Author: Maha Khan Phillips
This year, the Investment Management Certificate (IMC), the entry-level qualification for the UK investment profession, will celebrate its 25th anniversary. It has come a long way since then, writes Maha Khan Phillips.
The IMC was recognised by regulators as the UK benchmark investment management exam in 1993, and the first sitting took place on the 12th of July, 1994. Nobody could have predicted how much the asset management industry would change in the subsequent quarter of a century.
From its onset, the exam was seen as the stepping stone to a number of different investment career pathways, and that has not changed, say previous participants.
“The IMC is the gateway into the world of fund management. We know it can lead into many different directions, but it is still that same gateway,” comments David McMeekin, CFA, a self-confessed ‘serial-exam taker’, who was one of the first people to sit for the exam.
McMeekin was already an associate of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, and an associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute, before he sat the IMC exam. “Before we were required to take regulatory exams, there were still some people, a little bit nerdy like myself, who chose to do the exams even if they didn’t have to. Back then, it was a case of convincing your HR department. They had budgets to do some but not all of these things. But some of us really enjoyed taking them!” he laughs.
McMeekin was working with a bank in Edinburgh at the time, and says he wanted to look beyond pensions, financial planning, and mortgages, and to gain insight into the world of investment management. “There were no test banks, there were no courses. I think I might have had one mock exam, and we had the official IMC manual. That was good enough, because it was all about the material, and you had to be interested enough to learn it,” he says.
He went on to have a varied and successful career in the banking and wealth management industries – earning several more qualifications along the way – before becoming a financial instructor at Kaplan Schweser. “I was lucky to find the IMC, it gave me a tremendous opportunity to gain new, useful knowledge, and set me on the career path I am on today,” he says.
Another early participant, Matthew Barrett, ASIP, remembers standing outside the Bishopsgate exam centre with “a pencil in my sweaty palms.” The exams weren’t computerised back then, he points out.
“The IMC was really a stepping stone. I went on to do the IIMR exams, and, having done the IMC definitely helped me progress in my career at the firm I was with. I then applied to business school, and possibly without those qualifications, I might not have gotten a place,” he says.
Barrett believes the industry has professionalised a great deal in the last 25 years. “Back then, asset management was seen as something of a sleepy backwater compared to the sell-side, stock broking and research at investment banks. Now, the situation is almost totally reversed. I think that must have something to do with the way that the asset management industry has professionalised itself.”
Technology has also played its part, he believes. “Twenty-five years ago the internet was pretty nascent. I was dialling up on a modem to get emails. The daily bombardment of information wasn’t as much as it is now”.
One thing that hasn’t changed, according to Barrett, is that the IMC remains a key qualification. “It is an important path to building a career in this industry. Over the last 25 years, this industry has definitely become more professional, and that’s all the better for its clients.”