Concordia portfolio management program gives students practical experience
The Kenneth Woods Portfolio Management Program (KWPMP) is an investment training initiative that allows eight to 10 students to manage a $2.5-million portfolio every year.
Although the students—called fund managers—have control of the portfolio for the calendar year, there are measures in place to hold students and their investment decisions accountable. Each fund manager is responsible for a specific industrial sector, and they are tasked with all investments within that industry.
Reena Atanasiadis, the director of the KWPMP, described how various measures, such as setting guidelines and constraints, ensure the fund managers make investments based on ideals of sustainability while growing their discretionary portfolio.
Once every quarter (every three months), the fund managers must justify their decisions to a board of professionals who make up the program’s client committee. This committee ensures the managers are investing in a professional manner.
“That’s how it is in the industry,” Atanasiadis said. “It’s this way so that no mistakes are repeated […] We’re not just generating returns, but we’re also teaching responsible investing.”
Calvin Truchon, a current fund manager, said the pressure of managing such a large portfolio is a crucial factor for gaining the experience needed in the professional investment landscape.
“Pressure is somewhat spread out by the fact that we manage the fund as a cohesive team,” he said. “The best way to reduce stress is to work hard and try your absolute best. Whatever happens next is out of your control, and you need to be level-headed to adapt.”
According to Truchon, if a fund manager loses money on an investment in the KWPMP, there are no real consequences for a bad investment, “apart from feeling bad for yourself […] and getting grilled by the client committee.” The emphasis is on providing a learning experience for students.
To become a fund manager, students must spend a calendar year as a research associate at Concordia, which involves taking a six-credit applied investment course, as well as interacting with and learning from current fund managers.
The selection process is “extremely competitive,” Atanasiadis said, adding that, in any given year, there are between 50 and 100 applicants. To be selected, students must meet the program’s academic requirement of a 3.5 GPA upon application and maintain it throughout the program. Atanasiadis described the students who are eventually chosen as “desperately hungry” to join the world of investment.
“Their character is what’s important,” she said. “There are no guarantees. I’ve had to fire students. I’ve put students on probation. Nothing is just handed to them.”
The program was launched in 2000 after a $1-million donation was made by Concordia alumnus Kenneth Woods. Since then, 160 students have graduated from the KWPMP and become what the group calls Calvin Potter Fellows, named after a Concordia finance professor who served as the university’s department of finance chairman for many years.
Ivanna Biloshytska, a fund manager for the 2018 calendar year, said the team works together to decide which investments to keep from the previous year. The team is in constant communication about decisions involving the program and their investments. Before investing, they must prepare an intensive 20 to 40-page overview of the proposed investment. From there, the managers vote on whether or not to move forward with the investment.
In 2016, the project generated about $118,000 in returns. For 17 years, the KWPMP has focused on giving students a place to learn how to manage real money in real time.
“It helps you become well-rounded in the industry,” Biloshytska said. The program is also designed to offer the fund managers a large network if they ever need advice or help regarding their investments.
After graduating from the program, former fund managers usually choose to mentor and help guide the next generation of fund managers, according to Atanasiadis. She called the program a “family” and said fund managers, both past and present, have a genuine appreciation for the program.
Graphic by Zeze Le Lin