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Stillman School of Business

Team Wins NY Area CFA Institute Research Challenge

CFA Institute Research Challenge Team Members

The CFA Institute Research Challenge Team Members (l to r) Mark Walier, Vikram Khosla, Leiya Istambouli, Walker Parra and Jacob Barnoski.

Seton Hall University took home first place in the New York area final of the annual CFA Institute Research Challenge, a global competition that provides university students with hands-on mentoring and intensive training in financial analysis and professional ethics. 

The team members are Mark Walier (Senior, Finance/IT Management), Vikram Khosla ’23 (MBA in Management), Leiya Istambouli (Senior, Financial Mathematics), Walker Parra ’23 (MBA in Business Analytics), and Jacob Barnoski ’23 (MBA in Business Analytics). They were led by Stillman School Instructor Anthony Garcia, M.B.A., in his first year as the faculty advisor in place of retired Professor Anthony Loviscek.

Working in teams, students gain real-world experience as they assume the role of research analysts and are judged on their ability to value a stock, write a research report, and present their recommendations. 

The team members started their preparation last fall when 24 teams from business schools in the New York area began researching the subject company, Dollar Tree, Inc., submitting their report in January. From there, 16 teams were invited to present to a panel of judges from the CFA Institute. Seton Hall tied for first place after the first round of presentations.  

The Seton Hall student team

The Seton Hall team was chosen to represent the NY Area and will advance to the Sub-Regional Round, along with the team from the University of Albany.

Then, on February 27, Seton Hall — along with teams from the University of Albany, Marist College, and Binghamton University — were invited to the NY area Final Round. This included a 10-minute presentation followed by a Q&A period with the judges. Seton Hall and University of Albany were chosen to represent the NY Area and will advance to the Sub-Regional Round in hopes of being selected for the Regional Semifinals, scheduled for April. 

Seton Hall has advanced to this stage 18 times since 2004.

Vikram Khosla, from Freehold, NJ, shared his motivation for joining the challenge, "As someone working in IT looking to move into finance, I thought this challenge would be a great way to get real-world skills." He also emphasized the importance of practice and teamwork. "Our team must have practiced our presentation, like 100 times over. We also practiced in front of various groups to receive feedback, which helped us polish our presentation and increase our confidence."

Jacob Barnoski, from Nesconset, NY, was thankful for the leadership skills he previously gained serving on the Financial Planning Association executive board. "Working with larger teams requires a great deal of work on the logistical end to organize scheduling for meeting and workload distribution." Adding the importance of collaboration, Leiya Istambouli, from Danbury, CT, said, "Each of us have a specialized role in each section of our report and final presentation — I know that my work would not have been nearly as good without the guidance from my team."

CFA Banner showing Seton Hall final four years

A banner that hangs in the Stillman School shows each year in which the Seton Hall team has previously advanced to the “Final Four” of the CFA Institute Research Challenge.

When asked about the most valuable lessons learned from participating in the Challenge, Mark Walier, from Holmdel, NJ, replied, "When allowing distractions to make their way in, a group is likely to make an ill-informed decision. That’s why it's critical to determine which information is relevant. This requires a combination of group collaboration and internal analysis, with a careful emphasis on avoiding groupthink."

Walker Parra, MBA student from Pensacola, Florida, spoke about managing nerves and the importance of teamwork. "Being a student-athlete helped me handle high-pressure situations. Making sure we properly prepared by knowing our script by heart and anticipating any potential questions was also important. But the most important part was before the presentation in the waiting room, when we were cracking jokes and having fun."

Parra, a member of the Men's Swim Team, isn’t the only student-athlete on the squad. Istambouli is a captain of the Women's Swim Team and Walier is a captain of the Men's Soccer Team; both Barnoski and Vikram were high school athletes. "Their experience from athletics enabled them to 'embrace the grind' and exert themselves over a sustained period,” said Garcia. "Plus, Jacob is a graduate assistant and Vikram has a full-time job in addition to their graduate studies. Each of them found a way to balance their various responsibilities and obligations. Their time-management skills were an important factor in the team's success."

Garcia added that the other key strengths of this year’s team are the breadth and depth of their knowledge of the business world. "By creating a clear picture of the outlook for Dollar Tree, the team members demonstrated their ability to present the story and defend their conclusions in response to probing questions from the judges."

The guidance the team received from Garcia was crucial. "Tony made everything easier for us, from coordinating with the CFA society to preparing us for the judges’ questions," said Khosla. Barnoski agreed. "Tony provided invaluable insight and logistical assistance throughout the process while still providing the team the flexibility to execute our vision without interference. This well-crafted balance is a great contributor to our success."

The next Sub-Regional Round, broken up into three breakout groups, requires a video submission from each team. Seton Hall is in a competition group with two other Catholic universities, Providence College and Canisius College, Buffalo, NY.  One team from each of the three breakout groups will advance to the Regional Semifinal Round. The winners of the Sub-Regional Round will be announced on March 28.

Istambouli acknowledged the impact this experience has already had on her career path. "I am starting my job as an advisor consultant at Lord Abbett in July. This challenge has sparked my interest in equity research — now I am open to becoming a CFA charterholder."

Categories: Business, Education, Research