Miami Herbert undergraduate finance team excels in the CFA Institute Research Challenge

Cibeles Duran, 03-21-2022

The all-women team wins the written portion and takes a top spot in the state of Florida.
From left to right: Paige Brala, Catherine Runco, Cory Levy, and Kyra Chiappini.


The CFA Institute, a global organization of investment professionals dedicated to promoting industry standards and conferring the prominent Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation to qualifying professionals, is currently holding its annual CFA Institute Research Challenge. The worldwide competition challenges university students to assume the role of equity research analysts and determine a company’s valuation for potential investors.

“It is a real-life experience,” says Guillermo Rodriguez Gonzalez-Valadez, a CFA charter holder, a CFA Society Miami board member and head of Latin America and U.S. offshore at WisdomTree Asset Management, who coordinated the contest’s Florida finals. “Students are doing what real research analysts do: evaluating companies and making recommendations, except to a set of judges instead of investors.”

The competition kicked off last fall among teams of four or five undergraduate or graduate students within each participating university. At the University of Miami, six teams from Miami Herbert Business School vied for just two spots to be considered for the state-level finals. To accomplish the goal, students deeply researched and analyzed Lennar Corporation, a national homebuilder based in Miami. Teams then submitted a 20-page report that included their recommendation to either buy, sell, or hold the company’s stock.

One of Miami Herbert’s top two teams, an all-women group of undergraduates, won first place among all submitted reports from competing schools in Florida, which paved the way for them to become one of only five teams that presented to a panel of judges at the state-level finals held on March 2. The other represented universities included Barry University, Florida International University, Stetson University, and The University of Tampa.

At the virtual event, seniors Cory Levy, Paige Brala, Kyra Chiappini, and Catherine Runco recommended buying Lennar’s stock-based primarily on the market’s current undersupply of homes nationwide while demand surges especially among millennials. The finance majors—each double majoring in either legal studies, marketing, or accounting—also considered Lennar’s investment in over 25 technology companies to make the home building and home buying processes simpler, as well as the firm’s strong operating margins that deliver value to shareholders through low corporate debt and extra dividends.

After assessing teams’ financial analysis, valuation methodologies, ESG (environmental, social, and governance) considerations, and presentation skills, judges Raoul Rodriguez, wealth manager at Congress Wealth Management, Ian Frazer, investor relations manager at Lennar, and Brad Donovan, portfolio manager at ExodusPoint Capital, announced the top performing teams. The University of Miami team placed second, following Stetson’s team who will move on to the sub-regional phase of the contest for the southeastern United States.

“Coming in second overall in the state of Florida is a significant achievement given the level of the competition and academic institutions in the state,” says Academic Director of Real Estate Programs and Professor of Finance Andrea Heuson, who served as faculty advisor for the Miami Herbert teams. “I was so proud to see what all of the students who participated learned from the process.”

She points out that Levy, Brala, Chiappini, and Runco “make great role models” as an all-women team seeking careers in the investments and valuation industry.

“There is a very competitive spirit here,” she says. “It is important because there are not many women in finance and industry leaders make efforts to try to change that.”  

The team has already inspired other female students to consider the challenge. In Miami Herbert’s Student Investment Fund class, in which students manage a financial fund of over $1 million of university endowment, two upcoming seniors have pledged to compete in next year’s Research Challenge. The young women already help shape the next cohort of UM teams, as every team must include at least one member of the hands-on class.

This year’s contest will culminate in the global finals to be held in May upon the conclusion of sub-regional and regional phases. Though Miami Herbert’s current participation has ended, team members reflect on a rewarding experience filled with intensive research, networking opportunities, and mentoring by industry professionals.

“Seeing how supportive and proud the faculty and administration were of us made me feel very proud of our accomplishments. My knowledge has expanded and I have a new outlook on the equity research and valuation field,” says Levy, who now considers attaining the CFA designation as a future career goal.

“I had never done anything like this before,” Paige mentions. “Being able to take a deep dive into an area that I was interested in was a great learning experience and I will definitely carry it with me throughout my career.”

Chiappini considers that the competition provided her with “a fantastic opportunity” to improve her communications skills and learn much more about the valuation process. “I feel tremendously accomplished for what we were able to achieve as a team and all that we learned along the way,” she says.

“The competition pushed us to deliver a report and presentation that was far beyond anything we thought we were capable of,” Runco states. Pondering the upcoming change from school into the workforce, she adds: “Competing in this challenge has boosted my confidence significantly and has only made me more excited to begin working in the industry full time.”