CFA Institute Research Challenge (IRC)

Monday, August 3, 2020
by Mitchell H.

Steve, Pamela, Logan, Mitchell, Isaac, and Jeannine

Reprinted from LinkedIn with permission

My Journey to the CFA Research Challenge Big Stage

Earlier this year in April, my team and I had the honour of representing the University of Waterloo and CFA Society Toronto & Ottawa (as the Local Champions) at the CFA Institute Research Challenge, competing against over 50 universities across North and South America for a ticket to the Global Finals (5 universities around the world out of ~1,100 total teams). Although we were only 1 spot away from advancing to the Global Finals (came 2nd in our bracket), looking back there were a handful of lessons that I learned throughout this incredible 8-month journey.

Lesson #1: We're so busy watching out for what's ahead that we forget to enjoy where we are.

My team would be the first to tell you how intense and obsessed over winning I got the moment we were assigned our stock (TSX:DSG) back in October. Looking back, I think the entire process was just as, if not more valuable, than the results. The sleepless nights, odd hour calls (a member was on study exchange in another time zone), cold emailing experts, heated debates, and way too much East Side Mario's pasta built a sense of camaraderie among us and created moments to remember for life. We also learned a lot about the logistics and SaaS industry (in which our subject company operates in) after interviewing industry experts, academics, equity research analysts, and venture capital investors. 

As Arthur Ashe once said, "Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome."

Lesson #2: Don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and explore uncharted territories.

Often times, we resist change and conform to the status quo because we get comfortable with our ideas. It took months of discussions, debates, and disagreements to finally develop a thesis and recommendation our team confidently stood behind. We constantly challenged ourselves to play the devil's advocate in order to form objective views that considered all aspects of the business (e.g. industry & economic outlook, risks, catalysts, valuation, scenario analysis, etc.). We conducted our own primary research and drilled down into the numbers in our model to craft a story that our judges could understand and believe in. We re-did our entire slide deckjust weeks before competition day because we knew we could push ourselves to do better. 

As Muhammad Ali once said, "The man who has no imagination has no wings."

Lesson #3: Finally, and most importantly (especially during the trying times we're in today), is to have faith, stay positive, and don't give up!

Having to create a 30-page initiation of coverage research report, craft a deck with over 100 slides, and present in front of a panel of industry veterans was no easy task. Not to mention, our entire team was either working on co-op or on a study exchange across the world. There were countless times where our team doubted ourselves and questioned whether we'd even make it out of the Local round against the 11 universities in Ontario. However, every time we wanted to give up, we'd broaden our perspectives and remind ourselves why we started in the first place. We pictured ourselves holding the trophy in New York (which we unfortunately didn't end up going to due to travel restrictions) and getting to meet other teams around the world. We knew we had to keep our eyes on the prize. 

As Kobe Bryant once said, "The moment you give up is the moment you let someone else win."

I want to take this moment to again thank our faculty and industry advisors, Steve Balaban and Jeannine LiChong, for believing in us and taking time out of your busy schedules to mentor us. Thank you to the University of Waterloo, School of Accounting & Finance for providing us with the knowledge and resources to compete (check out my interview with the school here). And lastly, thank you to my amazing team, Pamela Zeng, Isaac Wong, and Logan Fraser for all your hard work and making this incredible experience one I'll remember for life!

Read more about Mitchell's road to the CFA Institute Research Challenge.