For aspiring investment professionals, the end of 2017 marked the official launch of the Investment Foundations Program in Ethiopia, a certification program of the CFA Institute focused on the fundamentals of investment management. Paul Smith, CFA, the President and CEO of CFA Institute spoke at the inaugural event, which was held at the Intercontinental Addis Hotel. The event hosted invited leaders working within the financial institutions, investment firms, the business community and professionals engaged in the provision of investment advisory services. Fassil Gebretsadik, a CFA charter holder and member of the CFA Institute based out of Addis Ababa, is spearheading efforts to engage with regulators and the business community. Fassil and his team organized the launch event that attracted over 70 attendees. Capital spoke to Fassil Gebretsadik to learn more about the CFA programs, and how this will benefit professionals in Ethiopia.
Capital: Tell us a little bit about CFA Institute, its programs and its credentials.
Fassil Gebretsadik: CFA Institute is a global, not-for-profit organization comprising the world’s largest association of investment professionals. With more than 150,000 members in over 150 countries and 150 independent member societies in 77 countries across the globe, CFA Institute is dedicated to developing and promoting the highest educational, ethical and professional standards in the investment industry.
CFA Institute offers a range of education and career resources, including the CFA Program, which confers the coveted Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation or CFA charter. The CFA Program provides a strong foundation of advanced investment analysis, investment management and real-world portfolio management skills that will give investment professionals career advantages.
A candidate in the CFA Program will have to pass three level exams (level 1, 2 and 3), which on average takes about 4 years and then must gain 4 years of practical investment related experience to be awarded the CFA charter. The 4 years of practical experience can be gained prior to taking the exams, while taking the exams or after passing the exams.
The CFA Institute also offers the Investment Foundations Program, a junior certification program that is gaining wider acceptance by financial institutions across the globe. It is this program that we launched in Ethiopia on December 26th. The Investment Foundations Program covers the essentials of finance and ethics and provides a clearer understanding of the global investment industry.
I am happy to announce that the CFA Institute has activated a test center for this certification program in Addis Ababa. In the past, candidates have had to fly out of the country to Nairobi or to Dubai to sit for the exam. The activation of the test center is a significant milestone in allowing candidates to sit for the exam of an internationally recognized certification in our own country.
We plan on teaching the program in a classroom-based setting to enhance candidates’ chances of passing exams. We are seeking support from agencies and sponsors to de-risk the initial set-up and first year costs.
I would like to remind those wishing to enroll in the CFA Program, which confers the CFA charter, that they will still have to fly out of Ethiopia to sit for the exams. We continue to work with the CFA Institute to initiate a test center in Ethiopia, and this will likely happen following significant increases in demand. The great news we now have is that we have a test center for the Investment Foundations Program.
Capital: When will the course start in Ethiopia and was there a demand for it?
Fassil: We plan to start teaching the Investment Foundations Program sometime next month depending on how soon we get support and the level of and commitment it requires to help us de-risk the costs. Enrollment for the Investment Foundations Program is already open for interested candidates for anyone who can pay in US dollars.
We will have some work to do with banks on how to facilitate the payment of US dollars enrollment and exam fees to the CFA Institute and I am confident that we are close to getting support from banks to facilitate payments in foreign currency.
The investment profession in Ethiopia is at its infancy. Compared to Kenya, , we are way behind in regards to development of capital markets, investment management and the investment profession in general. Recently, the government has been prodded by the private sector to allow capital markets where the shares and debt securities of companies can be traded in organized exchanges in Ethiopia.
As a nation, the biggest hurdle we have from realizing the dream of capital market establishment is lack of trained human talent in the investment profession. The people that will work for the regulatory bodies, the exchanges and the supporting staff as well as the analysts, researchers and brokers in the private sector that will facilitate transactions will all have to be trained. There is no doubt that we need trained professionals, thus we need to get the human talent developed when the government eventually decides to allow the establishment of capital markets.
I accompanied Paul Smith on his last visit to Kenya. We met with regulators that are tasked with training investment professionals in the local program. The number of CFA charterholders in Kenya is close to 120. It is no surprise that Kenya has one of the regions’ bourgeoning capital markets and continues to develop the investment profession. Paul Smith and the CFA Institute share our region’s prospects for economic growth and the need to improve the human talent working within the financial institutions and the investment community.
The CFA Institute has helped many countries around the globe with training many new entrants into the investment profession and retraining even more of the existing professionals working for the capital markets, financial institutions and investment firms.
Capital: Which courses are highly recommended and are currently available in Ethiopia?
Fassil: In the earlier hours of the launch day, Paul and I met with regulators and officials of the government agencies. During our meetings, we learned their needs and determined that it is best to start teaching the basics of the investment profession covering topics, such as; ethics and standards of professional conduct and help candidates gain an understanding of the investment industry globally.
The regulators and officials generally communicated to us the type of programs that work for Ethiopia at this stage of development are short courses aimed at training the vast majority of professionals that work within the financial institutions. That’s why we identified the Investment Foundations Program to be the best fit for our need right here at this point in time.
Obviously, we need to get more enrollments in the CFA Program and we need more CFA Charterholders in Ethiopia. The beauty of the CFA designation is that everyone goes through the same education and examination process around the world. I have the same qualification as someone who passed the exams in Hong Kong, New York or London.
The CFA Program is highly recommended for professionals in accountancy, those working in the banks and students graduating with degrees in business and economics from universities and colleges around Ethiopia. I have seen individuals with degrees in history; some in medicine, others in physics or engineering that have studied the CFA Program, passed the exams and become CFA charterholders.
Capital: How many individuals have taken the courses thus far and how do you rank its affordability?
Fassil: The numbers of professionals that have taken the Investment Foundations Program are less than 5 and that’s because they had to fly out of the country to sit for the exams. Based on the feedback we collected after the launch event, we can get the numbers up for this program fairly quickly.
The CFA Program is a much harder and robust program. So far, I am the only Ethiopian origin CFA Charterholder supporting business in Ethiopia. There are two other charterholders that work for investment firms in town. I know there are quite a few, probably less than 5, that are currently taking the exams.
It is quite obvious that we have lots of work cut out for us to get more professionals trained in the investment profession. I was based out of San Francisco before I moved to Ethiopia and I previously belonged to the CFA Society in San Francisco where we had more than 5,000 charterholders. The CFA designation is widely accepted around the world. The work that I do is to promote the CFA Institute and the programs, which I hope will be a positive contribution to the profession that we all need to develop our economy.
The enrollment and exam fee for the Investment Foundations Program is USD 250. I recommend a classroom-based tuition, which will cost additional fees in local currency. We have yet to come up with the pricing for the classroom-based tuition. The estimated cost to complete the CFA Program is roughly USD 4,000 -I will have to tell you that I had spent close to USD 10,000. The extra USD 6,000 was spent for prep providers that I signed up with for classroom-based tuition that really helped me pass the exams. In general, the cost of the CFA Program is a fraction of the cost of typical MBA degrees from highly recognized universities. Even then, good portions of MBA grads from those universities still go on to earn a CFA charter. By every realistic measure, the programs from CFA Institute are quite affordable.
Capital: Who is recommended to take these exams and what are the advantages of getting the certification in Investment Foundation Program and the CFA Program?
Fassil: Professionals working within the financial institutions, such as, banks, insurance companies, micro finance institutions and ECX are recommended to take the Investment Foundations Program certification.
This certification is also best suited for professionals working within the regulatory bodies, such as the Central Bank, the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange Authority, the Ethiopian Investment Commission and the Accounting and Auditing Board of Ethiopia. The advantages for professionals are greater career progression and potentially helping them move into roles in regulatory and investment support roles.
The CFA Program is recommended for those working within investment firms, such as private equity firms and banks that manage equity investments. Around the globe, individuals wishing to enter the investment management profession and wanting to be seriously taken as a professional typically sign up for the CFA Program regardless of whatever degrees they hold.
In our context, professional accountants from the UK and the USA wishing to specialize in investment management are best suited for the CFA Program. Paul and I were chartered accountants and it was that background that helped us to move into investment management. As I said earlier, the background of an individual doesn’t matter so long as can learn the contents and pass the exams.
CFA charter holders will likely be needed in Ethiopia to help formulate capital markets policy development and help develop the infrastructure that is needed manage other peoples’ money. Personally, the CFA charter has helped me tremendously in advising clients in private equity deals.
Capital: What is the advantage for our country to have professionals with certifications from CFA Institute?
Fassil: The private sector is gently prodding the government to allow the establishment of capital markets, which are commonly known as stock exchanges. East African countries, such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have capital markets that play key roles in channeling investments into companies and continue to develop the investment profession.
These countries have worked on human talent development for decades and trained large number of investment professionals. If we decide to go in that direction, we have to train large number of professionals. The nation cannot afford to rely on consultants that will be sourced from overseas to help us set-up, develop and maintain capital markets.
Specialist consultants will definitely be needed. At the same time, we need to train large number of professionals that will take-over management when these consultants will have to return to their home countries. Anyone with the CFA charter will be best positioned to contribute to what will surely become the next big giant step in the country’s economic development process.
Capital: Are there any requirements or experiences to enroll for the different courses, how do people register?
Fassil: Registration for all of the programs happen online on the CFA Institute’s website www.cfainstitute.org. As I tried to explain earlier, we have some work to do on how payments for enrollment and exam fees can be handled from here for those who are unable to pay in US dollars.
There are no requirements to enroll for the Investment Foundations Program. It was designed to allow many investment support professional to enroll in the program and pass the exam. This is the program we are promoting in Ethiopia because we believe we can get more trained support investment staff within a short period of time. Those candidates that passes the exam will get their certificate in Investment Foundations from the CFA Institute.
The minimum requirement to enroll for the CFA Program is a university degree. The CFA Institute allows students in their final year of a university degree program to sit for level 1 exam only. Level 2 and 3 can only be attempted after a university degree.
To be a CFA Charterholder, a candidate will have to pass level 1, level 2 and level 3 exams. I have already discussed the requirements of 4 years of practical experience, which can be gained prior to, or during or after passing the exams. I want readers to know degrees in accounting, business or economics are helpful but are not the only ones degrees required to apply for the CFA Program. In fact, any degree, it can be in history or literature is accepted so long as it is earned from a recognized university.
We have lots of talented individuals in Ethiopia who can pass the CFA Program exams. My job is to provide them with the support they need to excel. I will continue to work with the CFA Institute with the aim of getting material support and advise we desperately need to develop a strong investment profession in Ethiopia.
Capital: What other supports the CFA Institute offer to Ethiopia?
Fassil: The CFA Institute is engaged in large number of initiatives across the globe and provides support for a number of countries in frontier economies. Some of the least publicized work the CFA Institute continues to be engaged pertains to capital market policy development.
The CFA Institute has the resources massive network of professionals that it can mobilize towards helping Ethiopia develop the regulatory framework. It really depends on what we need and which regulatory body comes forward with a specific request. My role is to channel those requests and follow-up to ensure we get the maximum material support and advise we require.