Student Trading Competition

T​​o say that the coronavirus pandemic has had an enormous impact on students’ daily lives would be an understatement, with exams cancelled, the move to online learning, and a lack of social interaction. Less discussed, but potentially equally harmful for the long-term prospects for our generation, has been the restricted access to work experience and super-curricular activities which are usually offered to aspiring students. With this in mind, as a small group of UK sixth-formers, we created the Student Trading Competition, which has enabled students from across the globe to gain experience in the world of stocks, and provided a chance to pursue their interest in finance.

This innovative virtual finance competition revealed that although the pandemic may have deprived examination students of education in its fullest sense, as a generation, we have developed skills for the future, such as the confidence to inter-connect and network via technology. The founder of the competition, Shafi (City of London School), a Financial Times student advocate, and five representatives from schools across the UK: Guilia (City of London School for Girls), Felicity (Concord College, Shropshire), Joachim (St. Paul’s School), Idan (City of London School) and Elizabeth (Hereford Sixth Form College), formed a tight organisational unit and worked cohesively to establish and market the competition via social media.

We wanted to go beyond making this a simple trading competition, by integrating an element of teaching and learning. Thus, prior to the start of the competition, we hosted a Teams meeting to give participants basic investment tips and information, with a presentation by Zehn Mehmood, an investment banking analyst at Lazard. This meeting, attended by around 100 Sixth Formers, provided competitors with a unique and engaging opportunity to ask questions about how to break into the financial industry. Listening to Zehn, a Cambridge Chemical Engineering graduate, speak about Howard Mark’s theory on taking a non-consensus view to achieve market returns from his book “The Most Important Thing”, in addition to sharing what a career in investment banking is like after graduating, was insightful and inspiring to all those wanting to follow a similar career path in finance. Support during the competition was also given by the university management team, including students from Cambridge University and Imperial College London, as they were able to offer guidance to the schools’ representatives. Another opportunity, individual to this competition, was the ultimate prize of spending a week on a trading floor of a top investment bank, which is something other existing trading competitions have struggled to provide this year.

It was key to our competition to break down perceived barriers of entry into the investment industry and aim for societal values such as inclusivity.  We decided to focus on investment banking, as this can appear particularly impenetrable to the average student who does not have existing knowledge or experience with the sector. However, the competitive nature of it as a whole familiarised students with the rigorous nature of working in wider finance, whether this be investment banking or other sectors of the economy.

For the competition itself, we used the platform ‘Market Watch’, due to its stock market-related news feed, which encourages users to trade using analysis rather than ‘gut feeling’. As the next generation of investors, we wanted to raise awareness of our collective responsibility to focus on long term issues for our world, and thus we set strict ethical boundaries for the virtual investments. We encouraged competitors to consider the future ramifications of each investment choice and the global impact of their virtual trading, such as through ESG investments.

During the preparatory round of the competition, we reached 14 teams of students, and in our second round, we had 111 teams with approximately 500 participants. This was aided by the support we received from our schools’ staff, who generously supervised and gave helpful advice on how we could run this competition in an edifying manner. Lily Thomas, a student from Millfield School sums up the success of this venture: “This competition has been a great opportunity for the Millfield students to explore the realities of trading stocks and shares, while developing our analytical, high-stake decision-making, problem-solving and communication skills. The competition encompassed a strong and competitive spirit from schools internationally, while we still felt that there was a supportive body to give us advice along the journey”.

Inspired by the success of this year’s competition, we hope to continue the competition next year to expand and provide the same opportunity for more students, from all schools, to learn and interact with the stock market. We expect that the competition will grow substantially in size given the initial popularity this year. Although restrictions are being lifted and work experience opportunities are gradually opening up again, we believe that the Student Trading Competition will endure going forward, as a successful bridge between students and the financial world.

Felicity & Joachim