Cal Poly finance team wins opening stage of global research challenge
Team advances and next competes against 11 universities from throughout the Western U.S.
– A team of Cal Poly Orfalea College of Business students won the 2021-22 Northern California Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Institute Research Challenge sponsored by the CFA Society of San Francisco.
It’s the third time Cal Poly has won the competition since 2017. The team advances and next competes against 11 universities from throughout the Western U.S. in the annual global challenge.
The students competed in February against teams from 16 universities from Northern California and Nevada, including: Santa Clara University; San Jose State; University of Nevada, Reno; University of San Francisco; and UC Santa Cruz. A panel of industry professionals and CFA charter holders judged the presentations.
The Research Challenge is different from a “stock picking” competition, as students conduct in-depth analysis on a single firm and produce a full equity research report. The winning team is chosen based on the thoroughness of its analysis and knowledge of that company, rather than whether its predictions of the stock price are correct.
Cal Poly analyzed and made buy/sell/hold recommendations for PayPal Inc., a San Jose-based multinational company that provides financial transaction processing services. PayPal, a one-time subsidiary of eBay Inc., offers secure electronic payment processing services to customers worldwide.
Five finance students represented Cal Poly: team captain Alexandra Joelson of San Diego; Cameron Wong and Dominic Juliano, both of San Francisco; Shingo O’Flaherty of Walnut Creek, California; and Samuel Paik of Orinda, California. Finance Professor Cyrus Ramezani and Cal Poly alumnus Scott B. Kirk (Business Administration, Financial Management, ’05) served as team advisors.
“We are fortunate to have such an outstanding and dedicated group of finance students representing Cal Poly at this year’s competition,” said Ramezani, who has advised teams since 2012. “Participating in CFA-IRC lets our students demonstrate that they can compete with the students from the very best universities in the world. These competitions also offer them the opportunity to benchmark their education against peer institutions.”
More than 5,000 graduate and undergraduate students representing over 900 teams from universities in more than 91 countries have participated in the 2021-22 competition.
Cal Poly’s team formed in November. Members estimate they’ve each spent hundreds of hours working on what Paik said: “simulates a real-world project.”
“Our analysis focused on PayPal and the payments industry,” said the 21-year-old, who plans to graduate in June. “The research is used to generate an investment recommendation and a one-year price target for the company’s stock. Teams then write a 20-page report and present their research and valuation.”
Wong, who will graduate this spring, was one of the writers and editors who also created graphs and charts for the report. O’Flaherty, 21, was responsible for visual design and organization of the slides as well as research and analysis. Juliano, 21, worked with the Excel models to determine an actual target price that could tell a story of PayPal.
And Joelson said she led the effort to intensely analyze and evaluate to determine if they want to buy, sell or hold the stock, complete the report, and a make a 10-minute presentation to a panel of CFA charter holders.
“I am working with an incredible team where we have all devoted 300-plus hours each to this project,” said the 21-year-old, who plans to graduate next year. “To put this into perspective, we spent every night for two to three months working on this project until 3 in the morning. We are extremely dedicated to representing Cal Poly and continuing to win.”
The CFA Institute Research Challenge usually begins in September and ends in May, which means the team that wins the global final can spend up to nine months involved in the effort. There are four stages of the competition — local, subregional, regional and global.
Organizers say that student participants benefit in several ways: getting access to financial industry experts; demonstrating research analytical skills; gaining exposure to new financial networks; enhancing their résumé; taking part in travel opportunities; and obtaining a better understanding of a CFA charter that provides expertise and real-world skills in investment analysis.
“This project has probably been the greatest learning experience I’ve had here at Cal Poly,” said Wong, 22. “I believe the project provided insight to the level of commitment and dedication needed to produce this type of report. This also tested our resourcefulness when conducting research and determining inputs for our model.
“Since I really enjoyed this project, I would be interested in a job that requires similar duties.”