Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Level I Results

Well, that was some radio silence, but finally an update.

This week I found out results to the Level I CFA exam - I passed! Not only did I pass, I scored above 70% in each of the 9 topics (for each topic, they tell you whether you scored below 50%, between 51-70%, or above 70%). Nothing could have been better validation.

Just wanted to do a quick post to get myself going again. I'll do another one soon to review my life over the past few months, so that anyone with real-life questions about the pre-CFA exam experience might learn something.

Friday, January 26, 2007

CFA startup

SO, I've just finished my first week of studying, and can tell you how to properly reference the term CFA (it's an adjective, not noun!). But did I just use it as a noun...? Up next is Time Value of Money, which has always been fun. Looking ahead also made me realize that I should get myself a proper calculator, so an order just went into Amazon for a spiffy new TI BAII Plus Professional. I've heard that the Pro version is pretty nice, so figured I'd invest into it, and use my old regular BAII Plus as a backup. Turned out being around $45, the cheapest of TI's official distribution vendors, and Amazon offers free shipping as well. It's also a far cry from the HP 12c, which I think I saw listed at over $100. Why you would spend that much on a machine that only understands Reverse Polish Notation is beyond me. There's already enough material to study; while I'll have to spend some time getting used to my new 'lator, hopefully it won't take too long.

Other unintended consequences of this exam - shopping for a new credit card. Though I expect to get reimbursed by my company, study and enrollment fees will max out my limit for a while, and I enjoy the convenience of credit over ATMs. The Citi Dividend Platinum Select Card looks quite nice (woo cashback), and I'm hoping they'll approve me. was useful for browsing potential vendors. The Discover gas card rated highly on the site, but Discover isn't as widely accepted is it?

Back to exam prep...though it's only been a week, this week has been exhausting. Suppose I'm not used to studying anymore (not that I ever really was). But I must keep at it, because I don't want to let anyone (myself, my family, my managers) down. Plus, I've postponed my desired purchase of a PS2 until June, so I'd better make these gameless months worth it.

"Hey, BBP, want to go out tonight?"

Friday nights now: "Sorry, CFA."
Friday nights 4 months from now: "Sorry, DDR."

Friday, January 5, 2007

Resolutions: less at the waist, more in the head

Happy new year! Similar to many others, end-of-year festivities kept me from this blog. More generally though, my mind was completely diverted from the general topics that this blog only reflects. It is shamefully surprising how quickly do-gooding falls by the wayside when things get busy. Thank goodness for people who have dedicated their livelihood to doing good, or worldwide philanthropic efforts would be as stop-and-go as public attention.

Again, as many others, I have woken this January with a Holiday Hangover. It's now time to sober up and strengthen my character with some resolutions for self-improvement. But because I would like to be different from most people in some respect, this time I'm putting money on the line to keep my resolutions. And no, I'm not dedicating the steady financial drip of an underused gym membership. The membership I seek requires buckets of funds and hours of toil before setting foot in the establishment: charter to the CFA Institute.

This isn't a decision I've taken lightly, because of the big commitment of time and money. However, I've always taken great stock in titles and certifications, and this is something that I can pursue while working. I'm also fortunate that my company offers some reimbursement for the costs.

So while my resolve is afire, I'll push forward, and have you join me on this venture. This weekend I will
  • review the company forms again and gather all of the information I need for reimbursement.
  • order the Schweser study materials, which I have heard are good. The Essential package (practice exam book and QBank) should be sufficient, since practice questions are the best way I prepare myself.

Once the materials arrive, I can flip through to get a handle of the amount/type of material. I haven't yet decided on whether to take the June or December exam; once I've settled on that, I can create a study plan.

But first, I should probably get some dinner.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Checklist for making effective donations

I've mentioned before how much I respect volunteering and also how valuable donating can be. I decided to post a few quick tips on ways to get more bang for your donation buck, but as I looked more and more into it, deciding where to direct your money can be a fairly laborious process! So, here's a handy list that you can follow as you decide on your holiday giving. You probably won't have time for all of these, but if you are able to check off a few, feel content that you've made that money work hard for you and those who need it.

  • Instead of throwing change to people on street corners who may not be legit, deposit/Coinstar that change and write a check to a reliable cause that resonates strongly with you.
  • Look into your employer's matching policy for charitable giving; forward that information to some of your colleagues.
  • Investigate charities through third-party rating groups such as Charity Navigator or the American Institute of Philanthropy. Better yet, look at the charity's financial statements.
  • Reinforce your giving behavior by seeing the good effects of your donation. An easy way to do this is to browse the charity website; nice ones will have photos and/or success stories to make you feel good about your giving. Like going through souvenirs and snapshots from a vacation, it helps extend the positive experience from your one action. It might feel so nice, you'll decide to give again soon.
A few NPR stories on giving:
Rating the Performance of Charities
Charity Stress

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Finally seeing the light

As someone who likes to stay connected (or "plugged in"), I run a fair amount of electronics. With my computer and TV - not to mention cooking, cleaning, and heating appliances - I probably burn a fair amount of electricity each day. An easy way to cut my monthly energy bill has been using fluorescent light bulbs.

I have heard all the arguments against fluorescent lights - the lighting is too harsh, it takes too long to warm up. A few years ago, I would have agreed with you; my family has used fluorescent lights since I was but a wee child, and those points annoyed me. As I have grown though, so have store-bought fluorescent lights:
  • Fluorescent bulbs are now offered in a variety of colors. Whether you want a cozy warm glow or intimidating office glare, the options are there for you.
  • The bulbs will fit into your light fixtures, thanks to this swirling design. You can even get bulbs with a glass casing to look just like incandescents.
  • No more ugly flicker or waiting half an hour for your light to warm up to full brightness.
  • Fluorescent bulbs release less mercury into the environment. Wikipedia says, "According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), (when coal power is used) the mercury released from powering an incandescent bulb for five years exceeds the sum of the mercury released by powering a comparably luminous CFL for the same period and the mercury contained in the lamp."
  • Energy savings recoup your up-front investment. Fluorescents use 75-80% less electricity and usually last at least 10 times longer.
With the progress in fluorescent technology, you can maintain your quality of light while spending less money on your utility bill and less time teetering on a stepladder! I'd think everyone would jump at such a deal, but apparently few people are in on this secret - just 5% of last year's bulb sales were fluorescents. That could change though, as big companies like Philips, GE, and Wal*Mart are already pushing this product. Be sure you're one of those informed people making the switch.

Photo: Color compact fluorescent by A Dewitz

Friday, December 8, 2006

World class Negotiations 101

Listening to NPR on my evening commute, amid the many stories about politicians and Iraq, I suddenly started paying attention about three minutes into this conversation about Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What I found most interesting was how Robert Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, applied basic negotiation analysis to the situation - the logic of what he was saying brought me back to college Negotiations class.

If you want something, such as a stop to cross-border arms transports, you must give something. The U.S. can't set conditions before it is willing to start negotiations. Just think about it, only a desperate party would make concessions before even sitting down at the bargaining table. Such an action would signal weakness, starting negotiations at a disadvantage. Syria is unlikely to accept such an unfavorable scenario, so the U.S. will need to change tactics if it wants something from that country.

Another thing I learned in class is that you need to be able to trust your negotiations counterpart. It could be argued that the U.S. should not make agreements with the thus far unfriendly Syria, unless it makes concessions as a sign of goodwill. While I do think trust is a very important element in making confident agreements, it is impractical to think that you can build a strong relationship before the negotiation takes place. In order to take an agreement all the way through execution, guidelines and checks must be built into the agreement for the protection of all parties and assurance that all duties will be fulfilled.

I don't often apply business class lessons to geopolitical situations; it was an interesting way to look at international relations. Do you think this sort of academic approach is a good way to handle complex foreign policy?

Photo: crystal world by Rainer Schmied

Thursday, December 7, 2006

It's the people stuff

Do you remember your first day on the job? That mix of excitement, bewilderment, and the aim to please. Yesterday I reflected on the lessons that have really sunk in during the 3 months at my current job. Some of these may seem like common sense, but sometimes its the nuances of corporate culture and people issues that are the hardest to grasp.

Show initiative without stepping on toes
Think about who is involved with the project and quickly run your idea by at least one person. That person can tell you if someone is already working on something similar. If you're asked to hold off on your idea, show deference to people with more experience. You've already shown that you're thinking about issues as well as your coworkers. People will appreciate both the willingness to stand up and stand back.

Communicate and build relationships
In-person or phone conversations reduce the chance of miscommunication. You are also more likely to learn about other things and build a relationship starting with small talk. Even when emailing, adding some pleasantries can make a letter more friendly. When I used to omit these soft gestures (in an attempt to sound professional and save the reader time), my emails came across as terse and alienated the people I was trying to work with.

Network yourself and others
Go ahead and talk! Even if you're on the company's clock, it's okay to take some time to get to know your coworkers - you'll be more efficient if you get along. I used to be nervous about interrupting other people's work, but I've realized that people everyone enjoys taking breaks and having a laugh. They'll let you know if they're under a deadline.
Don't forget to branch out of your group; employees with connections across different groups tend to excel. If you're with someone in another department and he has to take a call, use that opportunity to chat with his neighbor. Cross-pollinate your friends by inviting them to lunch and introducing to one another. It creates a fresh dynamic and they might reciprocate by cross-pollinating you with someone new.
Of course, all in moderation. Presumably you'll be at this company for a while, so take a lunch here, a few minutes there. Balance making new friends with nurturing old ones, and not looking like a chatty slacker at work!

Photo: feet 3 by Elvis Santana