(L to R) Geoffrey Bery ’13, Eric Zhang ’13, Jonathan Cohen ’15, Nikhil Byanna ’15, David Chen ’13.
On November 27th, Northwestern University won the Ninth Annual College Fed Challenge, making it the fourth time that the Wildcats have brought home the gold cup from Nationals. Team members Geoffrey Bery ’13, Nikhil Byanna ’15, David Chen ’13, Jonathan Cohen ’15, and Eric Zhang ’13 dominated the district competition in Chicago before heading to Nationals in Washington D.C. and taking first place.
The College Fed Challenge is a team competition for undergraduate college students inspired by the working of the Federal Open Market Committee, explains Federal Reserve Bank of New York. It further states that the competition is “intended to encourage students to learn more about the U.S. macro economy, the Federal Reserve System and the implementation of monetary policy and financial stability.” There are two rounds at the regional competition and the winners of the regional competition advance to the final round in the national competition, held in Washington D.C. The College Fed Challenge started in 2004. Northwestern University won the first three Nationals competitions, and Harvard University won last year’s.
In addition to being a member of the Fed Challenge, David Chen, actively participates in Delta Sigma Pi, the business fraternity, and Students Consulting for Non-profit Organizations. Chen is currently a senior double majoring Economics and Mathematics and pursuing the Financial Economics Kellogg Certificate; he plans to explore a career in banking after graduating this year and is “ready to work for 100 hours a week.”
When asked about the details of the competition, David explained that it was “a 15-minute presentation followed by a 15-minute Q&A where you can pretend to be the FOMC, the Federal Open Market Committee, and tell the Federal Reserve what they should be doing with the monetary policy right now.”
“The challenging aspect of it,” he said “is that we have to completely structure the presentation ourselves – picking what’s important and how much to talk about individual topics. This year, we focused on quantitative easing with three $40 billion of MBS (mortgage-backed securities) purchases.”
There must be a lot of know-how to win this competition, I inquired; however, Chen said there wasn’t much. “We started preparing at the beginning of the school year. Weeks before the actual competition, we spent 15 to 20 hours each week just to get the Q&A down.”
To prepare for the competition, Chen stated that “Professor Walker and Professor Gordon gave us questions in the setting so we are all in a line, practicing how we would handle them as a team.” Hinting at the importance of teamwork, he added “there’s a factor of having one person answering the questions or the whole team’.”
Eric Zhang, the unofficial “team captain” of the Fed Challenge group, expanded on his involvement with the team and the project itself. As a senior studying Mathematics, Economics and MMSS, Zhang will be working for Goldman Sachs in New York City after graduating. Zhang joined the team as a research assistant when he was a sophomore, and became a presenting team member the next year.
His reason for participation was simple: “It was fun.” While it really was fun for him, it obviously wasn’t the only reason. “I was interested in finance and I knew it would be very helpful if I had a better understanding of macro aspects.”
With regards to the focus on their topic, quantitative easing, Zhang admitted that there were some concerns. “A, whether it’s effective on the economy; B, whether we can keep doing it; and C, whether or not it is building a positive impression in the economy.” Other aspects of the topic they explored were “the good signals sent to the general public” and “the things the Fed should keep doing or change.”
And how is Professor Witte? “He is just…awesome. He is just an awesome person. He is super busy, but he sits in meetings as much as possible. He always gives us a lot of help.”
When asked about previous years’ performance, Zhang’s eyes glowed with pride for both his team and their accomplishment: “Last year, it was a tie and we had to give another college an opportunity because we have been winning the regional for the past six or seven years.”
For those that are interested in joining the team and winning the competition, he acknowledged that even making it onto the team “is quite competitive.” Nonetheless, he stressed that students can learn a lot about macroeconomics and monetary policies.
“By the end of my junior year, I felt very comfortable talking about what the Fed should do and what policies would help the U.S. economy. By no means would I know how to answer these by only attending classes.” To win the competition, “the key is in the Q&A. Just follow up with the economy.”
He added with a smile, through the Fed Challenge “you can make very good friends, too.”