William Kelly, Chief Executive Officer of the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association, says retail investors are fueling fresh interest in qualifications in alternative asset classes, such as private equity, as low interest rates and runaway stock markets that limit their returns from equities and bonds.
Kelly says a move by the US government to allow private equity to be included in 401(k) pension plans — which let individuals choose the assets they hold — should add to demand for training. “We have a whole new class of asset owner coming to the fore. And we have to think of a way to increase financial literacy,” he says.
Enter the Fundamentals of Alternative Investments programme, established by the CAIA association in 2013 and aimed at less-sophisticated investors. (The association’s core membership is typically institutional investors, including professionals working at hedge funds.)
Among more than 8,000 people to have signed up is Elaine Kennedy, a senior manager at Alter Domus, which provides corporate services to alternative funds that want to outsource administration, tax and regulatory compliance. “I’m a chartered secretary by trade, so I needed something that was going to fill in the knowledge gap that I had,” she says.
The programme’s flexibility appealed to Kennedy, as it involved 20 hours of self-paced online study. This allowed the Dublin-based manager to service a wider array of clients, without having to quit her job. “The audience the course appeals to is enormous,” she says, adding that she regards it as a stepping stone to more comprehensive training.
Professional training organisations that offer specialist financial skills are finding new students and expanding globally. These niche qualifications compete on price with masters in finance programmes: they typically cost a fraction of the tuition fees for a degree (the Fundamentals costs $895).
But Olivier Bossard, executive director of the €35,310 MiF at HEC Paris, says they are no substitute for degree courses, which offer students applied learning, a broad curriculum and career mobility.
He says MiF programmes are aimed at different students, typically younger, rather than working professionals, who want to study full-time and to build a network in person. Despite coronavirus forcing a shift to remote teaching, Bossard says: “We offer a much stronger sense of community.”
Many training groups say their qualifications are complementary to MiF degrees and they have partnered with business schools to build industry designations into the academic curriculum — especially the CFA programme for investment professionals. These partnerships have extended training providers’ global reach.
But for Helen Brand, chief executive of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, which offers the ACCA qualification, overseas expansion reflects a global desire to harmonise financial reporting standards.
“China and India are our fastest-growing student markets,” she says. Of 536,812 new students that ACCA attracted in the year to March 31, more than 127,000 were from outside the UK and Ireland.
Other providers say demand from China is their main area of growth. CFA Institute, which offers the Chartered Financial Analyst credential for investment professionals, says China overtook the US as its biggest source of students years ago.
Margaret Franklin, chief executive and president of CFA Institute, says success abroad reflects a drive by institutional investors to tap China’s growing savings pool.
“You have a growing demographic of savers that is going to need good investment services. So we know that investment professionals need to be certified,” she says.
CFA Institute is expanding its offering to meet the demand for “life-long learning”. This year, it launched a certification globally for investment professionals who want to strengthen their environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials.
“Increasingly, investment professionals will need more skilling, upskilling and reskilling,” Franklin says. “They are looking to us to provide more opportunities to access learning at different points in their career, from entry to exit. That will only accelerate.”