UMSL students win Industry Issues Competition put on by the Society of Financial Service Professionals

Emily Donaldson, Adam Tiemann and Jacob Duren pose with their plaques for taking top prize in the 2017 Industry Issues Competition put on by the Society of Financial Service Professionals. The trio also won a $5,000 scholarship check, held by Professors Thomas Eyssell and Gaiyan Zhang, and a trophy, held by their coach, senior lecturer Gary Flotron. (Photo by August Jennewein)

There was a brief moment when terror might have overtaken Emily Donaldson.

She had been tasked with opening a presentation with fellow University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Business Administration students Jacob Duren and Adam Tiemann in a meeting room full of financial service professionals.

The presentation aimed to cover the topic “Career Opportunities: Evaluating Careers and Attributes for Success in the Financial Services Profession” as part of the 2017 Industry Issues Competition, hosted by the Society of Financial Service Professionals through its University Partners Program for the sixth consecutive year.

Just before beginning her remarks Jan. 23 at the Wigwam Resort in Phoenix, Donaldson glanced down to review her note card – and realized she had the wrong one.

“I had a moment where I was like, ‘Oh, shoot …’” said Donaldson, but she managed to let it pass before it could grab hold of her. “I just said, ‘OK, it’s showtime. Let’s go with this.’”

Donaldson calmly delivered her introduction and went on to relay information about the field of estate planning before turning it over to teammates Duren and Tiemann to talk about financial planning and actuarial science, respectively.

Despite its potentially disconcerting start, theirs was judged to be the strongest presentation among the competition’s three finalists, topping teams from Utah Valley University and the University of Akron.

Their victory won them a trophy, which will be displayed at the College of Business Administration, as well as a first-place $5,000 scholarship for UMSL.

“These guys just nailed it,” said Gary Flotron, a senior lecturer in the college who served as their coach for the competition.

All three are nontraditional students who brought more life experience with them into the competition.

Donaldson, who graduated in December with degrees in accounting and international business, spent years in the banking, financial and accounting fields before coming to UMSL.

Duren is a graduate of a culinary institute who worked in several kitchens around the St. Louis area before shifting to his new career path in business.

Tiemann, already a UMSL graduate with degrees in education and math, teaches high school German but returned to school to earn a certificate in actuarial studies.

Those backgrounds likely helped make them more comfortable than most students when it came time to speak before an unfamiliar audience.

They also were well prepared by Flotron, who had previously led groups of UMSL teams to second-place finishes in 2013 and 2016 and a third-place finish in 2014.

Flotron, a past national board member and local chapter president of the Society of Financial Service Professionals, has a vast array of contacts within all sectors of the financial services industry.

He helped connect the students to people in the field for interviews they used to add on to their own research about each profession.

“We reverse the roles,” Flotron said. “Normally, you’re interviewing with an employer for a job. This is the other way around. You’re now interviewing a practitioner to explore if this is the field that you want to hire for yourself for a career.”

They learned from each one.

“I think the first couple of conversations I had weren’t all that substantial only because I wasn’t entirely sure what questions I should ask,” Tiemann said. “As the process went on, I learned better questions to ask so that I didn’t have to spend so much time on content but could focus more on the individual and their path.”

Donaldson was particularly impressed by a conversation she had with noted attorney Jonathan G. Blattmachr, whom Flotron described as the best estate-planning attorney in the country.

He and other practitioners broadened her understanding and appreciation for estate planning.

“I liked how it was so interdisciplinary,” she said. “You have to deal with people from accounting, insurance and legal backgrounds and sometimes financial planners.”

The students combined what they learned into a 25-page paper. Each portion of it provided details about their particular career path, including what practitioners actually do and whom they serve, how they address fiduciary matters and risk management with their clients, and changes that could be coming in the future.

They also touched on the importance of belonging to professional organizations, collaborating with others in the field and mentorship.

Each year teams of students from 40 or 50 schools submit papers as part of the competition. The teams that produce the top three papers make the finals and are tasked with condensing their papers into a 15-minute oral presentation, followed by a five-minute question-and-answer session.

That’s no easy task.

“Each one of us could probably talk for days on our professions,” Duren said, “because we’ve learned so much, and we’ve come to really enjoy the professions that we’re looking at getting into.”

The competition has been held in conjunction with the FSP’s Arizona Institute, a five-day continuing education event that’s been occurring annually for more than 70 years.

Just getting invited to Arizona was a reward for Donaldson, Duren and Tiemann. It offered the opportunities for them to meet even more people within their chosen fields.

Duren, who will graduate in December, said he interviewed with a financial firm earlier this semester because of a connection he made at the conference.

When they weren’t networking, they were preparing to impress those in attendance with their presentation. They spent hours working with Flotron to polish their remarks and make sure they stayed within the allotted time.

The work paid off.

Donaldson, Duren and Tiemann were the first team to deliver their presentation, leading to some nervous moments while they waited to find out the results.

They weren’t permitted to view their competition while they waited, but they finished first in a narrow, closely contested competition.

The real prizes didn’t take the form of a trophy or a check.

“This has made an unbelievable difference in helping students decide, ‘What do you really want to do?’” Flotron said. “Not just get a job but a career that you want to devote your life to. That’s the strength of this program.”

The UMSL Experience

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