Five years and counting: UBC Sauder’s streak of success in the CFA Institute Research Challenge
The UBC Sauder team for the 2022 CFA Institute Research Challenge (pictured left to right): Ashvin Bilga, Nicole Eastman, Sally Jiao, and James Chen.
Sally Jiao and her teammates figured out a magic formula that propelled them all the way to the global finals of the CFA Institute Research Challenge last year. It was the first time ever that a team from the UBC Sauder School of Business had advanced so far in the annual global equity research competition. The secret to their success? Storytelling.
“We had all the numbers, but the majority of that content was in our appendix,” says Jiao, a fourth-year UBC Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) student specializing in finance. “We wanted to communicate our thesis, focus less on the numbers, and try and convince the investment professionals and the public that our presentation was the best.”
Painting a picture for the audience and building a compelling narrative was a lesson in presenting and public speaking that Jiao and her team had learned over the course of the intensive, six-month competition process.
Delving deeply into a company and building camaraderie
Jiao and her teammates were assigned Atlas Corporation as the company they would analyze, research, value, and present on throughout every stage of the competition. The work, Jiao explains, was similar to that of an equity research analyst who looks at a company from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective and then recommends to buy, hold, or sell.
“One of the highlights of the experience is that you follow the same company for several months but it’s not stale because markets are always dynamic and you uncover more and more information,” says Jiao. “By the end, we had pages and pages of news articles and detailed supply chain processes.”
Although the UBC Sauder team didn’t take home the trophy at the global finals, Jiao says the experience came with important mementos: the strong relationships she formed with her teammates and valuable lessons in teamwork.
“We all came from different backgrounds and had such different skill sets that complemented each other,” says Jiao. “When you work with people through so many all-nighters, you get very close and become great friends.”
Charting a career path with one decision
UBC BCom alum Nicholas Rose says his participation in the CFA Institute Research Challenge was the best decision he made while at school. Rose graduated in 2022 and is now a private debt analyst at British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCI).
In 2021, Rose and his team wowed judges at the local competition organized by CFA Society Vancouver with their analysis of Aritzia. After the Vancouver round, Rose contacted one of the competition volunteers over LinkedIn in the hopes of making a connection.
Through that conversation, Rose became aware of a co-op opportunity at Vancouver-based mutual fund company PenderFund Capital Management. He landed the credit markets internship and it proved to be an important stepping stone that bolstered his resume.
“If I hadn’t had the credit markets internship, I don’t know if I would have gotten a second look [from BCI],” explains Rose. “The research challenge led me down this path, and gave me fantastic real-life experience, and I owe a lot of my early career success to having participated in the competition.”
A track record of strong performance
Impressively, UBC Sauder has won the local round for five years in a row. Though it’s the students who are the faces of the research challenge, there is an entire community of supporters who make it all possible year after year, including Lisa Meger and other CFA Society Vancouver volunteers.
UBC Sauder lecturers Caren Lombard and Jose Pizarro are the current faculty advisors who dedicate their time mentoring and guiding the teams. Associate Professor Joy Begley also served as faculty advisor for many years and played a crucial role.
Lombard, who became faculty advisor five years ago, has had a front row seat to the students’ evolution. “The research challenge really is an ultra-marathon and I’ve seen that in action. Over the years, I’ve seen how students adapt, grow in confidence, and gain access to career opportunities,” she says.
Mentorship has also come from outside of UBC Sauder. Industry advisors like Oliver Bailey, Portfolio Manager at HSBC Global Asset Management and Cindy Hu, Associate Portfolio Manager at RBC Dominion Securities, are there every step of the way.
They meet with students at the outset to offer suggestions on what to focus on, review the rough and finalized drafts of their report, and serve as mock judges to help polish presentations.
Hu is a UBC BCom alum who took part in the CFA Institute Research Challenge as a student in 2013-14. After graduation, she wanted to stay involved and became an industry advisor in 2018. She says UBC Sauder students differentiate themselves in their thoughtful analysis and ability to stay composed under pressure.
“UBC Sauder students stand out in terms of their analysis, their insights into the business, their modelling skills, their presentation skills, and their ability to answer tough questions,” says Hu.
A chance to come together and celebrate
In late September 2022, UBC Sauder hosted an event to celebrate Jiao and her teammates for making it all the way to the global finals. Attendees included finalists, competition alumni, CFA Society members, mentors, and other students. It was a chance to come together to reflect on the school’s strong performance and gather in person.
“It was nice to see familiar faces and reconnect with students I’ve mentored and to see that they’ve gotten into the industries they wanted and are doing well,” says Hu. “It was a great way to celebrate beyond the teams themselves and an opportunity to build awareness of the competition.”
For Lombard, the event was an important celebration of everyone’s role in UBC Sauder’s ongoing success.
“I would like to acknowledge all of the past participants who have helped cement UBC Sauder’s legacy in the CFA Institute Research Challenge over the last five years. Without the talent and commitment of each and every one of those students, industry advisors, and members of the community, none of it would have been possible.”
Preparing to defend UBC Sauder’s title
This year, UBC Sauder students have been assigned Finning International Inc. They have already spent weeks researching the company and are set to present at the local competition round on February 24, 2023.
The 2023 team members include: Garrett Bowley, Aaron Cabiles, Krystal Guo, Doris Huang, Lynne Shi, Unu Ganbayar, Andrej Grman, Mariia Gureva, Peter Hindi, and Kristin Vidanes.
“On behalf of the entire UBC Sauder community, we wish these students the best of luck and can’t wait to see them take the stage!” says Lombard.
About the CFA Institute Research Challenge:
According to the CFA Institute website, more than 6,000 students from roughly 1,000 universities across 95 countries participate in the CFA Institute Research Challenge every year.
Students compete on a local level and then advance to one of three regional competitions (Americas; Asia Pacific; and Europe, Middle East & Africa). A select number of teams make it to the global finals in New York City.