of the influence CFAs have on shaping the financial services industry in Australia.

Significant milestones over the past 20 years include:

  • 1996 – Sydney Society of Financial Analysts formed
  • 2000 – Transitioning from the video review course to a live lecture review course in conjunction with the Securities Institute (now Finsia)
  • 2001 – The first corporate sponsorship drive to help fund staffed member services with Australian Financial Markets Association. The Foundation Sponsors were AMP, Barclays Global Investors, Macquarie, Maple-Brown Abbot, Frank Russell, MLC, Perpetual, Recruitment Solutions, Solomon Smith Barney and State Street
  • 2001 – CFA Society of Melbourne formed
  • 2002 – Emilio Gonzalez, CFA Society of Sydney Past President, appointed to the CFA Institute Board of Governors
  • 2004 – John Apthorp appointed Executive Director and created a staffed office for the society to enhance services to members and candidates
  • 2007 – Emilio Gonzalez, CFA Society of Sydney Past President, appointed the Chair of the CFA Institute Board of Governors
  • 2009 Nouriel Roubini event attended by over 400 members and industry professionals
  • 2011 – CFA Institute Research Challenge started with Chris Osborne leading the initiative
  • 2011 – CFA Society Sydney Investment Conference, held in Sydney with an agenda packed with industry leaders. The one-day conference is rotated between Melbourne and Sydney every two years.
  • 2012 – CFA Society of Perth formed
  • 2012 – Mark Lazberger, CFA Society of Sydney Past President, appointed to the CFA Institute Board of Governors
  • 2012 – New role created – Head of Advocacy for CFA Societies Australia and NZ
  • 2015 – First annual report produced
  • 2015 –Oceania Conference – bringing board members from Sydney, Melbourne and Perth together to encourage collaboration
  • 2016 – ‘A Difference That Matters’ Brand Campaign launched in Australia
  • 2016 – 20-year celebration dinner with Geoffrey Robertson QC.
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