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Bethel Announces Partnership with Thrivent Financial

Bethel Announces Partnership with Thrivent Financial

Student leaders of the Student Managed Investment Fund (SMIF) met with industry mentors in November, planning for their initial investment on January 31.

“Students say to me, ‘This is real money!’ and I just laugh and say, ‘Yes, it is real money!’” says Amanda Carter, Associate Professor of Business and Economics. It’s an exclamation she hears often in one of her investment courses, when she asks students to create a hypothetical portfolio and track its performance throughout the term.

Now students can have an even more realistic experience of managing funds, as the first transactions are being made in Bethel’s Student Managed Investment Fund (SMIF). Bethel’s SMIF, Royals Investment Fund, is a Limited Liability Company (LLC)—functioning under the Bethel umbrella—in which students are investing over $1 million on behalf of Thrivent Financial and additional investors. The extracurricular entity will give students exposure to handling stocks, but also to the multidisciplinary facets of running a financial services firm. Its collaborative, real-life nature fits well with Bethel’s R.E.A.L. Experience initiative—which engages students in hands-on learning in a variety of settings—and is a reflection of the university’s ongoing commitment to Christ-centered academic excellence.

“It’s a completely different kind of experience when you have to actually deal with investors and tell them how you’re doing, to manage that relationship,” explains Dean Junkans, executive in residence in the Department of Business and Economics and veteran of the financial services sector and its role in higher education. While student-managed funds—frequently called SMIFs—are becoming more common in undergraduate business programs, this level of ownership and student-client interaction is rare, he says. “Just like in a financial firm, on the SMIF you’ve got a lot of different roles, covering a lot of different disciplines. It’s different for students to do a project and present it in a classroom versus setting up an investment firm, where you have to work together to make decisions, and then you have to communicate and justify those decisions to your partners and clients. Many students aren’t used to all that yet.”

One unique aspect of Bethel’s SMIF is that, with guidance from Bethel faculty and industry mentors, students will explore and implement Biblically Responsible Investing (BRI) for a segment of the investments. BRI is a philosophy of investing where investors line up a portfolio based on biblical principles, supporting values-based companies. “The Bible actually has a lot to say about money,” says Junkans.  

“They’ll have to try to figure out where the boundaries of that are for biblically and socially responsible investing, because it’s so subjective. Too much selectivity will make a fund too restrictive, and you’ll limit your return opportunity,” adds Chuck Hannema, associate professor of business. “It’ll be a great opportunity to have conversations with students about the tension that exists there. How can you be faith-based, choose between competing values, and implement a strategy well?”

There was significant student interest in the fund, and 19 junior and senior students were selected for official roles on the inaugural SMIF team. There’s a Chief Investment Officer, Fund Managers (2), a pool of Research Analysts (7), a Marketing Team (3), Operations/Risk Managers (3), and Relationships Managers (3). Students in leadership positions will receive one credit for each semester of their work with SMIF. The team met throughout fall semester, connecting with mentors and a six-person advisory board made up of financial experts with significant industry experience. Alumni pitched in to get the company off the ground, offering legal services, consulting, and access to an investment platform. Going forward, SMIF student leaders will continue to meet with mentors while also connecting with investors, keeping them apprised of their processes for selecting stocks, managing the portfolio, and explaining performance.

Carter explains the collaborative nature of the SMIF team and how students from a variety of majors—and business and economics students with a variety of vocational goals—have been attracted to it. There are, of course, important accounting and finance roles, but also spots for students to learn hands-on marketing strategies, HR, data analytics, performance reporting, and operations. “They’re looking at data packages, interfacing with clients, reporting to clients. We see this as an opportunity to get our graduates ready to add value to an employer on day one,” she says.

Thrivent Financial is a not-for-profit membership organization that helps Christians be wise with money and live generously. It offers its more than 2 million member-owners a broad range of products, services, and guidance nationwide. While Thrivent Financial and Bethel University are not affiliated, almost 40 Bethel alumni currently work at Thrivent, Bethel has hosted a Bethel Connect event there, and several students have interned with the organization. “There’s almost an endless number of opportunities to partner with Thrivent,” says Junkans. “Because of our shared faith focus, and their growth in the regional financial market, this is a really exciting time to be partnering. I’m excited for what this means for Bethel students—and it also makes for great visibility on our campus for Thrivent.”

Find out more about the 7,000-square-foot expansion of Bethel’s Department of Business and Economics space—and the Thrivent Financial Markets Lab—that will open in fall 2018. Or, explore Bethel’s business programs