Passing Level I of the CFA® Program Exam

An Accomplished Finance Professional Moves Closer to A Professional Milestone

Q&A with Gia Punjabi

Gia Punjabi, CA, has distinguished herself in her field in just under five years since she earned a BS from the University of Auckland in New Zealand – with a double major in Statistics and Accounting. She began her career on the trading floor of the Bank of New Zealand, conducting modeling and financial reporting to help traders analyze their positions. Thereafter, Gia moved to the US to join KPMG’s San Francisco team, auditing Wells Fargo Bank’s derivatives and acquisition functions. At present, Gia is a Consultant with CFGI, the financial consulting arm of the Private Equity firm called the Carlyle Group. Gia’s primary focus is on corporate finance projects in the Fintech and CPG industries.

Why did you choose to pursue the Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA) designation?

I asked four CFA® charterholder women to answer these exact questions. In retrospect,

Has the designation been a global passport for career success?

Has it provided credibility to influence decisions?

Has it given you a toolkit for leveraging change?

Has it provided you with opportunities for meaningful networking?

The responses aligned seamlessly with the values I aspire to build my career on every day. Hence, I felt that pursuing the CFA® designation would go hand in hand with pursuing the career I wanted to build.

What else did you do to help you decide to pursue a CFA® designation?

Firstly, I used Google to research what topics and material the CFA® Program exams covered. Figuring out that the exams take a generalist approach and are intended to be a self-study distance-learning program helped boost my interest level. Additionally, learning that the curriculum consisted of many topics I had already covered in my undergraduate studies, such as Accounting, Statistics and Economics further boosted my confidence at achieving success with the program. Looking through descriptions of the other curriculum topics, such as Corporate Finance and Equity Investments, also helped engage my curiosity and dedication to the journey to the CFA® designation.

Secondly, I looked through my professional network to connect with individuals that were charterholders and CFA® Program candidates. I was referred to CFA Society San Francisco, where I met Dave Kaczorowski, CFA®. [Kaczorowski is an Adjunct Professor and Academic Program Manager at GGU –Ed.]

I had one-on-one conversations with 12 individuals — at various stages in their journey to the CFA® designation. The consensus was that the CFA® Program really did open doors for each of them. Some said that they may not have been considered for certain jobs without the CFA® designation. Others said that it gave them the credibility to influence decision-making at their workplaces. The CFA® Program has a fantastic reputation, and professionals around the world recognize the endurance, diligence, intellect, and regard for ethical investment practice that CFA® candidates and CFA® charterholders possess.

The live prep courses really did work for me. It gave me a structured study plan so I knew where I should be in my exam preparation [and] gave me a peer network to study with.

You Passed Level I of the CFA® Program exam on the first try and are now preparing for the next levels. How did you do it?

The live prep courses really did work for me. It gave me a structured study plan so I knew where I should be in my exam preparation. I wasn’t scrambling to study five weeks in one week. In fact, I didn’t feel the need to cram at all.

The live prep courses are all facilitated by CFA® charterholders, in various finance professions in the industry. The facilitators are well versed in the exams material and were great resources. It was helpful to have multiple people available to direct questions and help clarify concepts with. Just like having a teacher, but in a much more informal, interactive manner. It was also fascinating to meet CFA® charterholders from a range of diverse careers, and have an opportunity to expand my professional network.

Another great aspect of the San Francisco Bay Area Live CFA® prep course was the chance to meet other candidates, and feel less isolated in the study journey. It was immeasurably helpful to have a peer group to bounce ideas and prepare for the exam with.

How did you study for the Level I CFA® Program exam successfully?

As I mentioned above, the prep courses gave me a peer network to study with. Working alone doesn’t work for some people. I liked having a couple of people to connect with, that I knew that were equally as dedicated as myself to pass the exam. Three of us formed an informal study group. We would encourage each other to do an hour or two after work to hit milestones. Closer to the exam, we started to meet on weekends to go over practice questions and talk through concepts and formulas. As is natural, each of us excelled in different topics, which means we were able to help each other out. We ended up commuting to the exam together, which helped calm nerves and kept us focused.

All three of us passed, which we were able to celebrate as friends and we continue to keep in touch about Level II.

What didn’t work in studying for the exam?

Creating my own notes. I personally feel that this is an outdated strategy, that might have worked for some in high school. With dense materials such as in the CFA® Program exams, summaries are the most useful. Kaplan has really great summaries available for purchase, and the exam materials themselves also include summary notes at the end of each topic. Additionally, taking a stab at a lot of different exam questions and engaging with other candidates and CFA® charterholders is absolutely vital. Lastly, cramming or trying to cover a lot of the material in one sitting does not help. Hence, I would encourage candidates to keep a steady pace and study for an hour or so after work every other day on a weekly basis.

Anything else that you think candidates should know?

There is a merit-based Women Scholarship by CFA® Institute available for women around the world. This scholarship is intended to encourage an increase in the presence of women among charterholders. Currently, less than 20% of the global CFA® charterholders are women. The application process involves an opportunity to discuss your goals and objectives for pursuing the CFA® designation.

The CFA® Program exam prep weeknight course starts on Tuesday, September 18thand the Saturday course begins on September 15th at Golden Gate University [map]. San Francisco Bay Area Live CFA Prep Courses are offered by Golden Gate University in partnership with CFA Society San Francisco.  You can register now on the CFA Society San Francisco website. 

CFA® and Chartered Financial Analyst® are registered trademarks owned by CFA Institute.

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