Spokane Journal of Business

Whitworth finance team off to national competition

Student team advances for second straight year

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-—Kevin Blocker
The Whitworth University team includes, left to right, Casey Rogstad, Megan Escobar, Patrick Bannworth, and Joe Schwalbach. They will travel to Chicago next week for the competition.

Whitworth University’s four-student Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) team heads to Chicago next week to compete in an international competition against teams from more than 100 colleges and universities from around the world.

The four-day event starts April 12, and it’s the second-straight year a team from Whitworth has earned a berth to the competition. Teams of students at the competition will be graded by professional experts on their ability to financially analyze a company. Students also will be graded on their ability to defend their position to either buy, sell, or trade the company’s stock.

Whitworth is the smallest and the only private school to win the regional CFA challenge since it was established six years ago, says Sinead Vorhees, Whitworth’s assistant director of internships and external relations in the business and economics department. It also is the only Washington school to win the regional challenge in the last four years, she says.

Next week’s challenge is sponsored by the CFA Institute, which has offices across the U.S., Europe and Asia and employs more than 500 people worldwide. The competition is designed to provide students with hands-on mentoring and intensive training in financial analysis. Colleges competing in Chicago earned berths to the tournament by defeating their peers in regional competitions.

In January, Whitworth defeated Eastern Washington University, University of Montana, Montana State University, Washington State University, and Whitman College to win its second-consecutive Inland Northwest CFA Challenge. The CFA Society of Spokane has hosted the competition at EWU’s Spokane campus for the past three years.

Gonzaga University did not participate in the CFA challenge in 2016 as it did the year prior. No university or college from Western Washington or Oregon has participated in the past two years, says Whitworth business school dean Tim Wilkinson.

 “This is the capstone achievement of my college career,” says Casey Rogstad, a Whitworth CFA team member who’s a senior majoring in business management.

Along with Rogstad, the Whitworth CFA team includes fellow seniors Joe Schwalbach and Patrick Bannworth and sophomore Megan Escobar. Whitworth professor and team adviser Duff Bergquist assembled the squad in late November.

The CFA Society of Spokane then instructed all the participating teams to produce a one-year target stock for Spokane-based Clearwater Paper Corp., by using a variety of valuation methods.

“Whitworth doesn’t even offer a finance degree,” Schwalbach says. “The fact we’re competing at the level that we are speaks to the expertise and training we’re getting from Duff Bergquist and Jim Czirr. They’re both a wealth of knowledge.”

Czirr, of Spokane-based Hart Capital Management Inc., serves as the CFA team’s “industry mentor,” Schwalbach says. Both Bergquist and Czirr will be travelling with the team to Chicago.

Wilkinson says students roughly two years ago asked administrators to offer a finance major. Their request has led to the creation of a finance major that will be offered starting in the next academic year, Wilkinson says.

“They’ve won CFA twice now, they’re graduating and getting jobs in finance, we had to catch up to the students,” Wilkinson says. “They’ve been learning by doing.”

Currently, Whitworth’s business and economics department offers majors in accounting, economics, management and marketing. Escobar says she’s currently majoring in accounting but plans to change majors next year when the finance degree becomes available.

Schwalbach says, “Alumni, faculty, they’ve all helped lay the groundwork to help our CFA teams gain the knowledge necessary to compete against other colleges and universities.”

At the Inland Northwest CFA Challenge, competing teams were required to submit a 10-page research report and prepare a 10-minute presentation to defend their position to either buy, sell, or trade Clearwater stock before a panel of industry representatives. 

Judges evaluated written research reports and graded students on their oral presentations of the Clearwater company. Schwalbach says the same format will be in place next week in Chicago. Other teams will be presenting their arguments about other companies from their respective regions, says the CFA Institute’s website.

Whitworth CFA team members estimate they have spent at least 400 hours preparing for competitions since coming together in November.

“It’s been a lot of work,” Bannworth says. “It’s been a great experience, but I think we’ll all be a little relieved to be done.”

This year’s CFA team also has received help from members of last year’s regional winner and first-ever Whitworth team to earn a berth to the global CFA tournament. The team rosters change each year, allowing as many students as possible to compete in the CFA events.

“I’ve been able to share with them the types of questions that they will face from the panel and give a perspective of what they’re going to be going up against,” says Whitworth senior economics major Johanna Marcelia, who was on last year’s team.

“You’re competing against some of the most prestigious business schools in the country,” Marcelia says. “There are teams that have MBA students participating on them. Our team last year didn’t have that kind of experience to draw on and we were out of the competition after the first day. Hopefully this year Whitworth can last a little longer.”

 Kevin Blocker
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Reporter Kevin Blocker, a University of Colorado alum, is a rec league basketball addict. At age 47, he still sports a 32-inch vertical leap. He has three children, all of whom are hooked on hoops.

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