Spark Investments, Bergen County Academies, New Jersey, Brings the Heat to the 2024 Investment Competition Global Finale

by Diana Drake

The abiding theme for the annual Wharton Global High School Investment Competition might well be: You can achieve growth through many paths.

That sentiment was surely on display on Saturday, April 20, 2024, as this year’s top 11 investment competition teams gathered on the 8th floor of the Wharton School’s Jon M. Huntsman Hall in Philadelphia to dazzle family, friends, teachers and judges with their unique investment strategies, team dynamics and new investing knowledge. It was a celebration of growth, reflected in a mosaic of portfolio numbers, stock-filtering algorithms, and powerful teamwork.

Following 11 presentations from teams representing the U.S., India, China and Canada, and some deep deliberation from the judges, Wharton Global Youth Program Senior Executive Director Eli Lesser, announced this year’s top three teams.

The 2023-2024 Wharton Global High School Investment Competition winners are:

🏆 1st Place: Spark Investments, Bergen County Academies, New Jersey, U.S.

🏆 2nd Place: Wreckers Wealth Management, Staples High School, Connecticut, U.S.

🏆 3rd Place: DMV’s Finest, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Virginia, U.S.

Each member of Spark’s winning team will receive a scholarship to a Wharton Global Youth online program. In addition, one team from Bergen County Academies will automatically advance to next year’s semifinals (as long as they submit all the deliverables) to defend the school’s crown. All finalist teams received trophies, as well as special plaques for the top three teams.

Strategic Excellence

The 2023-2024 competition client Hilary Ash, around whom the competing student teams built their goal-driven investment strategies, traveled from her home in San Francisco to participate in the Global Finale festivities. “Congratulations to all of you because what you have done is incredibly impressive,” said Ash, a 2013 graduate of the Wharton School who is now part of the team preparing for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games. “Thank you for putting so much time and effort into this competition…I hope that you continue to apply this level of effort to everything that you do.”

The level of excellence among the competition finalists was a consistent narrative from all the day’s guests, particularly the judging panel of industry professionals.

This year’s judges included: Eric Balchunas, senior ETF analyst, Bloomberg Intelligence; Vikas Keswani (W’03), managing director and head of North American specialty lending, HPS Investment Partners; Zoe McCormick, senior investment manager, North American fixed income, abrdn; and Muk Rao (C’94, GSE’97), product manager and architect, Wharton Research Data Services (WRDS).

Judge Vikas Keswani shares feedback with competitors, alongside the rest of the panel, Eric Balchunas, Muk Rao and Zoe McCormick.

“We were very, very impressed with the quality of the work,” noted Keswani. “Everyone put a lot of thoughtful pieces of analysis into [your presentations], whether it was efficient frontier, cross correlations, diversification or portfolio theory. We enjoyed that. In some cases, there was a lot of it. And in some cases, there was a little bit of it, but a lot of depth and accuracy. That is one of the things that in my mind differentiated better performances.”

Balchunus praised the teams’  “next level” use of algorithms and machine learning in their strategy designs, while urging them (as investment advisors) to consider behavioral finance and their clients’ emotions during a market downturn. Also with the retail client in mind, McCormick added, “When analyzing someone’s investments, take a look at this person holistically” and consider their total financial picture.

Rao, a long-time fixture on the Global Finale judging panel, summed up the judges’ thoughts: “If you all pursue the other things you love in your life with the same passion, the same honesty, the same rigor, you can do just about anything.”

You Ready to Compete?

Registration for the 2024-2025 Wharton Global High School Investment Competition begins in June 2024. What will next year bring? As always, a robust financial learning opportunity for an ever-expanding global cohort of earnest young investors – who gain so much more than stock market skills.

The Wharton Global Youth team is doing some reimagining of our signature competition, so be sure to stay tuned for more information in our Global Youth newsletter and on the Wharton Global Youth Program website.

Need some inspiration? Winning team Spark Investments says it all with their tagline: Ignite the flame for your financial future. “Students should compete in this competition, especially those who have been in business classes before, as a great opportunity to apply your class knowledge in a real-world setting,” said Chloe C., director of business development and client relations for her team. “It’s inspiring to be alongside peers who are all striving toward the same goal.”