Finance students get real-world investing experience through Mercer fund

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Mercer's team won the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute Southern Classic Research Challenge in 2022. Front row (l-r): Premkumar J. Patel, Mark Bearden, Colin J. Lynch and Carolina Vilomar. Back row (l-r): industry mentor George Hauptfuhrer, faculty mentor Dr. Geoffrey Ngene and Martin Plukka. Photo courtesy Dr. Geoffrey Ngene
Mercer's team won the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute Southern Classic Research Challenge in 2022. Dr. Geoffrey Ngene chooses five students from his Student-Managed Investment Fund course to compete in the challenge each year. Front row (l-r): Premkumar J. Patel, Mark Bearden, Colin J. Lynch and Carolina Vilomar. Back row (l-r): industry mentor George Hauptfuhrer, faculty mentor Dr. Geoffrey Ngene and Martin Plukka. Photo courtesy Dr. Geoffrey Ngene

Stock market analysis and recommendations by Mercer finance students are helping inform real investment decisions for the University, and that experience is helping those involved snag jobs at top firms after graduation. 

The School of Business’ Student-Managed Investment Fund (SMIF) was developed and proposed by associate professor of financial economics Dr. Geoffrey Ngene in 2015, and Mercer’s Board of Trustees approved allocating $1 million of the University’s endowment to the project in November 2018. The funding became accessible in spring 2021, and now 12-20 finance students work with the fund each semester. 

“What I originally had in mind was just to teach students how to prepare financial analyst reports,” Dr. Ngene said. “I wanted to do that because if they get jobs in investment banking, their jobs would mirror what we do in class. I don’t want to teach them from a textbook perspective. My goal is to get their hands ‘dirty’ and do what they would do in the real world.”

So, Dr. Ngene established a two-semester elective course — Seminar in Investment/Finance 406 — worth three credits in total. Participants must have completed their basic finance courses and go through a competitive application process. 

“I’m very selective. I want to make it prestigious,” Dr. Ngene said. “I want students who will be committed, are willing to work hard and learn.”

The selected students are divided into groups, and the different groups select stocks in different financial sectors to analyze during the semester. They get company financial statements and reports and use industry standards to develop their reports, eventually providing objective, fact-based recommendations on whether to buy, hold or sell a particular stock. The stocks that receive a “buy” recommendation are considered for investment of Mercer’s allocated funds.

Students have access to Bloomberg’s investment data services, also known as Bloomberg Terminal, which allows them to get real-time stock information. Dr. Ngene said only a handful of universities in Georgia use the terminal, and knowledge of it gives students an advantage in the job market.

SMIF receives its funding in $200,000 batches, and $600,000 had been invested as of mid-September. Companies that have been invested in include Amazon, Google, Berkshire Hathaway, JP Morgan Chase, Qualcomm, Rio Tinto, Walmart, Home Depot, Dexcom, Medtronic Inc., Comcast and Ally Bank.

Mercer’s team won the 2021 CFA Institute Southern Classic Research Challenge. Photo courtesy Dr. Geoffrey Ngene

“The current tanking stock prices present the right opportunity to buy,” Dr. Ngene said. “So students who are currently taking the SMIF class and getting real experience of analyzing different stocks know that a buy or sell recommendation will literally be executed for the fund’s portfolio of stocks.” 

Students are considered junior analysts in the first semester and senior analysts in the second, and each group has a combination of both, allowing analysts with more knowledge to guide those who are just getting started. Dr. Ngene said he sees “astronomical” growth in students’ understanding from the first to second semesters. 

Students are graded on their final written reports and presentations of those reports, as well as through a peer assessment, which helps motivate them to be actively involved in their group. After completing the two-semester course, students may have the opportunity to continue their involvement as board members.

Prem Patel, a finance and accounting double-major who graduated in May, said he liked the collaborative environment of the class and gained vital career skills. He loves teaching people about finance and enjoyed being able to provide guidance to the junior analysts and serve as board president.

“I thought it would be an excellent chance to get firsthand knowledge and experience doing investment and financial analysis,” said senior finance major Thomas Cowart, who took the class his junior year and is now on the SMIF board. “Dr. (Ngene) has been so great. He is the reason Mercer has done so well and why the SMIF class has been such a big success. He brings it all together and makes it worthwhile. It’s a really great experience, it looks great on a resume, and it’s very rewarding.”

The financial skills students are learning in this class set them apart when it comes to job opportunities after graduation. Dr. Ngene said he encourages them to include their SMIF financial reports in their application packets to potential employers. Those reports have caught the eyes of some premium firms with high starting salaries.

“Everyone who has participated in the class and learned how to prepare financial analysts reports got job interviews, and more than 90% of them ended up being hired,” Dr. Ngene said. “They put in the work, and they’re willing to learn, and they always end up in excellent positions in the job market.”

Four of his former students are now working at Wall Street firms, and one is working at Bank of America’s headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

“That’s the kind of thing I want us to achieve here,” Dr. Ngene said. “By the time you get into your senior year, you should already have a job lined up, especially if you took this class. It’s not just about getting jobs but also the amount of starting salary, which certainly defines the quality of the job.

Cowart is one of two current seniors who did an internship with Bank of America this summer and has accepted a job to work there after graduation in May 2023. He submitted his SMIF analyst reports with his job application, which he believes helped him get his foot in the door.

“I think it made me stand out as an applicant,” Cowart said. “Almost every single interview I had, it was always a big talking point. It showed I already had some financial analysis and evaluation experience. That was what they were looking for in an applicant.”

Patel received multiple job offers his senior year and accepted a position with Park Sutton Advisors, where he now does investment banking, mergers and acquisitions work. 

“The employers really like to see the reports that you prepare, but (SMIF) also gives you the financial acumen to go out into the career field and prove you’re among the best,” Patel said.

Students involved in SMIF may also have the opportunity to participate in the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute Southern Classic Research Challenge as well. Dr. Ngene has served as the faculty mentor for Mercer’s team for the past nine years and selects five students from his SMIF course to participate each year. 

For the competition, teams from 30-40 universities in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina develop financial analyst reports for a Georgia-headquartered, publicly-traded company. The schools submit a written report, and during two rounds of grading, the finalists are narrowed to 10 and then five. The top five schools are invited to give presentations during the final event at Kennesaw State. Mercer’s team was the runner-up in 2020 and won in 2021 and 2022

“Now we are trying to have a three-peat this year, which has never been done in the history of the Southern Classic competition,” Dr. Ngene said. “We are competing against Emory, UGA, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Auburn … big name schools.”

Mercer’s team won runner up in the 2020 CFA Institute Southern Classic Research Challenge in 2020. Photo courtesy Dr. Geoffrey Ngene

 

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Andrea is a digital content specialist at Mercer. She creates and maintains written and multimedia content for primary University web pages. She ensures a consistent, University “voice” throughout various forms of online communications platforms. She also plans and executes campaigns for the primary official Mercer University social media accounts.