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Kim Nguyen, Portfolio Management

Curious about a career in portfolio management? We interviewed UBC alumni and portfolio analyst Kim Nguyen about her role.

Kim Nguyen, Portfolio Management

Having graduated from UBC in 2014 with BCom degree specializing in Real Estate and International Business, Kim Nguyen has worked with various real estate companies, including GWL Realty Advisors and Colliers International. She is currently a portfolio analyst at Bentall Kennedy, Investment Management. During her time at UBC, Kim participated in extra-curricular activities such as the UBC Real Estate Club and ME Inc. Conference , as well as placing first for the annual NAIOP Case Competition. Outside of real estate, Kim is also actively involved with the Vietnamese Culture and Science Association where she runs a mentorship program for youth 13-18 living in Metro Vancouver.

We asked Kim a few questions about what she does.

Q: In a nutshell, what is real estate portfolio management?

Kim: Portfolio Management is the management of an investment strategy of a group of selected assets. Each portfolio has a strategy specified by stakeholders and deemed achievable by its portfolio manager.

As a Portfolio Analyst, my role is to understand what drives the returns of the fund that I work on (Prime Canadian Property Fund). I analyze the composition of the portfolio such as reviewing returns of each asset class (office, industrial, residential, retail, etc), location, as well as individual assets to find out what is affecting the portfolio’s overall results. Much of it starts with understanding market and economic trends, and then putting together a “story” of where money is coming in and out. A lot of it is analyzing raw data and translating it into meaningful results to make strategic investment decisions.

Lastly, depending on the nature of the portfolio, Portfolio Managers often have a fiduciary duty to report fund performance to their clients periodically. Client relations is a crucial skill to have to maintain the success of a portfolio.

Q: What was your first exposure to the real estate industry, and what inspired you to pursue real estate finance (particularly, portfolio management)?

Kim: In 2012, I had my first co-op term with GWL Realty Advisors. I was exposed to all of the major departments that GWL ran as a manager, such as Research, Asset Management, and Development. At first, I didn’t quite understand the operations and the specific duties they had with their clients but I gradually became familiar by joining all meetings I was allowed to join, and helped with as much work that I was able to do.

From GWL, I knew I wanted to continue working in real estate but desired a more quantitative role. I then joined Colliers International Consulting - first as an intern, then as a consultant. In this role, I learned the entire process of assessing a property’s development potential. I worked on pro formas (a document that lays out a company/project’s expected financial performance) at every chance I could and eventually became well-versed with both qualitative and quantitative aspects of the development process.

I realized that while I loved working in real estate, I didn’t enjoy working so closely at the asset level (in development specifically). Through my professional network, I found the opportunity to work in Portfolio Management at Bentall Kennedy. It made sense as it combined my aspirations to work in investments, and it motivated me to continue completing my CFA designation.

Q: What are some factors you consider in maximizing the value of a real estate portfolio? Are these factors generally the same across different real estate investment companies?

Kim: The strategy to maximize value is different for every fund. For example. Prime Canadian is a Core fund – that means it looks at high quality, fully tenanted assets in major asset classes. A competitor (another fund that investors may be interested in instead of Prime Canadian) could be one where the strategy is all Build-to-Core – that means it looks at development projects and assets that require more time and resources to improve. Regardless of the strategy, what drives success is understanding the clients’ appetite for risk and consideration of their long-term objectives.

Q: How much of a finance background do you really need to do well in portfolio management? Are there additional certifications/credentials that would likely be considered an asset for a student pursuing this career stream?

Kim: You do not need to take the Finance option necessarily to pursue portfolio management. I didn’t specialize in finance. I do, however, find value in paying attention to your real estate investment (Comm 307) and real estate finance (Comm 405) classes. They are your first exposure to some real life work and will give you an idea of whether you enjoy portfolio management at all (this is key as many students pursue careers they don’t enjoy because it seems like a career they “should” be in). If you do enjoy it, I would suggest the CFA designation as this would likely improve your knowledge and prepare you for a career in portfolio management. Lastly, I encourage you to read and keep up with the news and economy.

Q: How transferable are real estate finance skills/knowledge when pursuing other investment careers (for example, capital markets) and vice versa?

Kim: This is where the CFA designation would help you understand the behaviour of other investment types. Real estate is considered an “alternative asset”, which is often a small part of a well-diversified portfolio. If you wanted to work with other assets like fixed-income or equity, I think there would be some gaps. I can’t cover it all as I work only with real estate assets, but I would think that there are different assessments of risk, volume, and contract formation/deal structure, among others. Basically, if you threw me into equity right now, I would struggle. It certainly wouldn’t be a seamless transition like moving from one real estate fund to another. The content is simply different. What is transferrable is your ability to understand the nature of a fund.

Q: What would you say are the most useful undergraduate classes or extracurricular activities that really prepared you well for this career path?

Kim: The NAIOP Real Estate Challenge and Cornell International Real Estate Competition (both organized by Sauder) are the two that stand out the most for me. It really shaped my undergraduate experience and gave me so much exposure to the local as well as international market. All of Sauder’s real estate classes have value – I still refer to my textbooks from time to time. Recently, I also helped someone with her mortgage math homework and I am relieved to know the content is very relevant and not a case where you learn for the sake of learning and never use it again.

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