Perspectives

Executive View: Charlie Praska, CFA®, FRM, Vice President, State Street Global Advisors

Published: Sep 2021

Charlie Praska discusses how his background has served him well in connecting with clients and colleagues throughout his career, and why it is important to always stay curious and keep learning.

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Charlie Praska, CFA®, FRM, Vice President, State Street Global Advisors

Charlie Praska

CFA®, FRM, Vice President

State Street Global Advisors logo

Could you give me an overview of your career path to date and your current role?

After graduating from Carleton College in Minnesota, I went to teach English in Japan as I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and it seemed like a great opportunity to travel. After a while I realised that it wasn’t really my forever home for a host of reasons, including the fact that I don’t actually like sushi that much!

I needed to find another vocation, and my girlfriend at the time – who is now my wife – was going to graduate school at Harvard, so we both moved to Boston. I have an academic background in economics and when I got to Boston, I joined the Merrill Lynch Investment Managers (MLIM) in the Cash Management Group. I was hired full-time and was working on money market funds, taking trades, doing client requests and learning the business. When I took that job, I did not imagine that 15 years later I would be in the same field. At the time cash was yielding 5% – in hindsight that was phenomenal.

MLIM was later acquired by BlackRock, and that became an excellent opportunity for professional growth. I was able to gain experience across different client types and different investment strategies, and I had some great mentors.

Eventually, I was given an opportunity to work in the San Francisco office for BlackRock, focused on Cash and Fixed Income Management, where I began my career. So we headed West, like the pioneers of the past, except we were in a mini-van, not a covered wagon, but crowded nonetheless. Covering Silicon Valley and the broader West Coast, I was able to work with some of the most significant and sophisticated clients in the world, which was an amazing learning experience.

Then in December 2019, I joined State Street Global Advisors to work with all kinds of clients – corporates, start-ups, municipalities, and everything in between – helping them with the challenges of cash and fixed income investing and treasury best practices. I have been continuously impressed with the thought leadership at State Street and the depth of service provided to clients from all aspects of the organisation. I am also excited to work for a company that is focused on ESG [environmental, social and corporate governance] and diversity and inclusion. The culture at State Street is something I really appreciate, and I feel very much at home in my new firm and role here.

What inspires or motivates you in your career? Do you spring out of bed in the morning looking forward to the day ahead?

That depends on my five-year-old daughter and whether she has kept me awake! Joking aside, I really love making real connections with people and learning new things. I live by the mantra that my parents, and other mentors, have instilled in me to ‘stay curious’. That applies to whether I am learning about different people, the current market dynamics, or advances in technology. I use it as a guiding principle and, since I get to work with various types of people in the treasury and investment community, I am able to practice the principle. I like the social aspect of connecting with colleagues, clients, and people in the industry, and love to crack a good dad joke!

I grew up in rural Minnesota where neighbours would randomly stop by – no one was a stranger – and you could learn something from everyone. Part of staying curious is learning and being a student for life. I have continued to study; I have the CFA® [Chartered Financial Analyst] and FRM [Financial Risk Manager] designations, which are both, probably, in excess of what I actually need to do my job. At times, doing those exams was a really painful process – where I would doubt everything – but it was an excellent way for me to gain fluency in the fundamentals of the field, which enables me to be a better link between our customers and portfolio managers.

I am also at a point in my career where it is motivating to help others. I would not be where I am in my career if some folks hadn’t taken a chance on me and mentored me. I try to pay it forward to other people who are starting out in their career, or with practitioners who are looking for something new.

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your work and that of your clients?

It has changed how we work, and how we engage with clients. So much of what we did prior to the pandemic was in-person interaction; we have had to replace that. We had to get creative with our engagement. We initiated virtual events like wine and cheese tasting and informal happy hours focused on market updates. While you cannot replace the in-person meetings, there has been a silver lining, as these sessions have allowed a broader group to connect and engage with one another. With the virtual meetings, people from say, Idaho are connecting people in Silicon Valley and people in Seattle connecting with folks in Arizona. I hope that this part continues post-pandemic because it has broadened our world a bit, even though it sometimes feels like we’ve all but stuck at home.

The pandemic has also accelerated the adoption of technology so that has also been a great outcome and something we will continue to see. The pandemic has blurred the line between the professional and the personal more, and this universal collective experience of lockdown and working from home can be unifying.

Do you have any learning experiences you would like to share from the last few months?

Five-year-olds can be brutal and unforgiving when you share an office environment with them! I’ve found that the importance of unplugging is really essential, especially when we are living in our offices. It can be hard to finally unplug from work – and it is so important to do. It has been great that State Street has been focused on promoting mental health and general well-being, with initiatives like mental health days and volunteer days.

I have also learned that it can be essential to remember the basics, even in extraordinary and uncertain times. Clients have needed confidence and reassurance in their investment strategies and to be reminded of the core tenets – things like proper cash segmentation, knowing one’s cash flows and understanding the risk/return dynamics in their investments. Many of my clients are primarily responsible for managing the safety and liquidity of their institution’s cash. With all the events of the pandemic it is important to be reminded of the basics and that what we do has not really changed. I don’t believe history repeats itself, but it does rhyme. It’s not that we’ve been here before, but some elements are the same – such as the core tenets of not unnecessarily chasing yield but yet knowing when to take incremental risk for additional return

What will you be focusing on in 2022?

One area of focus is ESG, which will continue to grow and expand, and it is an area I am really passionate about. One of the reasons I came to State Street was because of their clear focus and unique approach to ESG. My wife’s doctoral research was in climate science, so our house is very green-focused. Clients are often confused by the overwhelming amount of information about ESG and, as an industry, I don’t think we’ve done a great job helping clients navigate ESG given the lack uniformity. My hope is I can bring more clarity to clients using some of the tools that we’ve developed at SSGA, where I think we have a strong perspective on ESG. ESG and diversity and inclusion investing will both be important areas of growth, so I hope to continue to stay on the forefront of these fields to be a stronger resource for my clients.

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