Building your Future - An Interview with Alumnus; Talha Siddiqui
INTERVIEW: Talha Siddiqui, CPP Investment Board
Waterloo Business Review had the privilege of sitting down with alumnus Talha Siddiqui over the summer to speak to him about his work experiences, as well as his time at the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF), to gain insight into careers in capital markets. Talha graduated from the Accounting and Financial Management (AFM) program in 2018 and now works in Toronto as an investment analyst at CPP Investment Board (CPPIB) in the relationship investments group. He previously worked as an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs in their Los Angeles office upon graduating from the University of Waterloo.
The Relationship Investments Group at CPPIB sits within the Active Equities Group, an entire department of public equities. The Relationship Investments Group “invests globally in public, and soon-to-be-public, companies, externally managed funds, as well as securities, focused on long-horizon structural changes, which can include earlier-stage private companies.” In his current role as an analyst in relationship investments, he explained that his responsibilities can be divided into two categories; evaluating new investment opportunities and asset management. Concerning assessing new investment opportunities, his primary task is to evaluate entire investment opportunities through being involved in the diligence process, reading up on the industry, analyzing financials, and building financial models for potential investments. On the asset management front, his group has several portfolio companies, and his role is to monitor the progress of these companies. He is responsible for looking at stock price fluctuations, reading recent filings, and updating the financial models. In addition, CPPIB has board seats in these companies and they must go through the board material notes and help support the board member from the fund with a seat. To support their board members, Talha’s group presents their thoughts on board materials and pose potential questions the individual can ask in the boardroom during future meetings.
Talha mentioned that when he was in high school, he initially knew he wanted to do something related to business and settled on accounting, which ultimately led him to the AFM program at the University of Waterloo. He explained that although he had an initial focus on accounting, he chose to keep an open mind to explore the various career opportunities available to him through the School of Accounting and Finance. Slowly, as he took more accounting and finance courses, he became more interested in finance. He attributes a lot of that interest to the professors he had, who helped spark his interest in finance. In particular, Talha explained that professors Garvin Blair, Steve Balaban, Andrew Ecclestone, and Ranjini Jha all played instrumental roles in his decision to pursue a career in finance. He said Professor Blair was his first finance professor and he helped spark that initial interest in finance through his passionate descriptions and remarks on the capital markets and investment banking. Talha mentioned that he has had a close relationship with Professor Balaban, who he had the privilege of working with on the CFA Institute Research Challenge. Additionally, Talha was a teaching assistant for one of Professor’s Balaban’s courses. Talha attributes a lot of success to him, as he has been a continuous mentor for him throughout his undergraduate career.
Upon identifying his passions and interests, Talha began to increase his extracurricular involvement by joining the Student Investment Fund, which solidified his plans to pursue finance upon graduation. He explains that the skills and knowledge he gained from his time on the Student Investment Fund translated directly to his co-op terms in finance and his full-time work now at CPPIB. In addition, the Student Investment Fund introduced him to Professor Ecclestone and Professor Jha, who also guided Talha on his path to becoming a finance professional. Further, the exposure to upper-year students on the fund helped Talha build his professional network and identify the different careers he could pursue within finance. Through networking with upper-year students and speaking to his professors, he recognized that pursuing investment banking full-time would be the best fit for him with regard to his goals and interests.
When reflecting on his time as a SAF student, Talha explained that he thinks the School of Accounting and Finance equipped him well for a career in finance. He mentioned that his experience as a SAF student gave him a strong network of individuals to interact with and learn from. This included professors who were passionate about finance and his peers who were all motivated and like-minded individuals. When he was recruiting, his peers and upper years both really helped him significantly. Those elements of his time at the School made his experience great.
Additionally, he believes that his background in accounting has been extremely beneficial in his finance career. He explained that an analyst’s primary responsibility is to prepare the financial model by going through the financial statements and annual report. He explained, “once I got into the weeds of some of the accounting line items, I found myself opening up my notes from school.” He went on to further explain, “there are definitely a lot of nuances of accounting that are essential to your career in finance.” He exclaimed that his exposure and knowledge of accounting helped set himself apart, as many seniors in his different co-op and full-time positions asked him to walk them through accounting implications.
Looking back at his undergraduate career and his time in the AFM program at Waterloo, one of the biggest things that he wishes he would have taken more control of was being proactive. His biggest piece of advice for current students is to continuously seek opportunities where you get to explore a specific area that you are interested in. He explained, “If you’re interested in finance or another career path, it is crucial to figure out ways that you can get involved and really learn more early on.” Additionally, he believes it is critical to discover ways to differentiate yourself and highlight the unique characteristics that set you apart from others. “When you go to AFM at Waterloo and broadly the School of Accounting and Finance, everyone around you is very smart and you always need to be looking for ways to differentiate yourself because that will ultimately be [what you can lean on] when you eventually start recruiting.”