Spotlight: Women in asset management

Beyond the numbers: An inside look at careers in the investments industry

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Created for BMO Global Asset Management

Fast-paced. Exciting. Innovative. These are the ways that the women of global asset management describe their careers.

But while women have been breaking new ground across sectors for decades, they’re still under-represented in this part of the investments industry which encompasses financial products such as mutual funds and ETFs. And that comes at a loss to many. 

There’s research showing that gender diversity in companies can yield better returns for investors. And for those who love the prospect of collaborating, problem-solving and helping people achieve their financial goals, overlooking global asset management also means missing out on an incredibly fulfilling and challenging career path.

Best of all? You don’t need a background in math or finance to get your foot in the door. 

“Not everyone crunches numbers all day,” says Lynn Kahrkling, vice president of strategic communications at BMO Global Asset Management (GAM). “It takes a lot of areas of expertise to make the business work. Communications, operations, sales, HR, legal, compliance, and graphic design. There’s no type of job you can’t do in global asset management.”

BMO is at the forefront of helping women recognize these opportunities, collaborating with Canadian universities on events, networking opportunities and internships. But the best way to understand the potential is to hear about global asset management firsthand from women working in these exciting roles.

Lynn Kahrkling, VP, Strategic Communications

At the beginning of my career, I would have been like, “Asset management? That sounds really complicated.” Because that’s not how I saw myself or my strengths. I come from a words-first, numbers-second approach and love communications. I joke that, in my next life, maybe I’ll come back as a portfolio manager since the numbers make a lot more sense to me now. 

But numbers don’t have to be your thing. I really love the behind-the-scenes glimpse I get of an industry that I wouldn’t understand if I weren’t working in it. I love walking around the floor and seeing the portfolio managers with multiple computer screens showing market data—I think that’s really fascinating. The fact that I get to work together with them to ultimately help people with investments—well, that’s awesome. 

In global asset management, it’s all the different skill sets that come together to make it all work. It’s a lot of variety—there’s always five, six, 10 things on the go, and there are a lot of people involved with a lot of different backgrounds. Working on a project, you’ll have someone who’s an expert in portfolio construction. And then you’ll have someone on the sales team, and their job is to take a finished product and introduce it to a certain target group. Being in a role where I get to take the bits and pieces of everyone’s different areas of expertise, and contribute my own expertise, that’s what I enjoy the most. 

Lynn’s personal investing philosophy: Don’t make decisions based on emotion. Have a plan, know what you’re doing and why—and then stick with it. That’s a bit harder for me because I’m exposed to much more information than if I turned on the news for five minutes and then turned it off.

Stephanie Ng, Inside Sales Wholesaler, Mutual Funds

Since I was a young girl, I’ve always been inspired by women—whether that’s an author, a doctor, a teacher, or someone in entertainment. You see someone like Serena Williams, and it makes you feel like you can do that. But for me, that visibility was lacking in finance. 

In school, I didn’t take anything related to investments, but I worked part-time as a teller at a BMO branch. To meet people and to be able to help them with their needs really opened my eyes to how I could help individuals achieve real financial progress. When I started at BMO, they didn’t care that my background wasn’t in finance because they could see my passion and my attitude. They’re helping me grow and elevate my career—I’ve been able to take numerous courses. Right now, I’m taking one called Advanced Investment Strategies. 

It’s really important to know that, if you feel like you’ve taken the wrong program or want to pivot your career, it’s not too late. And here at BMO, there are some great women in leadership role models. 

Stephanie’s personal investing philosophy: Saving doesn’t have to be scary; you just have to pay yourself first. I’ve started using automated savings tools so I don’t have to think about it.

McKenzie Box Alaimo, Director, ETF Product Management and Strategy

I’ve been in Asset Management for just over 12 years—I first started in sales and moved over to the product team, always with a focus on ETFs. In product, we identify the needs of investors and we’re responsible for everything from idea generation to bringing those ideas to market. 

I’d say my role has really evolved, but that’s what I love most. Every day is different. In this role, you constantly have to adapt to where the markets are going and where the world is going, and things can change quite significantly. Just look at the last few years. It’s an exciting challenge to adapt to whatever trends we’re seeing in the marketplace and provide clients with new solutions to meet their needs. We start with a blank canvas and get to deliver a meaningful solution.

McKenzie’s personal investing philosophy: Investing is more than just buying something off the exchange. In my job, we look at where things are going. It’s a good idea to be forward-thinking.

Sara Petrcich, Managing Director and Head of Synthetic Asset Management

I’m a competitive person. I love the challenge of finding an intellectual problem and then being able to be really creative and find a solution. When the end client says, “You solved this for me,” that makes me feel great. My background is in Capital Markets. Working on a trading floor, you learn risk-taking, you learn how to measure risk and you learn how to make the best educated decisions around managing risk. You’re constantly out of your comfort zone, but I’ve learned that being out of my comfort zone is my comfort zone.

What’s interesting is I got to my position by not being in asset management. I studied math and economics and my dad was a civil engineer, and I liked the problem-solving aspect of that job. But then I took a summer student job at a bank and realized I had this huge passion for financial markets. I never studied finance, I never got my MBA. A lot of women from engineering and math and computer science don’t realize they can transfer that incredible skillset. But when you can come up with a really great investment idea and see it make money, that’s very satisfying. 

Sara’s personal investing philosophy: You know the expression about the shoemaker having the ugliest shoes? I actually think so much less about my own investments, but focus on being opportunistic when a good investment makes sense.

Sabrina Fanelli, Senior Associate, National Accounts 

I worked at BMO for various internships and co-ops and studied finance in university. When I graduated, I was able to take part in a program with BMO where I got to experience four different roles within two years, all within global asset management. 

It’s really important to be well-rounded. In a relationship-driven business, the more you can be relatable to others, the better. The simplest way to do that is to have a diversity of experiences, whether they be work or personal. 

As part of the sales side, we work with product investment analysts or research analysts or head-office staff and C-suite. We work on behalf of BMO GAM’s entire product suite, trying to deepen those relationships. I love how interconnected it is and how I never feel siloed. Not only do I work with a range of folks from across the industry but I also get to work with virtually every team within BMO GAM, and many teams across BMO as a whole. I get to use analytical and relationship management skills every day.

Sabrina’s personal investing philosophy: It doesn’t need to be complex to be efficient; the most important part is just starting your investing and saving journey. 

Watch Lynn, Stephanie, McKenzie, Sarah and Sabrina describe why they love their work in global asset management in these video interviews.

The information contained herein is not, and should not be construed as, investment advice to any party. BMO Global Asset Management is a brand name under which BMO Asset Management Inc. and BMO Investments Inc. operate. ®/™Registered trademarks/trademark of Bank of Montreal, used under licence.