Insights and Tips for Those Considering the CFA’s “Certificate in ESG Investing”

Purva Chhabra

Purva Chhabra, CFA ESG Data Analyst, Trader pchhabra@welton.com

In my role as an ESG Data Analyst and Trader at an investment management firm, I spend a good part of each day grappling with how to successfully integrate ESG factors into our ESG program, a multi-asset ESG long/short strategy combining ESG US mid-large cap equities and ESG global derivatives.

One of the challenges for the investment industry as a whole in developing sustainable investment approaches has been finding ways to meet the demand for more sophisticated ESG products that address some of society’s biggest environmental, social and governance challenges as well as meet the risk / return objectives of institutional investors. So given my firm’s particular ESG focus and the rapidly evolving ESG investment landscape, I decided that it made sense for me to sit for the Certificate in ESG investing exam offered by CFA UK.

Overall I found the course material to be very helpful, providing a broad grounding in many aspects of ESG (although as I will discuss, an incomplete one). And given the dearth of information around the exam and its material, I thought it would be helpful to share my experience as a recent certificate holder. (Yes, I passed!).

What is the Certificate in ESG Investing?

CFA UK first offered the Certificate in September 2019 in the UK. Due to high demand and a desire to make the Certificate available globally, the Certificate will soon be administered by the CFA Institute starting September 2021 as a globally recognized credential.

The curriculum focuses on approaches to integrate ESG factors into the investment process. Although there are no prerequisites to register for the exam, it is intended for professionals with investment management backgrounds exploring responsible investing. It was developed in consultation with leading firms and is recognized by the UN PRI. More information can be found from the CFA Institute.

The computer-based test consists of 100 multiple choice questions to be completed in 2 hours and 20 minutes. CFA UK provides only one paper specimen exam along with end-of-chapter self-assessment questions to familiarize students with the exam structure. Beyond that, there is not much to refer to in terms of practice questions/blogs/forums, which is why the actual exam experience was a bit harrowing, at least for me. But in the end, what helped me sail through was learning the CFA UK’s Official Training Manual (OTM) as well as the fact that I have a leg up given my day job as an ESG data analyst which was particularly helpful when answering practical case study-based questions.

What does it cover?

The syllabus covers a broad swath of responsible investing (RI) themes across nine chapters. It begins with the foundations of investment strategies under the RI umbrella organized within its three pillars: environmental, social, and governance. The last few chapters capture the “analysis and integration” aspect and carry the highest weightage on the exam. The material also touches upon the less talked about topic of stewardship and engagement.

Environmental issues such as climate change are cited as the most common examples to reinforce concepts. This accounts for about half of the subject matter, which is not very astonishing for me as someone who has been researching this space for more than a year. In fact, I consider it a positive sign because I believe the material covered is consistent with the current state of RI today.

There are plenty of case studies throughout the text that illustrate ESG issues faced by corporates, the financial materiality of these issues, and instances of successful implementation of sustainable strategies. The global ESG regulatory landscape is also well covered, with the authors praising its rapid evolution and highlighting the need for greater disclosure and transparency guidance.

Across all chapters, there is one principal theme: the integration of financially material ESG risks and opportunities into the investment process. This theme is complemented by cataloging barriers to measuring financial materiality.

A few of my key takeaways are:

  • Social megatrends are driving an array of ESG issues that could be financially material — issues such as digital disruption, and changes to work life and leisure
  • The importance of ESG analysis and integration, not just at the asset/strategy level but at the portfolio level as well
  • Investors can access myriad pertinent reports and publications from various international organizations and agencies, and I’m now more aware of some of these sources for further research

 

Was it worth it?

As I alluded earlier, I hoped the curriculum would include some discussion of multi-asset ESG portfolios, and particularly those that seek to integrate ESG financial derivatives. Unsurprisingly, however, equity is the focal point of the curriculum, with fixed income and real estate playing second fiddle. The overwhelming majority of ESG products today are equity long-only of course, but ESG is evolving and I am hopeful that future training guides will include multi-asset ESG implementations. CFA UK publishes the Official Training Manual (OTM) every year on October 1st, and I expect future editions will incorporate newer developments such as this.

As regulators in Europe and the U.S. take a more keen interest in how firms are structuring and evaluating ESG products, I believe that programs like the Certificate in ESG Investing will play an increasingly valuable role to help ensure a base level of standards and knowledge. I thoroughly appreciated the material as someone who aims to deepen my expertise in ESG Investing, and I encourage others to pursue it to deepen their knowledge within the exciting and evolving sustainable investing sector.

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