Top-down, bottom-up or something in between?

Originally posted at Developing Insights Blog. The Developing Insights Blog (DI) is dedicated to emerging and frontier markets, which collectively will account for the majority of world output by 2020.

In Frontier and Emerging markets the cost of not understanding the big picture can be very painful. Countries with weak institutions, frequently coupled with very narrow export bases, can change quite rapidly on both the upside and the downside. This creates the potential for big losses in USD terms as well as numerous missed investment opportunities.

Graham and Dodd-style investing is predicated on the notion that value is recognized over the long term. As Benjamin Graham famously asserted, “in the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.” Implicit in that formulation are many developed market assumptions about political stability, exchange rate volatility, peaceful power transitions and a meaningful degree of economic policy consensus. Often, in a developing market context, those factors simply can’t be held constant. The ability to pursue a purist bottom-up strategy, devoid of political economy considerations and the macroeconomic fallout from poor policy, is severely constrained. If all risk is simply the variability of future outcomes then these additional “macro” considerations necessarily widen the band of potential returns for individual companies.

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What I learned from my career so far

Tomorrow I will start in my new role as an Equity Research Analyst (Associate Director) for Exotix. I will be covering banks across Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. For the unaware, Exotix is a frontier market investment bank specializing in illiquid bonds and loans, equities, structured finance and capital raising.

Getting a new job, particularly one with a great team and culture is quite rare. Nevertheless, the challenge lies not in getting the job but doing extraordinary work. The work of a research analyst in my opinion is like that of an artist trying to create masterpieces. You have to produce differentiated reports with unique insights and ideas before others and communicate that in clear language.

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So you want a job in equity research?

One of the very common question experienced analysts get from young graduates goes like this

“I studied XYZ in University. Can I get a job in Equity Research if I complete CFA Level 1? I am very passionate about research.”

I surely can’t answer whether he will land a job after completing CFA Level 1. What I CAN tell is that if someone is truly passionate about a job he should give 300% effort on reaching his goals. He needs to show the recruiter that he seriously means business and the company has to be full of fools to not hire him.

How do you do that?

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Know thyself!

The title of this blog post is somewhat misleading because what I will write here will probably be a very small part of the quest to understand who we are. Nevertheless, I think that this question (‘who am I?’) is probably the most important question of our life; one which we will need to try to figure out throughout our lives.

What I have done personally is trying to figure out my interests and passion to try to understand myself. This helps me understand the priorities and lets me allocate time properly. So here is the way I organized my interests.

The ones that have an asterisk beside them are the ones where I feel that I have a keen interest but my knowledge is not up to the mark yet. So I will be prioritizing on them in the near term.

 

A. Finance
1. Equity Research
2. Behavioral Finance
3. Private Equity*
4. Venture Capital*
5. Corporate Finance
6. M&A*
7. Restructuring*
8. Valuation
B. Economics
1. Macro
a. Analysis
b. Forecasting*
c. Indicators
2. Micro
C. Accounting
1. Financial
a. Treatment
b. Manipulations*
2. Managerial*

D. Strategic Management
E. Management
F. Creativity

G. Politics*
H. Public speaking
1. Pronunciation
2. Body language
I. Writing well
1. Grammar
2. Common mistakes

J. Health
K. Religion
1. Quran meaning*
2. Arabic Recitation*

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Starting a career in the financial sector

This was a presentation I gave at the BRAC University-ProthomAlo Jobs Career Fair 2014 at Westin. As promised I am uploading the presentation here. For those who did not attend the seminar I am writing a mini summary.

The main players in the financial sector of Bangladesh in my opinion are Banks, NBFIs, Stock Brokers, Merchant Banks, Asset Management Companies, Insurance Companies and Credit Rating Companies. The functions of each are given below.

Slides 1-5

The Lenders

Banks and Non-Banking Financial Institutions: These mainly involve in collecting funds through deposits and sometimes other sources and lends them out to clients.

The Capital Market Players

Stock Brokers: Executes trades on behalf of clients.

Merchant Banks: Aka Investment Banks they primarily raise funds for companies that need funding. Also, in Bangladesh they manage discretionary and non-discretionary portfolios.

Asset Management: The name is self-explanatory as these companies are professional fund managers. In Bangladesh they mainly manage close-end mutual funds focusing on listed equities.

Others

Insurance Companies: In basic terms Insurance companies sell guarantees that protects their customers and use a variety of techniques to distribute and reduce that risk (e.g. Reinsurance).

Credit Rating Agencies: Main task is to check the credit worthiness of their clients and rate them.

Slide 6

All of these companies will have client facing roles, analytical roles and some other support functions. I gave some examples in the slide. Usually, Banks and NBFI’s look for people with a broader knowledge base and use aptitude tests to screen clients. Others usually look for people who have more strength in finance. However, tests and interviews will clearly vary depending on the job role.

Slides 7-8

These slides are self-explanatory. I just want to add a few points for the emphasis.

a. The days of graduating and getting a job just like that are over. To really excel in our career we have to go the extra mile. There are no shortcuts.
b. Differentiating yourself is the key. The more you can differentiate (positively) with more skills, experiences and the right networking the better it is.
c. There is no substitute for hard work.

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Improving English the fun way

An English improvement post by me is a joke by itself. I often make grammatical mistakes which are caught by the ‘grammar police’ which mostly include my wife and dad. Nevertheless, here I am with my feeble attempt at helping people who are not native English speakers.

Will these tips work for you? I don’t know. But they did work for me.

Improving written communication in English

READ whatever you enjoy

My first advice is to simply READ. Read whatever you are interested in. If you like a particular sport like football then read about it on websites, blogs, books, newspapers and pretty much anything. You will surely come up with some favorites that you can follow regularly.

Practice writing

The second step to write better English is to WRITE. Sounds funny but that is the truth. If we want to learn how to drive a car we have to actually drive it. Reading hundreds of manuals will not be a substitute of doing it practically.

Thus we need to start writing to really improve. Write a journal. Open a blog. Scribble random thoughts on a piece of paper. Submit endless articles to newspapers for the heck of it even though they might never get reprinted.

Read a few good books on writing well

My last advice would be read a few good books on writing well. There is actually a classic called On Writing Well which is considered a must read.

Improving verbal communication in English

Listen to podcasts

For improving your verbal English skills I would recommend that you listen to podcasts. Watching movies or tv channels can work as well. However, I prefer podcasts as they contain no video and thus the entire focus is on the voice.

Once again you can surely find out stuff that interests you. If you are a tech geek then find technology based podcasts. If you like economics try out Econtalk, Freakonomics or Planet Money. If absolutely nothing interests you then definitely try out Radiolab.

Sing along with your favorite songs

You guys caught me here. Singing is not very likely to improve your verbal communication skills. Do it anyways because its fun. At the least, it could boost your confidence a bit.

Practice, practice, practice

Just like the reading part, the key to improving is to practice. Do the age-old recommendation of speaking to your handsome self in front of the mirror. Even better would be to record videos. Practice speaking English with your friends or family if possible. Don’t let go of any chance for public speaking. It does not matter if you completely suck at it. If necessary use a combination of English and your Native language to make it easier in the beginning. You will surely improve with time.

Conclusion

I think that for most Bangladeshis it is the fear that keeps them back. The fear of writing poorly. The fear of making a fool in front of others. If you can conquer your fear then half the battle is won. It is completely okay to be bad at something. It is not okay to give up.

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Career planning using microeconomics theory

This is the Bangla version as my primary target audience is in Bangladesh. However I promise to make an English version as well for the broader audience outside the country.

Video Summary: Most graduates and employees find themselves as a seller in a perfectly competitive market. Thus they do not have any bargaining power at all in terms of salary. If we want to increase our bargaining power we need to differentiate ourselves by being better, more productive, more knowledgeable etc. The video shows how relevant economics can be even in all spheres of our life and even in remote topics like career planning.

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The ‘fresh graduate’ guide for the first 5 years on the job

Career

This post is the a part of the Education and Career Planning series.

From my 5 year of job experience I came to believe that to shine in career a person need to focus on three major things. They are

  1. Knowledge
  2. Connections (aka networking)
  3. Credibility

These three factors actually need to be used throughout ones career. However the focus should be on one specific area at a given period .

Note that this guide is definitely not a one-size-fits-all one and might not match with everyone’s unique situation. It will however give some broad guidelines. Furthermore, the most important ingredient for career success is hard work. There is no shortcut whatsoever.

Years 0-2: The knowledge gaining years

I like to say that a fresh graduate is a liability to companies in most cases. The reason is that the graduate often has no meaningful work experience (not in all cases), has to be paid and also taught. Therefore the fresh graduate should ideally prioritize knowledge and learning over everything else. For my first job I chose the one with a lower salary because I felt it had more learning opportunities. That decision paid off quite well.

It is quite easy to get lost in trying to decide what exactly to learn. The emphasis should be on one’s area of specialization. A marketing major should thus spend more time studying marketing.

Fresh graduates studying for better career planning

For my first 6 months, I used to spend hours on Amazon trying to find the best books to read. I shortlisted them in excel, read them and rated them. Finally I used to try to apply this knowledge in my job.

Nowadays people don’t have to just rely on books. There is a range of other options available to learn. Check out my presentation called “Knowledge from unconventional sources“. I presented this to students at the NSU Career fair 2013.

Years 3-4: The networking years

Gaining knowledge is great but if other people are not aware of it what is the point? That is exactly why we need to network.

My analysis shows that after 3 years of experience, an employee’s value to the employers go up dramatically. It is at this point that the knowledgeable employee has the bargaining power, specially if he/she gets other job offers.

Networking is a whole big concept by itself and I pretty much try to know as many people as I can. However, the key focus should be around ones specialization. If I am a finance person, I need to mix with other finance people.

Linkedin groups, facebook groups thus come in very handy. Sometimes if you can’t find the right group you have the big opportunity of creating one. For example, I couldn’t find a suitable facebook groups for economics enthusiasts in Bangladesh and thus “Econ Exchange” was born.

Year 5 and beyond: Getting the credibility

Now comes another very important part. We have gathered knowledge and we know a lot of people. For becoming really valuable we must show that we are experts or semi-experts in our fields. This is the time when we should consider

  1. Writing in newspapers,
  2. Opening a personal blog or website
  3. Answering questions on Facebook and Linkedin groups, Quora etc
  4. You might even go the whole way and build up your social media personality in as many platforms as possible

I hope this small attempt of mine was helpful. Feel free to post your questions in the comments section below.

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Announcement: Partnership with “Thinknum” agreed upon

The Asif Khan Blog has decided to partner up with ThinknumI have a major announcement to make. The Asif Khan Blog has decided to partner up with Thinknum to help people learn the basics of financial modeling and equity valuation using their free platform. This will be the part of the “Basics of Investing” series that I plan on introducing very soon. Within that series the part about modeling and DCF valuation will be taught using the Thinknum platform. As with other things on this educational blog, these tutorials would be completely free.

Just to give a quick introduction, Thinknum was founded by Gregory Ugwi and Justin Zhen who studied together at Princeton. Gregory had later worked as a Mortgage Strategist for Goldman Sachs while Justin worked as a Senior Analyst with Strategic Investment Fund out of New Jersey. Thinknum is a platform to create financial models from data it collects from the web automatically. To learn more about Thinknum please check out the interview the founders did with Jason Voss of the CFA Institute.

How I came to know about Thinknum is an interesting story. Gregory’s ex Goldman Sachs colleagues forwarded him the Aswath Damodaran post about risk free rate calculation in frontier markets that was posted on this blog. We did a skype conference call yesterday and immediately agreed to have a partnership with each other. We hope to make this collaboration better with time.

Now stop wasting time and go have a look at this really interesting platform and prepare your first model in a few minutes.

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