Business & Economy

Students in Argo Investments Program gain real-world experience with unique opportunity to manage UWF Foundation Funds

Students in the University of West Florida’s College of Business are engaging in experiential learning by managing a $1-million bond fund and $500,000 stock fund in two fund management courses this year. The fund courses have been offered since Summer 2019 at UWF, but this is the first semester real money is being managed. The UWF Foundation Board approved the use of the funds at its September meeting.

“My students are having the opportunity to gain real-world fiduciary responsibility,” said Dr. K.C. Ma, Mary Ball Washington/Switzer Bros endowed professor of finance in UWF’s College of Business. “The fund management courses jumpstart students’ money management career at least five years earlier.”

Ma has the responsibility of reporting results and board governance. The Argo Investments Program is investing $25,000 per approved stock. Ma, along with Dan Lucas, Chief Financial Officer of the Foundation, and the Foundation’s investment advisor, Atlanta Consulting Group, modeled the program after looking at other universities that have similar programs and following some industry best practices.

“Dr. Ma and the students are treated like any other managers,” Lucas said. “They are given benchmarks and report performance quarterly to the Investment Committee as any other manager does. They are part of an extensive portfolio; their managed funds make up only a portion of the Foundation’s Investment pool roughly 1.5% of the total. This allows for the total investment pool to be diversified.”

FIN4990/5990 is a stock fund finance elective for the fall semester, and a bond fund management course for the spring semester. The courses are simultaneously offered to both undergraduate and graduate students. Students can sign up for each course when it is offered and become a part of the management team to manage the funds.

“This class has stressed thinking outside the box and looking at new stocks that have the potential of Amazon and Apple,” said Brian McGee, a senior majoring in finance.

The fund management courses are conducted face-to-face and meet twice a week. Students present their research on the stocks to the class. McGee said the advanced workload has immersed him into the real world.

“Identifying stocks and doing this in-depth research is what it would be like to work on a hedge fund,” McGee said.

Ma said since November 2019, the Argo Investments Program has already run a portfolio based on students’ recommendations and the return was very positive. Most of the top-performing stocks benefit from the “stay-at-home effect,” although the stocks were recommended before February and the outbreak of the virus in the U.S. The top three performers were DocuSign, Teledoc and Tesla.

“The 13-stock portfolio has produced an 85% return compared to the market’s minus-10%,” Ma said.

Antonia Starzmann, an MBA student, was in the program the first semester it was offered.

“Being a part of the Argo Investments Program taught me many things and gave me a lot of experience,” Starzmann said. “By learning how to manage actual funds through the program, I got encouraged to start managing my own funds and I have done it every day since. It is an interest that I value and that benefits me at the same time, and every day I am using the knowledge that I got from being a part of the program.”

The funds will continue to be managed with Ma into the future with new students participating from semester to semester.

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