Portfolio Analyst, Aberdeen Asset Management
What degree did you graduate with and when?
I graduated from the University of Leicester in 2006 with a BSc (Hons) in Financial Economics with a year in Europe, spent at Gothenburg University, Sweden, under the ERASMUS scheme. I then enrolled on an MSc in Investment Analysis at the University of Stirling and graduated in 2007. I knew that my first degree gave me a good grounding for entering employment in the financial services sector, but felt that I would require an ‘edge’ to place me above my peers and secure a job in what is an extremely competitive environment. The Investment Analysis course at the University of Stirling provided me with this edge and has undoubtedly helped to kick-start my career in Asset Management. I am also currently studying part-time for another MSc in Financial Engineering at Birkbeck College, London, and will graduate in 2013, with a PhD as a possible option in the not-so distant future.
Briefly describe your career history to date:
Since graduating five years ago I have worked for the same company, Aberdeen Asset Management, but in several different roles. I was fortunate enough to gain a place on the company’s graduate scheme around a year before the banking crisis began and for the first two years I worked as a Graduate Business Analyst. This was a rotation-based scheme where I spent a short amount of time in six different departments across the business, enabling me to decide which department I wanted to join on a permanent basis. I then became a Portfolio Analyst within the Fixed Income EMEA department, located in the London office. This is the role I have been in for the last three years but my responsibilities have changed considerably during that time.
What attracted you to this career?
I originally planned to study Medicine at the University of Bristol but made the difficult decision to leave the course at the end of my first year when I realised it was not the right career choice for me. I then decided I wanted to do “something with money” which was partly inspired by my older brother and my dad, who both followed the stock market at the time. I felt that a job in finance would complement my strengths of being good at numerical analysis and having a good eye for detail.
How did you get into your current job?
Having graduated from my undergraduate degree I unsuccessfully attempted to land a role at several large banks in the City of London. This failure prompted me to focus on one particular area of finance (rather than applying for any and every job I saw) and led to me choosing to study Investment Analysis at Stirling. This course was recognised by the CFA Institute, a global association of investment professionals and the promoter of the Chartered Financial Analyst exams, which I felt would give me an ‘edge’ at interview, allowing me to demonstrate more vocational, rather than purely academic, skills. I was also beginning to develop an interest in how a business makes money and reasons why it can stop becoming profitable and start to fail. I realised that a job in asset management would involve analysing such businesses as well as being able to generate returns from successfully investing in the ‘correct’ ones. When I rotated around the company I discovered that the Fixed Income team gave me the most exposure to this aspect of the job as well as being the most technical and numerical business area – two attributes that were essential for me.
Describe what your current job involves:
I help in the managing of around £3.5 billion worth of bonds on behalf of a large life insurer. Essentially, when a company or a government want to borrow some money they issue a bond, or a loan, which pays a yearly coupon, or an interest rate. We lend money to these companies and governments by buying their bonds and accept a rate of return for a level of perceived risk. Part of my job is to assess how risky these companies actually are by questioning the management and examining their financial statements as well as reading press releases, rating agency reports and general news stories. I will then write a research report detailing my findings and recommendations which is distributed around and used by others to make their investment decisions.
The longer I have spent in the job the more responsibilities I have gained and so recently I have also been making buy and sell decisions myself as well as pitching for new business and meeting existing clients to explain our processes and performance. Another important area of my job is to be able to understand how much risk we are taking in the portfolios, calculate our returns and explain which holdings are responsible for these returns.
Describe a typical working day:
Most days are different due to the need to react to breaking news stories but the working day begins between 8 and 9 and the majority of the morning is spent reading news stories and research that has been produced overnight. The Asian markets are still open when we first arrive at work so there is always something newsworthy happening. If a company is issuing a new bond then a significant amount of my morning will be spent analysing if we would like to buy it and, if so, how much we would like. On a quieter day the morning might be spent looking at the performance attribution of a specific fund, or pulling together data for a presentation to a new client.
Meetings are usually scheduled in the afternoon. These may be with the senior management of a company I am analysing or might be an internal meeting with other portfolio managers and credit analysts to discuss news flow and investment ideas. When I’m not in meetings I will be researching a company usually by reading and analysing the financial statements. There are always ad hoc requests to deal with as well as trades to execute. Typically I will work until around 6pm or a little earlier if I have a lecture to attend.
In what way did your time at Stirling shape your career to date?
I looked into the many different postgraduate courses based in the UK that all aimed to provide a comprehensive understanding of the CFA® curriculum. Stirling stood out from the rest, not only for its stunning location and friendly on-campus atmosphere, but for the highly regarded teaching and research facilities that are available to students. I also believe that the University of Stirling offers its prospective students the best value for money.
Without my Master’s degree I believe it would have been almost impossible to get the job I am currently in. My employer is Scottish based and therefore has a rich history of hiring graduates from Scottish universities – there are at least two people I know at Aberdeen Asset Management who have the exact same degree as I do. The University of Stirling also put me forward for a scholarship for the CFA level I exam, a requisite of any job in asset management and a key selling point at interview. Moreover, the course as a whole taught me many of the theories and principles that I apply on a daily basis.
I would recommend the MSc Investment Analysis course to anyone who feels they may need more ‘vocational’ skills in order to pursue their chosen career path. Alternatively, for anyone looking to gain their CFA® Charter at some future point, this course is a must.
List three things that you love about your job:
Working in a challenging and constantly changing environment where one news story can completely alter your point of view.
Being able to analyse a business and get to the heart of what makes it a success or a failure.
Taking on the responsibility of managing large sums of money and being given the freedom to make investment decisions.
List three things you dislike about your job:
Too many meetings where you don’t feel you have gained anything from them
The commute to the office of 1 hour+ each way
The frustration of making a bad investment
What advice would you give to current students in terms of preparing for life after graduation?
With so much competition in the graduate recruitment sector and with companies holding back on recruiting it is essential for students to make themselves stand out. Many recruiters are more interested in how you will fit into their culture and how you have demonstrated your enthusiasm for the role rather than out-and-out academic results. Therefore, take your time to properly research a company before interviewing and try to get some kind of work experience – be it paid or unpaid – within the sector that you are applying to. This vocational knowledge will also help to build your soft skills and give you an excellent talking point when you are interviewed.