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FHSU trio places 4th in national financial planning competition
COURTESY PHOTO Pictured left to right are Alejo Villegas, Thomas Powell and Ethan Lang.

HAYS – Fort Hays State University’s financial planning challenge team has returned to prominence among the best in the nation. 

Sophomore Ethan Lang and senior Thomas Powell from Hays, along with Great Bend senior Alejo Villegas, competed as Robbins College of Business and Entrepreneurship entrants in the 2020 Financial Planning Association’s National Financial Planning Challenge. The trio placed fourth overall, led by a first-place finish in the quiz bowl portion of the finals. 

That marks the second top-eight finish in the challenge for Fort Hays State in the past three years. FHSU secured its place among the best of the best in the Financial Planning Challenge, formerly the Ameriprise Financial Planning Invitational, from 2001 to 2011. During that time span, Fort Hays State brought home 11 top-five overall finishes from the competition, including first-place finishes in 2001, ’02 and ’11. 

After a six-year absence from the competition, FHSU placed seventh in 2018 and barely missed making the “Elite Eight” last year. 

The Robbins College of Business and Entrepreneurship is one of only a handful of business schools in the state of Kansas that offers an undergraduate degree program in financial planning. FHSU did Kansas proud once again this year, finishing behind Texas Tech University, Utah Valley University and the University of Wisconsin – all Division I schools. Texas Tech and Utah Valley were winners of the competition the past three years. Schools that finished below FHSU this year included Kansas State University, Purdue University, Temple University and the University of Illinois. 

“We are very proud of our team that represented Fort Hays State so well again,” said Dr. Tom Johansen, professor of finance. Johansen is the long-time former advisor for the financial planning challenge team and now assists current advisor Dr. Christina Glenn, assistant professor of finance. “We choose students for the team who are very studious, ambitious, and competitive. They are successful because they have a lot of drive and strong work ethic. They know the history of our past teams and want to be just as successful.” 

Due to COVID-19 precautions, the competition was conducted online, allowing students to experience the virtual side of financial planning that real world financial advisors are currently navigating during the pandemic. Students were tested over investment principles, income tax, retirement planning, insurance, estate planning, and financial planning principles. 

Phase 1 of the competition required students to provide a written comprehensive financial plan for a given case analysis. The first phase of the competition consisted of a financial planning case study for a hypothetical family. Students assessed the client’s needs and prepared a comprehensive financial plan for the clients based on the data provided. Use of commercially available financial planning software was prohibited. 

Teams were encouraged to be creative and make assumptions where details weren’t provided. They were directed to assess the clients’ current financial condition while identifying their major strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – then discuss resolution of any conflicts between the clients’ goals and needs and the ability to satisfy them due to financial or other constraints.

The top eight teams from Phase 1 went on to compete in Phase 2, an oral presentation of the plan, and Phase 3, a “How Do You Know” quiz bowl. 

The FHSU students made the top-eight finalist list and took first place in the quiz bowl portion of the finals, helping boost them into fourth place in the overall standings and number one among the teams participating from Kansas. The eight finalists were awarded $75 gift cards and 80 experience hours toward earning their Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation. 

Like Dr. Johansen, assistant professor of finance Dr. Christina Glenn was impressed by how well the Fort Hays State students performed in the competition. She noted how their first-place finish in the quiz bowl, and their overall effort, speaks volumes about the students and faculty in the Robbins College of Business and Entrepreneurship. 

“Our students had to utilize critical thinking and written and oral communication skills to develop and present a comprehensive plan to a fictional client,” she said. “The case situation they were given would test most seasoned financial professional’s capability,” Glenn said. “The finalists in this competition are among the best of the best, and our students proved they belong in this elite group.”