Students Credit CFA Challenge With Career-Shaping Skills

From left, Professor and Chair of Finance David Smith, Kevin Holder, Ashar Zahid, Tyler Rico, team leader Nohl Schwandtner and Sophia Hofer.
From left, Professor and Chair of Finance David Smith, Kevin Holder, Ashar Zahid, Tyler Rico, team leader Nohl Schwandtner and Sophia Hofer.

By Michael Parker

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 11, 2024) — Each year, the CFA Institute brings together students from 95 countries and more than 1,000 universities for the CFA Institute Research Challenge. A team of students from the Massry School of Business became the first in UAlbany history to reach the Americas-region finals, where it was one of the last six schools in the western hemisphere competing for a spot in the global finals.

UAlbany undergraduates Sophia Hofer, Kevin Holder, Tyler Rico, Ashar Zahid and team leader Nohl Schwandtner were tested on their financial analysis, report writing and presentation skills. The competition provides students provided practical experience as they take on the role of research analysts with the aid of industry-based mentors and faculty advisors.

Tasked with prepping for the competition almost immediately after returning from the winter recess, the UAlbany team set to work while competing against 22 other schools in New York in February. Leaning on their experience as members of the University at Albany School of Business Investment Group (UASBIG), the team continued to perfect their presentation as they progressed through various stages of the competition. When it was over, the students found themselves as one of the top four schools in the United States and among the final 18 universities internationally.

“I loved that we didn’t say ‘OK, well we won the last stage, we can win again with the same thing,’” said Schwandtner a Huntington Station, N.Y., native who entered into the Massry School of Business as a direct admit in 2020. “Instead, we continued to update our presentation and do even further research about our subject company (Dollar Tree Inc.).”

The team worked closely with Professor and Chair of Finance David Smith and industry mentor DeForest Hinman, ’05, a portfolio manager and director of research at Bumbershoot Holdings.

“Working with Mr. Hinman was wonderful. He has a tremendous amount of experience in the equity space and his depth of knowledge was beyond helpful throughout,” Schwandtner said.

Their work paid off. After taking home joint first place in the New York competition in February, the team won again in March at the sub-regionals to become one of three schools to represent the eastern Unites States at the Americas-region finals. UAlbany, Canisius and Babson (the global final champions in 2007) competed with 13 other schools from throughout the U.S., Canada, the Atlantic islands and Latin America during the first week of April for a spot in the global finals in May.

Schwandtner and his teammates made it through one more round to become one of the top six schools in the Americas, along with Babson, Denver and Minnesota-Duluth. Ultimately, though, it was the University of Waterloo and Fundacao Getulio Vargas Sao Paulo that advanced to the Global Finals, which will be held in Warsaw, Poland, in May.

It’s the furthest any team from UAlbany has ever advanced and while they won’t be traveling to Warsaw, the experience is something that the students will take with them forever.

“When you look at the team it was more than just five students because Dr. Smith was also such an integral part of our team," said Schwandtner. "Without him we wouldn’t have made it nearly as far in the competition as we did. He not only helped us improve our presentation, but really it was his enthusiasm that kept us all motivated to work harder.”

Teammate Sophia Hofer of West Islip, N.Y., echoes Schwandtner’s comments. She credits her experience with UASBIG, along with the mentorship of Hinman and Smith for helping propel her and her teammates to a finish among the top 18 universities in the world. It’s been part of an overall great experience within the Massry School of Business.

“I decided on UAlbany because I heard great things about its prestigious business programs,” said Hofer, who is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in the Financial Analyst Honors Program as well as a degree in accounting. “After I graduate, I will be pursuing a career in middle market banking and specialized industries at J.P. Morgan. The CFA challenge has taught me many skills about presenting and equity research that will be highly useful in my career and also in graduate school.”

In addition to her business interests, Hofer somehow managed to find the time to serve as president of UAlbany Dance Council, which currently has about 100 members. She also serves as chief financial officer of UASBIG, where students need to apply their financial modeling and valuation skills as they manage a $400,000 real-money stock portfolio.

Rico, who was raised in a single-parent household in Queens, credits his mother, a UAlbany alum, with serving as a role model on how to thrive academically and in life.

“We didn't have much when I was a kid, though our financial situation improved greatly as I went through high school,” said Rico, who will graduate in May with a degree in business administration. “My mom told me about her experiences at UAlbany, and as an affordable school with a top-flight business program, UAlbany checked all the boxes.”

After graduation, he plans to work on Wall Street.

“I think the CFA Research Challenge showcases many tangible skills that employers look for and like to see, and it showcases our drive and talent. I've already used it as a talking point on several calls and interviews, and everyone who hears about how far we have come is very impressed,” Rico said.

Teammate Kevin Holder grew up in Greenwood Lake, N.Y., a small village about 90 minutes north of New York in Orange County.

“My parents were very excited for me to attend college and ultimately were happy that I was pursuing a degree that would help me to realize my goal of obtaining a career in finance,” who transferred to UAlbany from the University at Buffalo in 2022. “I chose UAlbany so I could enroll in the Financial Analyst Honors Program, which I saw as a direct benefit to pursuing a career in finance, as well as the opportunity to join the University at Albany School of Business Investment.”

His next step after graduation is to embark on a career as an equity research analyst.

“Many of the skills and knowledge that I obtained from the CFA challenge will be directly helpful as I pursue my career,” Holder said. “The process of writing the reports as well as crafting our presentation are just a few of the skills that I will ultimately use in my career.”

Zahid has also flourished in both academics and extracurricular activities while at UAlbany. He is completing a bachelor’s degree in business administration with concentrations in finance and marketing. He also serves a resident assistant, is a member of the UASBIG leadership group focusing on the healthcare sector and completed an internship at C.L. King & Associates.

Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Zahid and his family immigrated to the United States in 2019 to Cornwall, N.Y., in Orange County.

“It was at Cornwall Central High School where I discovered my passion for business,” said Zahid, whose parents were thrilled when he was accepted to UAlbany.

In addition to the CFA Challenge and UASBIG, Zahid is also actively involved in the UAlbany Stock Exchange as treasurer and completed an internship at UBS.

“I had the valuable opportunity to intern at UBS under Michael Poppo (a 1986 UAlbany graduate) and his team,” said Zahid. “The experience was incredibly educational and I learned a great deal from them.”

Zahid also credits Smith, Hinman and David Silver, the director of research at C.L. King & Associates for helping him to hone his leadership and communication skills.

“All three have played significant roles in shaping me into the person I am today,” said Zahid.

Meanwhile, team captain Schwandtner is set to work at Scotiabank in New York as a Global Capital Markets Analyst after graduation. The challenge definitely helped him build his professional skills.

“The CFA Challenge gave me more experience with presenting in front of finance professionals, where they asked us challenging questions which got more intense as the rounds went on,” said Schwandtner, who also cites his experience as a member of Delta Sigma Pi, a professional business fraternity, with helping to prepare him for the next stage of his career.

“I truly enjoyed serving as co-president of UASBIG,” said Schwandtner. “It was an amazing learning opportunity in how to be an effective leader. I also was lucky to have a great co-president, Mike Tallarino (a business administration major from Rome, N.Y.). We got to experience all the ups and downs of being leaders together. I think we both know we couldn’t have had such a successful presidency without working together.”