TIPC gives students skills and experience in designing investment portfolios that maximize impact. A team from Fordham University won the 2020 competition.

When over 200 students from 27 schools around the U.S. signed up to participate in the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge this year, one fact was clear: the demand for impact investing experiential learning is not stopping anytime soon. The number of graduate schools participating in the program nearly doubled from last year.

Now in its second year, the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge (TIPC) is a year-long, graduate student impact investing competition produced in collaboration by Wharton Social Impact Initiative and Total Impact. Students gain the knowledge and experience in designing investment portfolios that maximize impact across asset classes — venture capital, public equities, fixed income, alternatives, and more.

How It Works

Students from graduate schools all over the U.S. apply to the program and form small teams in the fall. In the 2019–2020 cycle, students hailing from 27 universities including Boston University, Northwestern Kellogg, and the University of Pennsylvania joined the program.

The challenge? To create a “100% impact portfolio” for a hypothetical client — this year, a $250 million fictitious university endowment with a focus on tackling climate change and income inequality — and demonstrate how the portfolio meets the client’s impact goals, financial return goals, target asset allocation, and risk tolerance.

Students spend the school year identifying specific securities, funds, and investments to include in their client’s portfolio. They submit their final portfolio as well as a clearly communicated strategy detailing their approach in early March. Finalists are selected in late March and are invited to present their pitch at the Total Impact Philadelphia conference.

2020 Finals

As with many other events and conferences this year, the in-person competition pivoted to a virtual experience. But the finalist teams didn’t miss a beat — they were prepped with in-depth portfolio analysis and impact rationale, as well as some school-spirited Zoom backgrounds.

“One silver lining in making this a virtual competition this year is that we’ve been able to open it up to a much larger audience of student participants as well as the Total Impact network,” said Alex Kravitz, director at Total Impact. “We’ve been thrilled with the enthusiasm from the community.”

Over two hundred people tuned in to watch this year’s competition, with four finalist teams hailing from Fordham University, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Southern California, and the University of Vermont. The finalist teams’ submissions showed creativity and demonstrated a rigorous, methodical approach to portfolio construction.

Amanda Levine, Meiyan Liu, and Yifei Zhang from Gabelli School of Business at Fordham University won the competition, with their 100% impact portfolio that prioritized ESG funds in each asset class.

“Our approach was to actively select and manage a total impact portfolio focused on creating positive social and environmental outcomes,” said the Fordham team. “To achieve the greatest impact, we believe you have to understand your objective and pinpoint the outcomes you are seeking, select fund managers that align with your impact objectives, and ensure successful execution through due diligence and monitoring.”

Lauren Farello, Wakefield Li, Katt Ortiz-Manalo Aubry, and Maya Sugarman from USC Marshall School of Business were the runner-up. “This year’s virtual TIPC competition proved to be an invaluable experience because we were able to apply what we’d learned to construct a ‘real’ portfolio, get constructive feedback, and present to experts in the field,” they reflected. “Our favorite part was seeing how different each team’s portfolio was and being around many like-minded students who are passionate about impact investing.”

Judges for the 2020 competition included Kelly Major Green of Graystone Consulting, Petra Nichols of Penn Office of Investments, and Jackie VanderBrug of Bank of America.

“The Fordham team demonstrated a sophisticated approach to risk management and creativity in mixing impact approaches, resulting in a portfolio suited to the institution’s impact goals of climate action, innovation, and local community development while maintaining diversification and meeting spending needs,” said Jackie VanderBrug, head of sustainable and impact investing at Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank.

Industry Resources for Students

Of course, it wouldn’t be called a “Challenge” if it weren’t challenging. Creating a “100% impact” portfolio is aspirational, as not all asset classes offer easy-to-find, investable opportunities. Students were encouraged to be creative in their approach and definition of impact.

Luckily, they also had a set of industry resources to help them look for investment opportunities. Wharton Research Data Services (WRDS), Toniic, Arabesque, Commonfund Institute, and Align Impact served as content contributors and supported students through investment tools, webinars, and case studies focused on impact investing.

Students also benefitted from coaching and guidance from nearly 50 Bank of America mentors — including wealth advisors, analysts, portfolio managers, and sustainability experts. This direct link to industry practitioners was valuable for student learning.

“Greater numbers of college and graduate school students are expressing interest in learning how to be tomorrow’s leaders in sustainable investing,” said VanderBrug. “Demand continues to grow for investments that achieve both financial and social returns. We are delighted to offer our support to students interested in learning how to meet investors’ evolving needs.”

Learn more on the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge website. A special thank you to Bank of America for sponsoring TIPC and to Net Impact for helping spread the program across campuses nationwide.

— Nisa Nejadi

Posted: June 24, 2020

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