Investment Professional of the Future

Investment Professional of the Future

Skills and Competencies for Investment Professionals


We speak of skills in the industry, but employers will often reference “competency models” in which competency is associated with “knowledge, skills, and abilities” to describe the exact needs of the job and its function.


Knowledge, skills, and abilities are qualifying statements about competencies that align to the suitability of a professional for specific roles at work. They govern the talent and expertise, experience, and accomplishments that professionals need to perform at the highest level, according to 2019 CFA Institute practice analysis data collection, which is used to inform the CFA curriculum.xxxii

  • Knowledge is the body of information applied directly to the performance of a function and how effectively it is applied.
  • Skills are observable capabilities to perform a learned and role-specific act or function and achieve specific accomplishments.
  • Abilities are capabilities and attitudes, including values, that support behaviors that result in observable outcomes.
  • The mapping of roles to competencies will be contextual to a specific organization or type of organization.

This discussion has covered some trending skill areas and how much CFA Institute members and CFA Program candidates are currently learning. We also asked how many are already proficient in these areas. Few say they are proficient, although 24% say they are already proficient in soft skills. In contrast, just 6% say they are proficient in data analysis coding. Looking regionally, self-assessed proficiency levels are lowest in Asia, which is consistent with research indicating there is a skill gap in the region.xxxiii

With these indications of supply of talent, we asked industry leaders what skills are most in demand for the future. These are categorized in four main areas in Exhibit 13.

Exhibit 13


Percentages indicate the number of expert opinion survey responses ranking each item first. Respondents were asked to rank each set of skills and then the four categories as a whole. This summarizes several questions: Rank the importance of the following skills/skill categories for successful investment professionals in the next 5–10 years.

⟨  Swipe  ⟩
Technical Skills 14%
Solutions skills (i.e., understanding client needs and developing appropriate portfolios) 40%
Foundational investment skills (as in the CFA Program) 31%
Finance, economics 14%
Information technology and computer science 9%
Science, engineering, math 5%
Management science 1%
ESG analysis skills 1%
Leadership Skills 21%
Ability to articulate mission and vision 45%
Instills an ethical culture 32%
Governance 16%
Crisis management 4%
Globally attuned, familiarity with multiple languages 3%
Soft Skills 16%
Creativity/innovation skills 33%
Communication skills 30%
Empathy/relationship skills 20%
Humility/self-awareness skills 10%
Consultative/selling skills 6%
T-Shaped Skills 49%
Situational fluency/adaptability 24%
Ability to connect across disciplines 21%
Understanding and leveraging diverse perspectives 21%
Cultivating a valuable network of contacts 20%
Systems savvy/understanding larger context 14%
  1. Technical skills: As a category, technical skills are ranked first by 14% of industry leaders. They include the most commonly covered skills in traditional training and undergraduate and post-secondary degrees, such as finance, economics, foundational investment skills (e.g., the tools of financial analysis, asset classes, and portfolio management applications covered in the CFA Program), science, engineering, mathematics, information technology and computer science, and management science. Technical skills also include more in-depth skills, such as ESG analysis and solutions skills (i.e., understanding client needs and developing appropriate portfolios). We asked industry leaders to rank these skill categories for successful investment professionals in the next 5–10 years, and foundational investment skills and solutions skills are ranked highest. The industry leader respondents who are CFA members were much more likely to choose the foundational investment skills than leaders who had not completed the CFA Program personally. Non-members were more likely to rank IT and computer science the highest (24% versus 9% for the CFA members surveyed).
  2. Soft skills: This skill category is ranked first by 16% of industry leaders. It includes empathy/relationship skills, consultative/selling skills, communication skills, humility/self-awareness skills, and creativity/innovation skills. Here, the CFA member and non-member groups within the industry leader survey pool are in agreement, with creativity/innovation and communication skills each getting about a third of the first-place rankings within the soft skills category. Overall, soft skills are rated about as important as technical skills.
  3. Leadership skills: The leadership category of skills is viewed as more important, and it is ranked first by 21% of industry leaders. Within this category, we identified such skills as the ability to articulate mission and vision, being globally attuned/familiarity with multiple languages, instilling an ethical culture, crisis management abilities, and governance. The standout item is ability to articulate mission and vision (45% rank this most important), followed by instilling an ethical culture (32%).
  4. T-shaped skills: Lastly, we asked about T-shaped skills, which are the most valued type of skills overall, according to our survey: 49% say they are more important than all the other categories. More specifically, these skills include the ability to connect across disciplines, being systems savvy, understanding larger organizational context, having situational fluency/adaptability, cultivating a valuable network of contacts, and understanding and leveraging diverse perspectives. Interestingly, it is the only category where the elements in it are essentially equally valued, with all five seen as important. Those with T-shaped skills are especially helpful to organizations because of their ability to frame issues coherently and thus ask the right questions (which specialists and computers can answer).

It is important to note that the mix of skills typically varies over the career of an investment professional. There is a natural bias to technical skills at the beginning of the career and an increasing emphasis on the other three skill types as the career develops. Exhibit 14 is our suggested pathway; it illustrates the normative progression of a hypothetical professional tracked through a productive career.

We also asked survey respondents about the availability of these skills in the marketplace. The most difficult to find are generally soft skills, followed by T-shaped skills, leadership skills, and then technical skills, as shown in Exhibit 15. Although this result does not diminish the importance of technical skills for career success in the investment industry, it does imply that the industry has undertrained in the other areas and has an opportunity to improve. The trend toward hyper-specialization in technical areas in the industry has resulted in fewer generalists focused on soft skills and T-shaped skills.

One key, overarching dimension to competencies is the part played by ethics. Strong ethical orientation is derived from knowledge (e.g., clarity surrounding conflicts of interests and doing the right thing) and abilities (e.g., applying strong values in serving others and understanding the client point of view). Increased accountability of investment firms and the importance placed on the societal license to operate will be conducive to individuals with ethical competencies and good character.

We comment later on the idea that all these types of skills can be developed—most likely through a growth mindset and access to high-quality educational programs and other learning resources.

Exhibit 14
Graph displays a recommended career path in terms of the balance of skill types needed. Technical skills are the most important type early in one's career, but then the other types (soft, leadership, and T-shaped skills) become more important over time.