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How to Become a Portfolio Manager

June 24, 2021

A portfolio manager is a type of financial specialist that helps clients oversee their investment portfolios. To take on such a role, portfolio managers must be knowledgeable, analytical, and have strong problem-solving skills. If this sounds like you and you're interested in a career in finance, becoming a portfolio manager may be a great option. In this article, we discuss how to become a portfolio manager, what their responsibilities, salary and working conditions are, and answer frequently asked questions you may have.

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What does a portfolio manager do?

Portfolio managers make investment decisions to help clients or companies earn better returns. They oversee the entire investment process by researching potential investments with their team, then purchasing or selling assets accordingly. In addition, here are some of their common responsibilities:

  • Meet with clients to assess their finances and investment goals
  • Determine what risk levels are acceptable for clients
  • Onboard new clients and maintain relationships with existing ones
  • Ensure they follow federal and provincial or territorial laws about investments
  • Stay up-to-date with industry trends and news
  • Create and distribute financial reports and forecasts
  • Work closely with financial analysts to create an investment plan

How to become a portfolio manager

As a portfolio manager is an executive position, you may need to start in an entry-level finance role and work your way up. Here are some steps you can follow to become a portfolio manager:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree relevant to finance

Once you graduate high school or get a GED, you should focus on earning a bachelor's degree. It's often the minimum requirement to become a portfolio manager. Your bachelor's degree should be in a subject relevant to finance or investing, such as:

  • Accounting
  • Math
  • Statistics
  • Economics
  • Asset and risk management
  • Computer science
  • Data analysis
  • Business management
  • Business law
  • Tax law

2. Gain experience in the financial industry

While you're completing your undergraduate degree, you can gain experience in the financial industry. You may be able to get an internship or an entry-level role at an investment firm. Pursue a position as a financial or research analyst to gain great experience as you'll learn how to research and analyze data. Analysts also work under portfolio managers, so it's a good opportunity for you to learn more about the role and work your way up to it.

3. Pursue a master's degree in finance

Employers may not require you to have a master's degree, but having one sets you apart from other candidates. Since the finance industry is competitive, pursuing a master's degree gives you a better chance at becoming a portfolio manager. Consider furthering your education in the same field as your bachelor's degree, or branch out to another related field to expand your knowledge.

4. Get certified

Some employers may require you to have a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation even though it's offered through an American institution. To apply for this designation, you need a bachelor's degree and four years of experience as a financial analyst. The program teaches you about investment tools, portfolio management, and valuing assets. To get certified, you must pass three exams over three years.

Depending on your province or territory, you may also need certification from a regulatory authority before you start working as a portfolio manager. For example, the Saskatchewan Financial Services Commission offers certification in Saskatchewan. Look through job postings for companies you're interested in working for to check what their requirements are before you pursue further education.

5. Join professional organizations or associations

Joining a professional organization or association, such as the Portfolio Management Association of Canada, is a great way to grow your network. You can connect with other portfolio managers and learn about job opportunities in the area. Associations typically hold workshops, conferences, or other industry events to aid you with professional development as well. You do have to pay for membership but consider it an investment in your future.

6. Seek a position as an assistant portfolio manager

Although you likely have experience as a research or financial analyst at this point, the next best step to take in your career is pursuing an assistant portfolio manager role. Assistant portfolio managers work directly under portfolio managers, so you'll get great on-the-job experience. This is a great opportunity to get leadership experience as well before you are the top executive of your team.

7. Apply for a job as a portfolio manager

After gaining experience in the field, developing your skills, and meeting all the educational requirements, you're ready to apply for portfolio manager roles! If you already work for an investment firm, look for internal opportunities first as your current employer is more likely to promote you than hire externally. If there aren't any positions, look through job postings in your area or areas you're willing to move to.

Create a tailored resume based on keywords you see in different job postings. Including these keywords and ensuring your resume is unique for every job you apply to improves your chances of getting an interview. Hone your interview skills beforehand to provide the best opportunity for success.

Average salary

The average national salary for a portfolio manager is $81,554 per year. This salary varies depending on the company, location, industry, and your level of experience. Larger cities, compared to suburbs or rural locations, tend to offer higher salaries. For example, Victoria, BC, Vancouver, BC, and Pickering, ON are the three highest paying cities for portfolio managers.

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Working conditions

Portfolio managers typically have their own office and work standard office hours, 9 to 5 on Mondays to Fridays. They may have to travel to meet clients or hold meetings with them in their office or a conference room. Portfolio managers oversee a team of financial analysts, so they typically spend their time supervising, meeting with their team or clients, or in front of a computer investing.

Frequently asked questions about becoming a portfolio manager

What skills does a portfolio manager need?

Portfolio managers need a variety of skills to manage both professional relationships and financial investments. Here are some of the top skills and attributes portfolio managers should have:

  • Communication skills: To work effectively with a team and clients, portfolio managers must have excellent written and verbal communication skills.

  • Analytical abilities: Analytical thinking helps portfolio managers weigh the risks and opportunities in potential investments, allowing them to make decisions that suit the client's needs.

  • Decision-making skills: Although portfolio managers receive insight from their entire team, all investment decisions are up to them, so strong decision-making skills are a necessity.

  • Research skills: Research skills help portfolio managers stay up-to-date with industry trends and news. They also help with performing risk evaluations and analyses to make informed decisions.

  • Interpersonal skills: To onboard new clients and strengthen relationships with existing ones, portfolio managers need strong interpersonal skills.

  • Confidence: Confidence helps portfolio managers build trust relationships and allows them to make independent decisions easily.

  • Able to work under pressure: Portfolio managers often have to make decisions quickly with a high level of uncertainty. If they can't work well under pressure, they'll become stressed.

  • Integrity: Clients trust portfolio managers to have their best interests in mind, so portfolio managers must have integrity.

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How long does it take to become a portfolio manager?

As there are different paths to become a portfolio manager, the time it takes varies. Undergraduate programs typically take three to four years to complete while graduate programs take two to three years. If you pursue a CFA designation instead of a master's degree, that takes three years.

The amount of work experience you need to become a portfolio manager depends on the employer, but most prefer a minimum of five years of experience in the finance industry. Employers may require additional experience in a leadership role, such as an assistant portfolio manager.

Which province or territory pays portfolio managers the most?

As different provinces and territories have different costs of living, the average salary for a portfolio manager usually varies to match. According to Indeed Salaries, here's how much a portfolio manager makes in each province and territory:

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