Finance and CFA

Supposed you're an American investment company, operating in China, and managing a pension fund on behave of your client in Russia. Do you...

  1. Follow American laws, and put your Russian client at a disadvantage?
  2. Follow Russian laws, and risk getting into legal trouble in China?
  3. Follow Chinese laws, and risk damaging your brand at home?


I can finally take a (temporary) break from my study! What started out as an intellectual curiosity eventually grew into long nights studying, weekend review course, six textbooks, proprietary study notes, practice exams, and many, many study groups. I have had the opportunity to interact with other students across the globe online and offline, and it will be this one word that will forever bind our comradory. This word is the 'CFA'.

The Charter Financial Analyst designation is generally considered amongst the most prestigious in the world of finance. To qualify as a charterholder, a candidate must pass three levels of exams and must have four years of investment work experience. Charterholders are also obliged to adhere to a strict Code of Ethics and Standards governing their professional conduct. The exam is rigorous and comprehensive, with 7 major areas ranging from quantitative methods to portfolio management. Each year the CFA Institute incorporates new materials and latest developments into the curriculum. Some consider the exams to be an equivalent of a Masters Degree in Finance. In 2005 worldwide pass rate of Level I, II, and III were 34%, 55%, and 56% respectively. It is no surprised that only one in five of the candidates who start the program actually completes it. Of the ones who complete the charter, it takes four years on average.

Boy, I better have a very good reason to do this horrible thing to myself! I'm doing this because 1) finance is useful, 2) I work with many business analysts, and 3) I like finance.

Finance is useful.
As I gain more responsibility professionally I will probably get into a situation where I have to manage a budget. Learning how to manage resources more effectively allows me to grow and become a better employee, and now that I have studied corporate governance, shall I say serve my shareholders better? In fact, finance is the language of business, which means no matter what you do (be it R&D, Marketing, or HR) you must have some concept of management of resources. There's no other way to create a sustainable enterprise.

Even if you don't care about gaining more responsibility at the enterprise level, finance is also useful at the personal level. Since I have graduated last year I have accumulated some (albeit small amount) of money, but I'm by no means conformable with my ability to manage my finances. I was thrown into a world of financial products and terminologies that I had to navigate through. The CFA experience will hopefully put some common sense into me or at least let me evaluate a financial advisor. Wouldn't the global financial market benefit from having more informed and educated participants? I'm doing this for world peace and doing it for myself :)

I know people who work in finance.
Okay this doesn't make a very good reason, after all I know many people who are doing many things...However, because of what I do by trade I get to know and work with many business analysts. Knowing a thing or two about finance lets me speak their language and communicate more effective with my coworkers. Sometimes I even consult them on my practice exam questions :)

I like finance.
Some would say that this is the only reason matters. When I first started reading the Economist a year ago I struggled with the finance and economics articles. I struggled, but I still enjoyed them. I have taken some (three to be precise) economics and finance classes while I was in college. I find macro-economics interesting. I find international finance interesting. I was drawn to the fact that economists always seem to have a way to convert seemingly endless philosophic debates into rational decision rules and optimization problems. They make hard problems easy, though sometimes at the risk of oversimplification. I didn't have the time to explore the field further back then because I already had a major (one that I'm also very passionate about). I want to learn more about finance now.

There's another explanation to my passion in finance.

There's something romantic (despite how naive it is) about trying to understand the world through mathematical relationships. With the explosion of data and ever increasing computational capability I believe we're still in the beginning of what we as a society can do with data. Financial tools combined with my other passion (data mining) will create new possibilities, a vision that is shared by many. I believe, like any good athlete, I must too engage in cross training.

Some friends asked what have I gained financially since I started studying for the CFA exam. Let’s see...

  • Exam Registration...........$735.00
  • CFA Curriculum..............$395.00
  • CFA Preliminary Readings....$152.00
  • Saturday Review Class.......$895.00
  • Proprietary Study Notes.....$410.27
  • Proprietary Practice Exams..$107.17
You don't need a CFA charter to see that I'm at -2700 right now. On the plus side, I'm starting to understand the Economist articles and I also made a few new friends from my study sessions. If I were on a visa cards commercial I would tell you that the experience so far has been "priceless".


Back to the original question: I'm not going to give away the CFA answer. It is actually one of the easier questions (although I changed the wording make it seem difficult), but no doubt it’s different when you have to make a decision in real life and when the stakes are high. Business Ethics requires more thoughts...wait for Part II of this post. :p

Fujitsu LifeBook P1510 vs Motion Computing LS800

Only recently prices for TabletPC are starting to make sense, and with Microsoft's introduction of Ultra-Mobile PC this segment is getting some new excitement. I already have a ThinkPad X41 Tablet for work, but this time I want a tablet for personal use. After some research I have found 2 tablets that look like they have exactly what I want.

Before I dive into Fujitsu LifeBook P1510D vs Motion Computing LS800, why do I actually need a new laptop or a TabletPC for that matter? All the talks about TabletPC seem to focus on the medical or industrial like business use cases, what can a consumer do with a tablet?
  1. Map and driving directions when I'm on the road. Wouldn't it be cool to have Google Earth in your car or when you're hiking?
  2. Portable digital book. Gutenberg has a fine selection of free ebooks, but this applies to pdfs, webpages, magazines, articles, etc...
  3. Note taking. The power to search your class notes and lectures is just amazing.
  4. Sketch book and travel journal when I goto the park. Drawing and painting is an old college habit that I want to pick up again. Compare to pencils and paper, a TabletPC saves trees, its cleaner, and it is also easier to store/archive the final drawings.
  5. VoIP. There is a lot of talk about VoIP replacing cellphones. Whether it will happen is another story, but I'm certainly curious what the technology can do in a real-life setting as supposed to a controlled desktop/indoor environment.
  6. Act as a wireless remote control in my house so I can control my stereo, desktop, TV, etc...I don't actually need this feature right now because I don't own too many digital devices. Its still nice to know I can do that.
  7. Write TabletPC applications. I don't actually plan to do this, but its nice to know that I can if I want to.
  8. Portable computer, e.g. movie player when I'm on the plane. My 12" IBM X41 is by no means huge, but I wouldn't want to carry it around either.
  9. Personal computer. It would be nice to have a personal computer so I don't have to rely on my work laptop for everything.
Not all of these reasons apply to tablet, but many of them can benefit from being a tablet form (e.g. #2, its much more natural to read a book on a tablet than a laptop).

Fujitsu LifeBook P1510DMotion Computing LS800
9.3" x 7.32" x 1.36"/1.46"8.94" x 6.69" x 0.87"
2.5 lbs2.2 lbs
Up to 7.0 hours of battery life
LexarTM JumpDrive Sport 1 GB USB Flash Drive
Real laptop Keyboard
View Anywhere® display
Integrated Bluetooth®

* Both machines have Intel® Centrino® 1.20GHz. 512MB Memory. 30GB Hard Drive. WindowsXP Tablet Edition.
* Prices include additional upgrades, shipping, and taxes. Price for LifeBook is after a limited time 10% off coupon. Fujitsu also has another coupon for free shipping and a free 1GB USB Drive.
* Fujitsu P1510D base model upgraded with Windows XP Tablet Edition and from 3 Cell to 6 Cell battery. The two upgrades cost $100.
* LS800 base model upgraded with ViewAnywhere (a $299 upgrade). It has WindowsXP Tablet Edition by default.
* Fujitsu upgrade from 512MB Memory to 1GB memory costs $600, whereas LS800 costs only $100. This analysis is done without the memory upgrade. The cost and value proposition will change dramatically if they're judged under the 1GB memory configuration.

Motion Computing LS800 is definitely the better tablet. It is smaller, lighter, and has ViewAnywhere® (it even rhythms!). But I have to give the final prize to Fujitsu. Fujitsu not only holds up pretty well as a tablet (almost the same size and weight), but with 7 hour long battery life it is perfect in an outdoor environment where you don't have access to power supply. Not only that, with it's real keyboard Fujitsu's LifeBook can act as a true laptop. Of course, the $800+ price difference of the two is a major factor as well. In other words, Motion Computing LS800 is a better Tablet, but Fujitsu LifeBook P1510D is a better product.
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