‘Pirate pride’: Seton Hall business students win the CBX University Challenge

By: David Hutter 

March 11, 2019 7:00 am

Students from Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business won the inaugural CBX University Challenge, defeating teams from 30 other institutions.

CBXmarket creates innovative financial technology solutions for fixed income investors, according to its web site. It uses a cloud-based OASIS platform, calling it a fixed income portfolio management solution that enables investment managers to realize the benefits of workflow automation and portfolio optimization to streamline front, middle and back-office functions.

Seton Hall Stillman School of Business Professor Leo Cheung teaches a class that covers corporate bonds, asset-backed securities, and mortgage-backed securities.The Seton Hall winning team consisted of five students who managed a fixed-income portfolio for eight weeks on the CBXmarket platform, Cheung said. They submitted securities trades on the platform to the CBXmarket competition manager at the end of each week, he explained.

The first phase of the competition was based entirely on the investment performance of the Seton Hall students’ portfolio versus those of teams of students from other schools. The Seton Hall team scored first of about 30 other teams based on that performance.

The three universities turning in the best performances, including Seton Hall, were then invited to the final, in which they presented their investment strategy to the CBXmarket executives.

“The students come in with the expectation of learning a lot about the bond market,” Cheung said. “[They learn] a lot about bond mathematics and bond trading and the whole universe of fixed income bond training.

“Our victory in the CBXmarket University Challenge is a reflection of the high caliber of students and the strength of the Finance Department at the Stillman School of Business,” Cheung said.

The competition took place remotely from September 2018 to January 2019. Mark Schild, assistant dean and an instructor of finance at Stillman, and Prof. Elven Riley assembled the CBX team in the summer of 2018. “We knew we had students who stood above most and said ‘Let’s go for it,’” Schild said. “We had the number one team.”

Alex Pozesky of Columbia, Pa., jumped at the opportunity to join the academic competition. At the outset, he said his greatest challenge was lack of understanding about how to compare fixed-income products. He had previously only thought about trading stocks so he had to learn the bond market from scratch.

“I had never concerned myself with interest rates before,” he said. “We thought the CBX product was pretty easy to use, especially compared to a Bloomberg terminal. You are required to know how to use CBX Market’s platform. But if you do not know how to use a Bloomberg terminal, things are going to take you a long time.”

A ‘foot in the door’

Caroline Weeks of Tampa, Fla., said she was interested in the challenge because she wanted to experience fixed-income analysis outside of the classroom. Not many other students have an opportunity to participate in this kind of competition, she explained.

“The experience I had through my internships through fixed income was completely different from this challenge,” Weeks said. “It was a completely new opportunity.”

Aaron Varghese of Haledon, New Jersey, recalled taking his upper-level finance courses and thought it would be fun to compete in a competition that tested his skills.

“I was really getting immersed in what it means to be a finance major,” Varghese said. “And so, I thought it would be fun to be a part of a competition that tested your skills. … I thought this would be a good way to get my foot in the door and see if I can put what I’ve been learning to the test.”

“We met outside of class to make sure our portfolio was up-to-date and that we were allocating our funds for the week efficiently and correctly,” Varghese said. “We were communicating, throwing ideas at each other. Sometimes we would find an idea, have to look at something else because initially someone would raise a counter-argument. That was very valid. This competition really did help us communicate better, develop initiative, and make sure our financial analysis skills were developed as well.”

Anthony Pulverenti of Edgewater Park decided to join the team after Prof. Cheung informed his class of the opportunity.

“I happen to sit next to Caroline and Aaron,” Pulverenti said. “We looked at each other and said ‘Do you want to try this?’ It’s a fun way to represent your school on a national level. You take a lot of pride. You see the list of school names: you see Michigan and Columbia below you. You take some Pirate pride in that.”

Looking ahead to graduation, Pulverenti intends to work in financial marketing.

“Finance is a key skill to have in the marketing world,” he said. “Marketing is so much more than coming up with a catchy jingle. You have to know financial numbers. The numbers have to make a story with how something is performing and how much money something is generating.”

These students credited fellow Seton Hall student Kang Song, a native of South Orange, for their success. Song and his fellow classmates did the same work in the competition.

“It was a lot of teamwork: Stillman has prepared us well,” Weeks said. “The majority of the classes you have group projects. There is also a Stillman assessment you have to complete before graduation. In our senior year, we’ve all been through a lot of group projects and I think that really helped us as a team. At the end of the day, it does not matter how much knowledge you have about a topic. If you can’t work together as a team, your portfolio is not going to go anywhere so I think that was really crucial for our team.”

“Whatever tough questions CBX executives asked of them, they were able to squarely answer,” Cheung said. “There were good handoffs too. At one point, Anthony would start answering a question and Aaron or Caroline or Alex would chime in and help out. Their teamwork was very apparent.”

The winning students earned a $150 gift card and opportunities for internships and permanent jobs.

Schild expects to have more Seton Hall students participate in the challenge next year.

“We are trying to find as many real-world experiences as possible to offer our students,” Schild said.

A second Seton Hall team also participated and finished in the top 10.

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