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Student Fund Outperforms Early Benchmarks

Bethel’s new Student Managed Investment Fund (SMIF) has invested over $1.2 million on behalf of Thrivent Financial and independent donors, bringing in excellent returns in its first year.

By Monique Kleinhuizen ’08, GS'16 new media strategist

October 31, 2018 | 2 p.m.

Student Fund Outperforms Early Benchmarks

Students make use of the Thrivent Asset Management Financial Markets Lab, part of a 7,000-square-foot space created for the Department of Business and Economics in summer 2018.

In the new business and economics space in the Robertson Center, those passing by might see students crowded into a glass-lined room, watching screens intently. The screens fill the walls in the new Thrivent Asset Management Financial Markets Lab as digital stock ticker scrolls near the ceiling, and the students are likely involved with Bethel’s Student Managed Investment Fund (SMIF). 

Launched in late 2017, Bethel’s SMIF, also known as the Royal Investment Fund, is a limited liability company (LLC)—functioning under the Bethel umbrella—in which students are investing $1 million on behalf of Thrivent Financial and $225,000 on behalf of six additional, individual investors. 

Associate Professor of Business and Economics Amanda Carter is a faculty advisor on the fund, guiding students as they select stocks and report performance. She says the first year has been partly dedicated to set-up, leveraging a five-year sponsorship from Thrivent Financial to purchase real-time tickers and incorporate FactSet, a standard reporting platform in the industry. It’s also been an undertaking to help students get used to investing and navigating the practical implications of running a fund despite their often-busy school schedules.  

Though student-managed investment funds, frequently called SMIFs, are becoming more common at the undergraduate level, Carter explains that Bethel’s is unique because of the high level of ownership given to students. “We’re just now going from low gear to high gear,” she says, noting that the early financial success of the fund has been incredible—outperforming benchmarks every term so far—but pales in comparison to the profound learning the fund has given students. 

“The SMIF has really tied up loose ends for me, bringing together concepts from different classes and opportunities I’ve had at Bethel. It’s really an amazing thing to mention to interviewers—they always ask more questions!”

— Nick Lee ’18, Spanish and international business, student leader with Bethel’s SMIF

So far, students have invested in new stocks twice per year, but monitor their current positions constantly and divest or hold as appropriate. Because of Bethel’s commitment to incorporating faith into every subject, the fund has brought opportunities to bring classroom concepts—like equity research and biblically responsible investing (BRI)—from the theoretical to the ultra-practical. At one point this year, Carter explains, one stock in the medical field looked like a great financial opportunity, but the team decided not to buy when they did additional research and found that the company is part of the abortion industry. 

“Also, Google doesn’t exist specifically to make pornography accessible, but that’s a side-effect of its business model. What do we do with questions like that? It’s brought up some really great discussions,” Carter adds, noting that the students are constantly monitoring current events, keeping an eye on Wall Street and discerning whether and how movement there should impact the SMIF. “The SMIF is not a class, it’s a club. But it has a schedule that’s more intense than most syllabi you’ll see. This year was exhausting, but also a ton of fun.”

Marnie Zilka ’18 is double majoring in marketing and accounting—distinct concentrations within the business major—with a minor in leadership studies. Nick Lee ’18 is majoring in both Spanish and business with emphases in finance and international business. As the two prepare to graduate in December, their many majors and academic achievements speak for themselves. But as student leaders of the SMIF, they’ve been able to see how different roles come together in the financial services sector, giving them a more practical, comprehensive foundation for success in the business world. 

Student Fund Outperforms Early Benchmarks

Student Managed Investment Fund (SMIF) investors have access to FactSet® software to monitor the real-time performance of global stocks and investor portfolios. (Photo provided by FactSet.)

“It dawned on me one day that ‘wow, this is a real thing that we’re doing!’ It ties right in with what we see happening on Wall Street and the evening news,” Lee says. Each year at Bethel, he has set academic goals for himself and narrowed his focus to make sure that his courses and extracurricular involvement line up well with where he wants to go after graduation. “The SMIF has really tied up loose ends for me, bringing together concepts from different classes and opportunities I’ve had at Bethel. It’s really an amazing thing to mention to interviewers—they always ask more questions!”

He’s also appreciated the opportunities the SMIF has afforded him to get to know successful local business professionals and alumni. He recalls one day when SMIF Advisory Board Member Steve Landberg ’82, principal at Palisade Asset Management, stopped in to work with the students. To this day, Lee keeps notes from that session posted at his desk. They’ve served as marching orders as he has gotten more involved in the SMIF and begun to make decisions about what’s next after graduationin December. Among Landberg’s advice: “Have humility. Be generous. Money can get in your head if you’re not careful.” 

Zilka has been struck by the positive buzz on campus now that the large department is located ona main thoroughfare, with oversized windows making the tech-centric Thrivent Asset Management Financial Markets Lab and collaborative spaces visible to others in the Bethel community and beyond. The SMIF, in particular, has been a topic of conversation and admiration across campus because of its success out of the gate. 

“It’s cool to have the full support of the faculty. They believe in us and chose us to be a part of SMIF for a reason,” she says. Because of that connection and the profound impact of opportunities like the SMIF, both Lee and Zilka plan to be involved as donors and mentors in the business and economics department after graduation. “We’re going to be able to say we were here at the beginning, when all this started,” Zilka says. “It’s so awesome.” 

Royal Investment Fund Moves Learning Outside the Classroom

Royal Investment Fund Advisory Board Members (l-r) Lucas Bunting, Teri Richardson, Janice Guimond, and Steve Landberg (Photo credit: AJ Barrett '21)

Get involved

The Department of Business and Economics regularly invites alumni to speak in classes, serve on advisory committees, and mentor students. Opportunities also exist for investing in the SMIF. The team has a goal of adding two new long-term investors per semester, at an investment of at least $25,000, with a quarterly redemption, optional in-person status meetings, and access to a performance dashboard. Contact Amanda Carter for more information about investment opportunities.  

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