Azhar Rana, Chartered MCSI is on his way to becoming a Fellow at the CISI, thanks to his razor-sharp focus and continued determination
by Bethan Rees
Despite living with a long-term and serious health condition for the past two decades, Azhar has passed nine CISI exams over the past five years, working his way up from our level 3 Introduction to Securities and Investment to our level 6 Diploma in Investment Compliance. He's on his way to becoming a CISI Fellow in 2021, after achieving Chartered status in 2019.
His achievements include the level 3 certificates in Managing Cyber Security and Combating Financial Crime; level 3 extended Investment Operations Certificate; level 4 Investment Advice Diploma; and level 6 Diploma in Investment Compliance. "They're not easy, and without determination and hard work, you won't pass the examinations," he says. Azhar completed some training with one of the CISI's accredited training partners, Fitch. "I got involved with Fitch when I started doing the level 4 exams, as these were pretty intense and I needed a bit more support to get me through this," he says. He describes his experience with Fitch as a partnership: “No one should expect to attend a course with Fitch and pass the exam solely on that basis. You have to put in the time and the determination, and the learning comes from you." Fitch also assisted Azhar by discounting its training courses and online learning due to Azhar’s ongoing health issues.
Azhar grew up in Leeds and began working at the age of 16, walking directly into the financial services sector with his first job at First Direct in back office administration. "At the time, career progression is what appealed to me most about the sector," he says. He also tried his hand at working in the call centre there, to develop his communication skills and see if he could sell products, which he managed to do with no issues. He went on to work in the audit department at a Leeds-based stockbroker in the late 1990s to 2001, before he fell ill. "I really thought I was going to develop my career there, but I ended up going in completely the opposite direction." Unable to work due to ill health but undeterred, he decided to develop his career through study. “I think I have achieved this through sitting the CISI exams,” he says.
Azhar's continuing professional development shows a razor-sharp focus on achieving his goal of attaining Fellow status with the Institute. "That Fellowship, no matter what happens with my health, no one can take that away from me. I've earned those qualifications and earned that Fellowship." The pursuit of this goal has helped Azhar maintain a positive mindset. "The end goals keep you going, just thinking about having those letters after your name," he says.
"Don't stop learning, it is as simple as that. You can't stop building knowledge"
Passing his first exam in 2015 inspired him to take it further. "I had no idea if I would be able to do it. Once I got the result, I thought I can do this," he says. By the time he’d worked his way up to sitting a level 6 three-hour narrative exam on Regulation and Compliance, a unit of the Investment Advice Diploma, he encountered challenges above and beyond the academic as a result of his health condition. He believed he would struggle due to having to remember and retain a lot of information, and the anticipated physical demands of sitting and writing for three hours was daunting. However, "the CISI was absolutely amazing", he says, in assisting Azhar with the additional needs and requirements that would enable Azhar to successfully complete the exam.
He said the level 6 exams are "a completely different ballgame" when compared with the level 3 and level 4 computer-based test exams. Not only do you have to have a thorough understanding of the material, but "you also have to demonstrate to the examiners that you are a professional and you know what you are talking about”.
Advice for young professionals
"Don't stop learning, it is as simple as that. You can't stop building knowledge," he says. "The world is constantly changing, including the financial sector, which is going through changes due to Covid-19 and Brexit among other things. Keep on learning to keep yourself ahead of the game."
Azhar also recalls some advice his aunt gave to him before he took his first CISI exam. "I remember really struggling in preparing, and I was considering giving up," he says. His aunt told him to keep going and read the material again. "That simple piece of advice got me to where I am today," he says.
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