Back story: Michael Williamson

CISI member Michael Williamson speaks to the Review about his unconventional career, which has spanned from Florida to London

As convention would have it, people in financial services tend to start out their career having completed a bachelor’s degree, before moving up the jobs ladder with qualifications in tow. But CISI member Michael Williamson has taken a different route. The 37-year-old MBA student at London’s Cass Business School is fresh from winning the Bloomberg Investment Ideas Challenge 2016, but his career trajectory is in some ways back to front.  

“I didn’t initially go to college from high school. I started out originating mortgages at the age of 18 and then moved into the securities industry,” says Williamson. “By the time I was 19, I was working for a broker dealer. Everyone else had graduated from college, whereas all I had was a year’s mortgage broking experience.” 

In July 2000, Williamson joined a mortgage broker in Tampa as a loan originator and worked his way up to become a branch manager. Then, after a short period in institutional sales and wholesale lending at a small community bank based in Texas, he moved back to Tampa, this time to a branch of E*Trade Financial, working as a national relationship manager. “I managed about 400 high-asset clients, and $600m+ of high-asset client funds.”  

Staying in South Florida, his next career move was to TD Ameritrade. There he was an investment consultant/relationship manager and a high-ranking broker, responsible for handling $650m in assets, with about 250 high-asset clients. 

Evaluating the opportunitiesDespite the tough times facing the banking and financial services industry in the post-Lehman Brothers collapse period, Williamson felt confident enough in the landscape to ensure his clients felt the same. He gave clients advice regarding their portfolios, assessing the clients’ risk tolerance and identifying their concerns. “My role was all about communication, building relationships and trust. It was about educating the client and helping them evaluate their main objectives – for example, their liquidity requirements and succession plans. At the time, a lot of clients were afraid of investing and didn’t know who to go to with their questions. They were looking for guidance. People just want to be sure that they are taking appropriate risks, and you can help them achieve that by being prudent and knowing your client.” 

After TD Ameritrade, Williamson decided it was time to take a well-earned breather, and, following some charity work in El Salvador, he was presented with an opportunity to work for boutique investment firm Oppenheimer & Co in July 2011. There, Williamson had a fiduciary role, offering high-asset clients customised portfolios via wrap accounts, and access to hedge funds and asset managers, as well as life and health insurance and variable annuities.

“It was an opportunity to build up my client base, and I learned so much from my very experienced colleagues, but I was drastically younger than most people there – by at least 20 years.”

Crossing the pondThis, together with his wife’s ambition to work in the luxury industry, was a prompt for a move beyond US borders. They moved to Monaco, where his wife studied for her master’s degree.

Meanwhile, Williamson concluded that an MBA for himself would make sense, and he joined the CISI in hopes to learn more about the UK financial system. 

“I flew from Monaco to London and met some people from Cass Business School. The school is amazing, and was recently ranked 37th in the world for business. Meanwhile, my wife had a job offer in London,” says Williamson. He was accepted onto the course in July 2015. 

Williamson was elected President of the Banking Society at Cass and hit the ground running, networking furiously and helping build up its membership – it now has 1,000 members.

Getting involved“I met George Littlejohn [a senior advisor to the CISI] and we spoke about collaborating between the CISI and the Cass Banking Society. He and Danny Corrigan [chair of The City UK Russia, CIS and Mongolia Group] have been fantastic, inviting me to their ‘Great British Break Off’ debate events. I’ve also helped partner with Cass and the CISI to put on more such events, with our next event geared towards C-suite executives. Hopefully, we have built a long-lasting relationship between Cass and the CISI that will continue to grow long after I graduate,” says Williamson. 

The CISI has been integral to Williamson’s career ambitions since he arrived in London. “It provides the licences to get the job I want. I will be taking the Private Client Investment Advice & Management (level 6) exams in June 2016 and I hope to use the qualification as an asset throughout my career,” he says. 

This February, his unconventional career path paid dividends when he won the Bloomberg Investment Ideas Challenge – a competition that involves students picking stocks and sending their investment ideas into the Bloomberg Professional Service trade ideas network.  

Although he had never traded in Europe, he used his technical analysis and long experience to get ahead. “My hunch was that the UK pound was going to head lower. So I researched to find an exchange-traded fund [ETF] that was thinly traded and that was triple-leveraged, and dealt with the pound versus the US dollar. I wanted an ETF that was thinly traded because that is when the big spreads generally happen, and again it was something I’m familiar with. I gained 10.17% by placing one trade. The person in second place gained less than 6%.”  

The next moveAs the winner, Williamson had the chance to spend a week at Bloomberg. This time, in contrast to his experience at Oppenheimer, Williamson was one of the more experienced ones. The overall experience, he says, was fantastic. 

“My goal was to get a better understanding not only of how Bloomberg works and operates, but also to learn something new from people who actually work there, ” he says. “I found myself learning myriad screens that I never knew existed, and just how powerful the Bloomberg terminal really is.”

Prior to entering the Bloomberg contest, Michael also created the Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge for Cass, which is a US-based ETF picking contest. Williamson helps educate the contestants about how to create a watch list and keep track of one’s portfolio among other things. 

He would like to stay in London and make a career in the asset management world. “That's where I hope the CISI experience can help, with all the networking events it puts on.”

    Key features of the Private Client Investment Advice & Management Certificate
  • A sound grounding of investment principles, risk, taxation and planning.
  • Access to higher level qualifications – successful completion can be used as entry to the highly regarded Chartered Wealth Manager Qualification.
  • Suitable for a wide range of corporate finance staff; no previous qualifications are required.
  • Free CISI Student membership – become associated with a Chartered professional body and take advantage of an extensive range of benefits.
  • Access to full membership and MCSI designatory letters.
  • Find out more about the certificate here.
Published: 27 Apr 2016
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