Howitt’s journey has insights for other women who are considering a career in financial markets – or who want to get started in share investing for themselves
Her views are timely: women comprised 45% of people who began investing in ASX-listed investments, according to the ASX Australian Investor Study 2020. The study said: “the next few years are set to see a growing number of women and younger people actively investing”. Women accounted for 51% of intending investors, the study found.
Understanding how companies work
Howitt’s passion for investing developed from her interest in company performance. About halfway through her arts degree, Howitt thought she needed a qualification that would lead to a higher-paying job (she worked as a waitress during her degree and wanted to forge a career).
Business beckoned. Howitt was accepted into the University of Chicago, which is known for its business school. After growing up in Parramatta (she moved to the US with her parents at age 13), Howitt learned from some of the world’s great business thinkers.
“During my MBA, I became really interested in what makes a great company and how that changes over time,” she says. “I’ve never lost that curiosity. My job is ultimately about finding the best companies and assessing their value relative to the share price.”
Howitt’s business career began in the 1990s at Boston Consulting Group. Having endured too many freezing US winters, she returned to Australia and a career at AMP, first in investor relations, then in its capital-market division. Howitt understood the inner workings of companies, but investment markets were foreign to her.
“At the start of my time in investor relations, I remember asking people to explain this thing about a ‘buy side and sell side’ in equity markets,” quips Howitt. “I had to learn the basics about investing and the Australian sharemarket. Once I did, I realised I wanted to be the person asking questions about companies, not answering them.”
In 2007, Howitt joined Fidelity International as a portfolio manager. Fidelity was expanding in Australia and had long championed women in funds management. “For me, it was a long and at times tortuous career path into fund management. But I believe having a few different careers before my investment career was really beneficial.”
Howitt says an investment career suits people who are curious about how the world works and have quantitative and qualitative skills. “There’s a misconception that fund managers stare at spreadsheets and balance sheets all day long. The numbers are important, and you have to embrace the quantitative side of the role. But you must also be good at asking questions, talking to people and putting things together.”
Howitt believes STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects at school and university provide a good grounding for an investment career. She says aspiring young investors should read The Economist each week and allocate a few hours on the weekend for their own company analysis.
“Pick a company you are familiar with through your purchase habits. You can download lots of information about that company using the wonderful resources of the ASX website. Decide if the company is high quality and worth buying now for the price. Then, track your hypothetical investment over time to see how it performs. You’ll realise how challenging, frustrating and fascinating the market is. If you do go on to an investment career, you’ll take a lot of practical learning with you to your employer.”
Howitt hopes more women will consider a career in fund management. “Women make up 12% of the fund-management industry globally. There’s no logic for such a low figure. If more women were involved in investing people’s retirement savings, we’d get better long-term outcomes due to the benefits of diverse thinking.”
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