Business students take third place in financial competition analyzing Dillard’s, Inc.

Professor Ashvin Vibhakar, second from left, and three of his students, Alex Howell, left, Rita Chowdhury, center right, and Noah Asher, right, won third place in a Chartered Financial Analyst certification research competition. Photo by Benjamin Krain.

A team of students from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock College of Business have placed third in the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Research Challenge on Feb. 23 at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

The students include Noah Asher, senior finance and economics major; Rita Chowdhury, Master of Business Administration student; and Alex Howell, senior finance major. Dr. Ashvin Vibhakar, Joe T. Ford Chair of Finance, served as the team’s faculty advisor while Ben Bienvenu of Stephens, Inc. was their mentor.

“The competition is sponsored by the CFA Institute with the goal of teaching students the practical side of equity research as well as understanding ethical principles,” Vibhakar said. “The students learn institutional equities research. In the challenge, the students do exactly what a research analyst at Stephens would do.”

The CFA Research Challenge is an annual global competition for finance students pursuing the CFA certification, which provides hands-on mentoring and intensive training in financial analysis. Students work in teams to research and analyze a publicly traded company and then write a research report on their assigned company with a buy, sell, or hold recommendation. All teams researched Dillard’s. They produced a 30-page report with financial models, revenue forecasts, and various financial schedules.

Business students, Alex Howell, left, Noah Asher, center, and Rita Chowdhury, right, won third place in a Chartered Financial Analyst certification research competition. Photo by Benjamin Krain.
Business students, Alex Howell, left, Noah Asher, center, and Rita Chowdhury, right, say team work is the key to their success in the Chartered Financial Analyst Research Challenge. Photo by Benjamin Krain.

Asher, Chowdhury, and Howell met during the fall 2018 semester while taking Vibhakar’s Applied Equity class in which the students manage an investment fund with a little over $400,000 for the Joe Ford Investment Portfolio.

Each student in the highly-competitive class performs a sector economic analysis and screens a company within their assigned sector for inclusion in the Ford Trust. Students present their analysis of a company to prominent finance professionals on the Finance Advisory Board. The class then determines the composition of the portfolio by buying and selling equities consistent with the investment policy statement and the specific constraints of the fund.

“We enjoyed the Applied Equity class so much that we we decided to kept it going with this competition,” Asher said. “Our diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints is our strength.”

The team has been working on the materials for this competition since October on top of their classes, work, and home lives.

“We still share market reports once a week with each other,” Chowdhury said. “A testament to the fact that we are highly motivated individuals  and share the same passion for the industry. Even though we might not always see eye to eye, we value each other’s point of view and continue to remain good friends.”

“My favorite part of this competition was finishing it,” Howell said. “It was nice to see all of our hard work pay off. Dillard’s released their fourth quarter results, and our earnings per share estimate was incredibly close to the actual figure. We were cautiously optimistic with our valuation. I don’t think any of this would have been possible without faculty mentorship and support. They provided a wealth of knowledge that we didn’t otherwise think to incorporate.”

Asher, Chowdhury, and Howell said the skills they learned during the CFA Research Challenge coupled with the Applied Equity class have helped all of them secure internship and job offers.

“In the end, the knowledge and understanding they gained is what’s important,” Vibhakar said. “A lot of industry experts wish they had this competition when they were college students because the competitors have such an expert level of knowledge when they enter the job field.”

In the upper right photo, Professor Ashvin Vibhakar, second from left, and three of his students, Alex Howell, left, Rita Chowdhury, center right, and Noah Asher, right, won third place in a Chartered Financial Analyst Research Challenge. Photo by Benjamin Krain.

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