How can the finance industry become more inclusive?
There are many solutions to this very real issue, but for young women interested in finance, Smart Woman Securities (SWS) at the University of Virginia is making a difference by driving and supporting interest in the field.
Year after academic year, SWS accomplishes its goals by offering female students an intensive seminar series, training sessions, networking opportunities, and perhaps most importantly of all, an extremely supportive environment made even stronger through its mentorship program.
Open to women across the University, the group plays an important role on Grounds by empowering female students’ personal finance abilities and cultivating their interest in investing through real-life, hands-on experience managing a portfolio. With a community of likeminded members, SWS actively helps students to develop their fundamental investment knowledge outside of any formal class setting—an important distinction for first- and second-year students with aspirations to study finance.
We spoke with a few of SWS’s 2019-2020 officers who are some of the students representing McIntire in the group: Co-Chief Research Officers Mahathi Kambham and Courtney Dunne and Chief Financial Officer Tina Gao. The trio talked about what makes their group so vital, and explained how their time in the student organization has impacted both their education and future careers.
What drew you to join SWS, and why are its goals of training female students in personal finance and investing important to you?
Kambham: I was first drawn to SWS because I was interested in learning more about a potential career in finance. I liked that I wasn’t expected to have any prior knowledge or experience, and instead, was taught new skills and exposed to different industries and career paths.
Dunne: I first became interested in SWS because I wanted to explore the different areas of business and I had some older friends in the club who spoke very highly of it. I think it is very important to educate women early on about personal finance and investing because these are valuable skills that are important for both personal and professional life. Financial independence is crucial in this day and age, and SWS provides a supportive and collaborative setting to learn the skills necessary to achieve it.
Gao: I initially joined SWS because it was one of the two business organizations at McIntire that were all female. As someone without a lot of previous finance knowledge or experience, I felt SWS offered a less stressful environment in which to learn more about finance. Also, the 10-week educational seminar was a great chance to get exposed to different fields within finance.
Kambham: I think a lot of female students don’t have much exposure to finance, which is probably one of the reasons there is such low female representation in the industry. SWS provides exposure and resources necessary to not only explore finance as a career path, but also to be successful in pursuing it as a career.
What are your main responsibilities as CROs (and Tina, as CFO), and what do you enjoy most about working in that role?
Kambham: As CROs, we lead the Research Team, which consists of about 35-40 research analysts and senior analysts under seven different industry teams. My Co-CRO, Courtney, and I develop and teach weekly lessons about current events, investing, and valuation. We also guide the research team in creating stock memos to help manage SWS’s $24,000 active-money portfolio.
Dunne: In addition to planning the curriculum for weekly research team meetings, I work with the Investment Board to set research team deadlines and memo requirements, and also interview and choose research analysts and senior analysts and organize social events to foster community within the club.
Kambham: My favorite part about this role is being able to serve as a resource to other members when they need help understanding a topic, figuring out their academic interests, or choosing a future career. SWS is a strong network of women who support each other. I am grateful for the mentorship I have found in this organization, so I hope to continue to foster that by serving as a mentor to younger members and helping them however I can.
Dunne: The most rewarding aspect of the position is the mentorship that comes with it. Applying to McIntire and recruiting, I received so much helpful advice that made these go a lot smoother. Never underestimate the power of teaching and educating others.
Gao: My main role as CFO is to manage the budget, to organize social events for our members, and to raise enough funds to support them.
What I enjoy most about this role is that I really get to know the organization and how it functions, and I get to work with other executive board members to ensure SWS remains an organization that advocates for women interested in finance.
How has SWS offered any insight into your coursework at McIntire or vice versa?
Kambham: SWS helped me prepare for finance in ICE. Since I had already been exposed to some of the material and had a general understanding of the markets and valuation, I was able to understand concepts faster. In addition, I began to follow the news and the markets more because of SWS. Being more knowledgeable about current business trends and specific companies helped me have a better understanding of how the concepts I learn in McIntire are actually being applied in the real world.
Dunne: SWS gave me a strong foundation in business knowledge before arriving at McIntire, which helped me a lot when I began ICE. Most importantly, SWS taught me to look at each business holistically: When pitching our stocks, we investigate the company’s financials, strategic initiatives, opportunities for growth, and leadership. A business is made up of many functions, and it is important to look at how all these functions come together in order to evaluate if it is a strong investment or not.
Gao: Before I joined the executive board, I received a lot of help through the mentorship program from other SWS members who were McIntire students. Every SWS member was willing to help, not only in terms of my course selection, but also by offering advice about the recruiting process.
How has your time in SWS prepared you to achieve your career goals?
Kambham: I plan to work in management consulting after I graduate. While this is not exactly a career in finance, I think that a lot of the skills I have gained from SWS can still be applied. In consulting, it is still very important to understand market trends, a company’s financial performance, and opportunities for growth. Being more comfortable with finance will also be advantageous if I work on a case where my client is a financial institution or a private equity firm. Overall, SWS helped me explore different career paths and have a better understanding of what is out there in the finance world.
Dunne: SWS definitely helped me reach my career goals. As a first year, I was undecided between pre-Comm and pre-med. However, when I joined the SWS Research Team, I was able to focus on the healthcare industry and research and pitch healthcare companies, which allowed me still to pursue the aspects of science that excite me—but in a finance setting. After graduation, I will be doing healthcare banking, and if it wasn’t for SWS and the opportunities I had, I may not have found such a rewarding career.
Gao: I was able to improve both my technical and soft skills by being involved in SWS. Being a research analyst allowed me to improve my analytical skills and learn more about market trends, and being an executive board member gives me the chance to handle a wide variety of responsibilities, practice my presentation skills, and collaborate with other members.