On February 15, 2018, CFA Society Minnesota hosted a local finals for the CFA Institute Research Challenge at the Thrivent Auditorium in downtown Minneapolis.
If you’re not familiar with the Research Challenge, below is a bit of information courtesy of CFA Institute. Complete details can be found on the CFA Institute site.
The CFA Institute Research Challenge is a global competition that tests the equity research and valuation, investment report writing, and presentation skills of university students. The first Research Challenge competition was hosted by the New York Society of Security Analysts in 2002 and involved just five teams from the New York area. Since then, the competition has grown to involve thousands of students from over 1,000 universities in more than 75 countries.
Prior to the local finals round, 13 university teams submitted written reports as part of our society’s local competition. Those reports were graded by CFA Society Minnesota volunteers based upon the following criteria:
- Business Description
- Industry Overview & Competitive Positioning
- Investment Summary
- Financial Analysis
- Investment Risks
- Corporate Governance
Out of the papers submitted, five were selected to advance to the local finals. This year’s finalists were Bethel University, University of Minnesota (undergrad), Gustavus Adolphus (team #2), North Dakota State University, and University of Minnesota Duluth. Each team had ten minutes to present their analysis which was followed by ten minutes of question and answer from the judges. Volunteer judges scored the presentation according to the following criteria:
- Financial Analysis: How thorough was their analysis of the industry, company, and competitors?
- Valuation: Were the valuation methodologies appropriate and detailed?
- Presentation: How effective/convincing was their presentation? Was it logical and did the facts support the recommendation?
- Question & Answer: Were they able to answer the questions effectively and with confidence?
- Team Involvement: Team involvement in the presentation/questions and answers.
- Materials: Quality of slides.
Congratulations to University of Minnesota Duluth on their win. They will move onto the Americas Regional competition being held in Boston March 19-20.
This was my first time attending a Research Challenge event. I did so mostly out of curiosity, but was also on a scouting mission as I’ve contemplated volunteering to support this event. Below are a few of my observations.
A Strong Competition
While UMD won, two teams tied for second place. Without the benefit the seeing the final scores, I’m guessing the top three were close. “Keeping score” on my own, I thought two teams were relatively equal. Forced to choose, I would have given the nod to the eventual winner.
Presentation Skills Matter
An area where the UMD students separated themselves was their presentation delivery.
Their stage presence was noticeable—speaking with powerful voices and working the stage. This team conveyed the highest confidence of their analysis. That was particularly apparent during the Q&A when one judge asked about the team’s opinion of company management (a question given to all teams). All teams gave a formidable answer. However, most began with the phrase “We think” or “We believe.” UMD provided the following answer: “They are the perfect management team to run this company, because….”
One might consider this a bit of gamesmanship, or maybe my observation is splitting hairs. With that said, when the difference between competitors is small, it’s the little things that make the difference.
This is your Competition
I’m stealing this line from Patrick O’Shaughnessy’s Invest Like the Best podcast. Each judge noted how much farther ahead these students are compared to when they themselves were undergraduate students. I would echo that comment. Experienced professionals might not be running scared. However, if you are a graduating college student and these individuals are your competition, you should be worried.
UMD has won the Upper Midwest Finals three of the past four years (2018, 2017, & 2015). If this were football, the term dynasty might get used. Their success seems to have created a sense of pride among alumni as they had a large following from the audience.
If you would like another perspective about the Research Challenge, I would suggest reading Tom Brakke’s Freezing Assets post. He was a judge for the 2017 Americas finals and offers a great synopsis of the experience—and some advice for future competitors. If you would like to get involved with the Research Challenge, there are multiple volunteer opportunities as your society needs help in the form of industry mentors, report graders, and presentation judges.
Craig Popp, CFA is a Financial Advisor with Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC located at 115 Litchfield Ave SE, Willmar, MN. Craig Popp can be contacted at 320-235-1416 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Any opinions are those of Craig Popp and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. Expressions of opinion areas of this date and are subject to change without notice. Investment Advisory services offered through Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc. Raymond James is not affiliated with CFA Society Minnesota.