Ryan O'Connell, CFA, CAIA

Looking at some of the past Member spotlights was quite an intimidating task as there are some really talented Charterholders out there with incredible professional resumes. While I certainly don’t want to downplay my past professional accomplishments, I have a unique and interesting story to tell about my choice and path to pursue the CAIA Charter.

In the years leading up to sitting for the exam, my now-wife and I decided to pull the trigger on an idea that we had tossed around for years: quitting our jobs to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure around the world. Not only did I view this as a life experience that I wanted to have, but I also value the professional experience of being immersed in so many cultures and being able to connect this back to the capital markets.

During our travels we went through Europe, North Africa, Asia, and had plans for more, but unfortunately, our trip was cut short in early 2020. Throughout my travels I had some amazing experiences that I most likely would never have had the opportunity to pursue otherwise. In a matter of months, I went from climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower to hiking through and navigating some treacherous storms in the Julian Alps to exploring and seeing the vast cultural diversity of Singapore. During my time staying in hostels, I had the chance to share experiences with people from all different backgrounds and all over the world—some of whom I still stay in contact with today. One of our most memorable adventures was spending two weeks in Morocco where we had some perspective changing experiences. We were able to do everything from negotiating with the souks in the old city of Marrakech to hiking through the Atlas Mountains and seeing some of the oldest cultures in the entire region.

Unfortunately, we were forced to come back in early 2020 to a pandemic-decimated job market, and that is where my CAIA story really begins.

Having been one to always try and turn lemons into lemonade, I wanted to use this time to not only continue to network and look at different opportunities, but to also use the time to improve my skills. I had already passed Level III of the CFA exam in 2017 and through all three levels, my weakest area was Alternatives. As an aspiring asset allocator, I saw this as a necessary area for improvement. After researching many different professional examinations, I felt the CAIA exam was both a strong compliment to the CFA charter, and would help me improve on some of those weaknesses.

When I started my own self-study, my inner competitiveness took over. I took to learning the curriculum and theory and would have to say I have greatly improved my knowledge within the Alternative space. I feel confident in speaking to this theoretical foundation and believe this study will serve as building blocks for further growth in the space.

Frankly, without this experience I would not even know where to begin my learning path. I’m really glad I embarked on this journey and this is my CAIA story.