Vidhu Shekhar, CFA, CIPM, Country Head, India, CFA Institute
I like listening to Indian classical music, both Hindustani and Carnatic. I have always been fascinated by the effort that good musicians put into their training. I have a friend who is a music teacher and herself an accomplished vocalist. Recently, I asked her the secret to becoming a good musician. “Lot of people have talent,” she told me (she used the Hindi word Pratibha for talent), but talent alone is not sufficient. There are three other ingredients for becoming a good musician, “Taleem, Riyaz aur Chintan”, meaning, loosely, training, practice and introspection.
The word taleem is not just training as we know it in the modern sense. It requires submitting to a teacher who will be tough with you but also cares for you. But taleem without riyaaz is of no use. We are taught at an early age that “practice makes perfect”, but we seldom put this dictum into practice. Fair enough – these two ingredients were familiar to me, and I would also have given the same answer. It was the third element chintan, or introspection, that I had not thought about. What differentiates real professional accomplishment from mere competence is our ability to learn from our experience. This requires curiosity, humility, patience and perseverance.
If we look around ourselves, we can see many examples of professional excellence in every field – doctors, accountants, lawyers, engineers and architect. New entrants in each of these fields go through a process of training, practice and introspection in order to emerge as leaders in their respective professions.
The investment profession is no different in this regard. However, as a younger profession, it hasn’t received the same attention as some of the older ones mentioned above. Often, young people entering the profession do not realize that they are entering a profession. Often, we are just looking for a job that pays the bills. At best, we see it as a necessary but inconvenient first step in the ladder of career success. Our inability to see our work as a long term profession gets in the way of our preparation and reduces the satisfaction that we should get from our work.
Another factor that comes in the way of investment professionals is the difficulty in distinguishing skill from luck. If you happen to start your career at a time when markets are doing well, you can easily fall prey to the illusion of your own capability. Once you have convinced yourself about your own capabilities, it becomes easy to take credit when things go your way and to blame factors outside your control when they don’t.
In every profession, the way out of this trap is to focus on one thing and one thing alone, namely, the customer, or the person I am working for. This is true for every profession, whether teacher, doctor or investment advisor. Leaders in every profession have recognised this, and have introduced codes and standards for their respective profession. In the world of investments, the best examples are the Code of Ethics (Codes) and Standards of Professional Conduct that every CFA charter holder has to follow. As stated in its preamble and since the 1960s when they were first adopted, the Codes and Standards have promoted the integrity of CFA Institute members and served as a model for measuring the ethics of investment professionals globally regardless of job function, cultural differences, or local laws and regulations.
Not all of us can aspire to greatness. But for those who are willing to dedicate our lives to our profession, there is guidance and mentorship available from those who have gone before them. The key is to focus on the ultimate benefit of the customer we are serving, and to persevere in our efforts to do the best we can.