Need to Meet: William J. Kelly, CEO, CAIA Association

  • Group grants exam-based alternatives analyst charter
  • 30 chapters with 9,000+ members globally
  • Kelly focused on “institutionalizing the brand”

When William Kelly got his CPA as a young accountant at PwC, the moment itself was anticlimactic. “I had to study at night,” he recalled. “The day I passed, I’m not sure anyone said ‘congratulations.’ I didn’t get a raise, and I had more work to do. But I have zero regrets.”

Looking back after three decades in financial services, including a stint at Bear Sterns and the founding of Boston Partners Asset Management, Kelly sees the achievement of certified professional status as a key piece in his “career mosaic”: “who your mentors were, where you went to school, these all factor into the mix.”

As CEO of the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association, Kelly is working to bring that mindset into the mainstream of private equity. Founded in 2002, the association provides educational services and grants the CAIA designation to professionals who pass a two-part exam.

Modeled after the CFA, “it’s a similar credential, focused exclusively on alternatives,” Kelly explained. The curriculum covers topics including professional standards and ethics, risk management, portfolio management, asset allocation and institutional investors. Each level of the exam is designed to require around 200 hours of study time.

“It’s not a transactional-based credential,” Kelly said. “I view it as a long-term investment in your career, in yourself, your employer, your endpoint client and your regulator.” CAIA members, of whom there are more than 9,000 worldwide, serve as CIOs of public pensions and sovereign wealth funds, hedge fund accountants, regulators, in media roles and various middle- and back-office functions.

In the early 1980s, when Kelly entered the industry, “there were 24 GPs in the private-equity space globally. Today there are almost 7,000.” That kind of expansion, with so much money at stake, calls for an industry-wide certification: “The thought that you could be running a billion-dollar portfolio with no credentials is shocking… I certainly would not let anyone do open-heart surgery on me who is not a board certified cardiologist.

“If you’re a CFA working in the alternatives space, can it get you as far as you need to be?” The question is compounded by the industry’s rate of change: “There’s always a new paper, a new product, a new approach, and I just find it exciting. When you pass this exam, it’s really a ticket to a rocketship that’s going up, and it never lands.”

Phone: +1-413-253-7373



Correction: This story originally misidentified William Kelly as a CFA. He is in fact a CPA. The post has been updated.

William Kelly, CEO, CAIA Association. Photo courtesy of the organization.