Talk about a power meeting.

One day last spring, four University of Waterloo Students — Usman Chaudhry, Andrew George-Parkin, Ying Wu, and Helen Xiangxiang Zhang — joined a group of men and women who ordinarily speak of dollars in terms of millions or billions.

The students helped open trading March 28 at the Toronto Stock Exchange, an honour earned by finishing first in the Equity Research Challenge hosted by Waterloo’s School of Accounting and Finance (SAF).

Sponsored by the stock exchange, Computershare and CNW Group, the challenge is one of several competitions that compel many SAF students to keep business wear pressed and ready for action.

Competitions push students to get real-world results

Stockmarket“It redirects them from what they learn in the classroom to what they can expect in the financial industry,” says Craig Geoffrey, a SAF lecturer who acts as coach and mentor to teams taking on finance competitions. “The classroom is about process, the industry is about results.”

Competitions typically call on students to deeply analyse the assets and risks of a company, or argue whether investors should buy a certain stock, hold it, or get rid of it.

Well done written reports advance teams to sweaty-palmed presentations before panels of business experts.

Competitions may demand months of preparation. For students involved in multiple competitions, the work involved can have the heft of two more courses, Geoffrey says.

“The products they produce are phenomenal,” he says. “When they get to deliver it, they do a fantastic job.”

Other major competitions keeping SAF students up at night:

• The National Investment Banking Competition, held in Vancouver, B.C. January 7-9 this year. Senior SAF students made it to the final round this year. Victory went to a team from McGill University in Montreal.

• The Chartered Financial Analysts Institute Research Challenge has local (Toronto), regional (North and South America) and global components. Waterloo students won the local competition in 2012 and 2013, and advanced to the regionals.

Donna Heng (BAFM ’13), a graduate of accounting and financial management who competed in the CFA challenge in 2013, said Waterloo’s co-op program gives local students an edge. “The lessons that we’ve learned from working in industry truly sets us apart from the competition in many regards; from technical proficiency to our professionalism.”

Dry-cleaning bills rise as students suit up for other competitions — Battle for CA$H (won by three Waterloo students this year), Battle on Bay Street (Waterloo team placed second this year) and in-house event, the Investment Research Challenge (IRC).

In the IRC, student teams act as portfolio managers making recommendations on a randomly assigned stock. Many of them have had experience with Waterloo’s SAF Student-Run Investment Fund.

Students who tend to be shy going into finance come out as men and women capably arguing sophisticated points of business in front of experts, Geoffrey says.

“We produce really well-rounded students,” he says. “They get some experience and they gain confidence.”