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Business Students Make History in Investment Challenge

June 13, 2017

This spring, five St. John Fisher College students made history when they became the first school to claim all five winning spots in the 2017 ETF Global® Portfolio Challenge. Ethan O’Donnell, Cole Smith, Phat Huynh, Carlin Lydon, and John Lehsten—all members of the Class of 2018—took the top spots in the 10-week investment competition, which drew students from 190 schools across 24 countries on five continents.

Ethan O’Donnell '18, who is majoring in accounting with a minor in finance, earned the top spot in the 2017 ETF Global® Portfolio Challenge.

Ethan O’Donnell '18, who is majoring in accounting with a minor in finance, earned the top spot in the 2017 ETF Global® Portfolio Challenge.

The School of Business students participated in the challenge through Steven Barber’s Investments course. During the competition, students are given a virtual balance of $100,000 and are tasked with constructing and maintaining a portfolio of Exchange Traded Funds (EFTs).

According to challenge organizers, Fisher accomplished an “unprecedented feat” in becoming the first school in competition history to claim ownership in the top five spots.

“This statistical anomaly shattered the previous record held by University of Central Florida with two of the top five students,” wrote organizers in a message announcing the winners, who noted that Fisher managed to accomplish this despite representing a small percentage of the 1,000 total contestants and facing the competition’s largest and most globally diverse playing field ever. "This is a clear reflection of not only the high quality of students that St. John Fisher College possesses, but also the talent that can be found in smaller schools outside the collegiate mainstream.”

O’Donnell, who is majoring in accounting with a minor in finance, said the competition required a daily focus on the markets.

“I quickly learned that in order to perform well in the challenge, I needed to alter my portfolio on a weekly basis,” he explained. “The main challenge I was confronted with was simply trying to predict how the market would perform not on a long-term basis, but on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis.”

Smith, who is studying finance at Fisher, agreed, noting that Professor Barber’s briefings on world events and market performance at the start of each class was instrumental in helping him make the right tweaks to his portfolio. Making his selections based on technical charts, seasonal patterns, geopolitical events, and the information he gleaned from class, Smith chose to maintain a conservative portfolio towards the end of the challenge to offset the risk of losing his high standing.

“Participating in an investment game helps serve as a platform to implement the investment/financial topics taught in classes in a setting that allows for experimentation and growth using simulated money,” he said. “It was an excellent way to show how the material from the Fisher investment class is relevant in the real world.”

For accounting major Huynh, the challenge was more than just an exercise in investments.

“As it progressed, the challenge became a catalyst in helping me develop my skills in researching, analysis, and critical thinking,” he said. “I found myself spending countless hours learning different functions of finance in order to gain an edge in the competition. In a way, the EFT Global Challenge allowed me to discover another part of myself.”

For Barber, the blending of the science (statistics and mathematics) and art (technical, visual, and trend analysis) of trading was the secret to his students’ success.

“It’s hard to overstate how well the Fisher students did and how, statistically speaking, an outlier it is,” he said. “They quickly went from raw recruits knowing nothing about stocks to handily beating the pros on a regular and consistent basis. If our students were a stock, I’d want in on that IPO!”

The students will be formally recognized during the ETF Global® Portfolio Challenge Awards Ceremony, held during the Fall 2017 ETP Forum in November, at the New York Athletic Club.