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College of Human Ecology

K-State financial planning team takes first at national competition

Thursday, April 21, 2005

MANHATTAN - Armed with a laptop computer and their knowledge of financial planning, Kansas State University's financial planning team beat out all other teams in the nation at the American Express Collegiate Financial Planning Competition, April 13-16, in Minneapolis.

This marks the third time K-State has won the national championship -which brings $10,000 in scholarship money to the university. This is the sixth year in a row K-State has made it to the finals.

"It is a thrill for our students to win this prestigious national competition," said John Grable, faculty adviser to the team. "The win just confirms that students from Kansas are competitive at the national level, and that the academic work in financial planning at K-State is second to none."

More than 40 teams entered the competition, but only eight were chosen to compete in the finals. Behind K-State, Purdue University finished second and Texas Tech University placed third.

"To be able to make the finals, this is about as big as it is going to get," said Grable, who is also an associate professor of family studies and human services. "It is an intense competition and they know they have done a really fine job if they make it to the finals."

K-State's financial planning team includes Ramona Arnold and Chris Gasken, both of Junction City, and Marc Shaffer, Topeka. The students are all seniors in family studies and human services and have been working together since November to prepare for the competition.

"We began in November getting familiar with the process and working on our company logo and general layout of the plan," Arnold said. "We met a few times before Christmas, but more frequently after the break. Once we received the plan, we met at least three times per week."

At the finals, the team gave a 20-minute client presentation to a panel of industry experts based on a 100-page, comprehensive financial plan they had previously submitted for a fictitious family.

"When they arrived in Minneapolis, the American Express adviser gave them a twist in the case," Grable said. "It could have been that the clients had inherited some money or maybe lost their job. The team had the evening to rework their numbers and come up with a totally new presentation for the clients."

After the presentation, the finalists are awarded points before competing in a "How Do You Know" challenge - a "Jeopardy" game that quizzes team members with financial planning trivia.

Although the team members each get an individual prize of $750, the team spent an estimated 120 hours preparing for the competition.

"This is totally voluntary for the students. They don't get any academic credit and there really is no huge payoff if they win," Grable said.

Prior to the competition, the team spent most of February working on their financial plan. After qualifying for the finals, the team began practicing their presentation and studying trivia questions.

"Once February hits, the students are totally on their own," Grable said. "It is pretty tough because there is basically no faculty involvement and the students can only use Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint."

The experience at the corporate level allowed team members to feel a little more ready for the workforce.

"We will have to do everything the same for the clients by writing a comprehensive plan and presenting it to them," Gasken said.

Arnold said the competition also allowed her to gain confidence in herself and profession.

"The process of putting this financial plan together really made me realize how complex the task is," she said. "I was able to clearly see just how much I've been learning in the last few years. When moving from semester to semester, one studies the individual sections - which makes it a little difficult to keep the whole picture in sight."

This article was posted on Thursday, April 21, 2005, and is filed under Family Studies & Human Services.