Tell me a little about yourself.
After graduating from high school, I enrolled in a State college with a plan of studying music and theater. The following year, my education took a different course when I accepted an entry level position in the investment department at a public pension fund. I needed full time employment and this position offered tuition reimbursement for college courses in business and accounting. At the time, I didn’t know anything about investments and was uncertain if this was the right decision, but my boss was very encouraging and told me a business education could be very rewarding. Over the next eight years I attended the evening program at the Carlson School of Management, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees from Carlson School of Management. During that period I was promoted to assistant investment manager and that set the stage for what turned out to be a successful, forty-year career in investment management and investment consulting.
What sparked your interest in the investment industry and CFA Program?
I earned the CFA Charter in 1994. At that time I was the in-house investment manager for a legal publishing company, where I also held positions as Chair of the Investment Advisory Committee and Trustee for the company’s defined benefit plan. I was responsible for how the employee benefit funds and corporate assets were invested. Later, the company was bought out and my job was eliminated. A woman that I knew had just been recruited to develop and lead the investment advisory practice in an accounting firm. She asked if I would join her practice because some of the executives at my former company were interested in having an independent advisor. That’s how my career changed from investment management to investment consulting.
What was your experience with the CFA Charter?
I was previously a member of the of the Twin Cities Society of Financial Analysts and there were no requirements as long as you worked in the industry. Later, new members were required to pass the CFA Level 1 Exam. When I went into consulting and had to build a business, the CFA was very beneficial. At the time our consulting firm was started in the late 90’s, most institutional investors did not know what the CFA Charter was. However, following the tech bust when there was a big fallout in the capital markets, the CFA gained more recognition among institutional investors and became more respected and then again after the 2009 financial crisis. Therefore, in the field of investment consulting, the CFA credential was very beneficial to my career success.
Did you have a mentor or champion who was instrumental in your career?
The person who hired me for my first job. He was very encouraging and showed me that you can’t have a closed mind when thinking about potential career changes. He opened my eyes to numerous opportunities. In my experience, his encouragement and willingness to hire and promote a female in the mid-1970’s was unusual.
What professional opportunities and challenges have you experienced?
My biggest challenge was that the ethics in this business is on average not good. With 23 years of experience where my role was to invest funds of the employer, I wasn’t trying to sell my services to clients and everything I did, I thought was the very best for my employer. When you are in the advisory business, there are so many things that constrain what you can offer a client for advice. Whether it is technology and resources you have, or that you decided to affiliate with another party, it influences your advice and you may not always be giving the best solution. That was the hardest thing for me. For my new business, I had three partners and we wanted to go into consulting in our own firm so that we wouldn’t be confined to that culture where it wasn’t always in the client’s best interests. Our dedication to that cause hurt us in terms of how much we could grow, but we did well enough.
What is your experience with starting your own business?
Our consulting firm was founded as part of a “spin out” of twelve clients from the accounting firm where my business partner and I worked to develop an investment advisory practice for two years. In 1998 our firm was started with two principals (including myself) and one associate. We invested $60,000 of our own money for working capital. Over the next 14 years our firm grew to 9 employees and 55 clients with aggregate assets of 3 billion.
What is the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?
The biggest risk was starting my own firm and each year thereafter the potential risks increased as new clients were added, new employees hired and assets under advisement grew larger. As a registered investment advisory firm we were cast in a fiduciary position with respect to investment advice, which increases the costs for insurance protection.
What got you here; how have you been successful in investment management?
As explained earlier, I believe the combination of my work experience with internal funds management and education were contributing factors. The reason my second employer (where I worked for 12 years) hired me was my experience in internal-funds management. Today, most investment consultants who advise institutional investors don’t have that hands-on experience of performing securities analysis or initiating trades. Those work opportunities I think made me a better consultant.
18% of CFA Institute’s members are female, and 14% of CFA Society Minnesota members are female. Do you have any thoughts on why more women aren’t pursuing a career in investment management?
The numbers have changed, it’s surprising that the number entering the field is not proportional to the number rising through the positions and responsibilities. A career in the investment industry is taxing especially if you are a woman with a family and have other obligations. Some companies are trying to change their culture to allow for the flexibility needed for us to be able to succeed. There is also a huge amount of sexism, but CFA Institute and companies are working to improve that.
Do you have any advice for young professionals interested in a career similar to yours?
If you’re looking at positions within the investment management field, some of the larger foundations that have a staff managing their investments is a good place to start because then you are truly investing for the specific objectives of that client and not influenced like you would be if you are investing and representing a management firm. You can start in larger foundations to get a good understanding and background then branch out.
Lise Arakaza is an international student from Rwanda in her final year at Gustavus Adolphus College. She’s a Financial Economics major and Gender Women Studies minor with hopes of working in banking or an investment advisory firm.