Red Raiders show personal financial planning abilities

Four graduate students went against dozens of other college hopefuls in this year’s iOMe Challenge, nabbing first place, $10,000 and a trip to Washington D.C. in the process.

Personal financial planning students Chris Browning, Benjamin Cummings, Tom O’Malley and Shawn Pfeiffer, with the aid of faculty adviser Michael Finke, had to answer the question about how members of the Millennial Generation plan to achieve fiscal responsibility in a world of economic uncertainty.

The team worked on the project beginning in September, after placing second in the iOMe Challenge’s first competition in 2009.

Texas Tech’s PFP program is considered one of the largest and most advanced in the country, said Finke, an associate professor, which gave the students an advantage when it came to preparing for the contest.

“We have the most students, and we have the largest faculty, so we’ve developed a reputation with our personal financial planning program,” Finke said. “We identified this particular competition as something we wanted to win when it was first developed last year.”

Browning, of Seminole, said while they believed in one other’s abilities as a team, it still was a surprise when they were declared the winners.

“You never know if you’re going to win or not, but we felt confident in our idea and in our discussions of how we wanted to address the question,” Browning said. “With this really being our expertise, we had just a good of a chance as anybody else. I guess when we entered we always knew there was a chance, but we never felt like it was a guarantee.”

Finke said he is proud of the team’s hard work, but he said they need to be just as diligent in their preparation for the next iOMe competition if they want to keep their winning streak.

“I think every year it gets a little bit tougher as more and more people find out about the challenge and more schools participate in it,” he said.

“So we’ll make sure that we’re staying on our toes so that we can compete next year as well.”

The students had to write a 10,000-word essay and produce a short video addressing key issues such as government debt, retirement planning and monetary policy.

Cummings, of Clinton, Utah, said the project focused on the fact younger generations are less aware about the consequences of not preparing for their financial future.

“The heart of our essay and video is largely about how people of this generation don’t care about saving, but they should care,” he said. “We really targeted toward people of our generation to help them and more than anything visualize the impact of the choices you make today.”

The iOMe Challenge began as a way to inspire students to have a more optimistic outlook when it comes to today’s economy. Browning said it is important for college students to learn about making the right choices when it comes to saving.

“I think it’s pretty typical for about every student that is the college age to have that negative mindset about the future of their retirement savings, and I think that’s why addressing these topics in an essay like this is so important,” he said. “A lot of our solutions are how can we guide others to making the right decisions.”

Finke said one of the benefits of winning the contest is the positive attention it brings to the university.

“Winning national competitions like this attracts attention, and I’ve noticed every year we get better quality applicants for the Ph.D. program,” he said. “Improving the reputation of both Texas Tech and the personal financial planning program was one of the goals in the contest.”

The team travels to Washington D.C. in April to present its essay and video to policy makers and members of Congress. Cummings said he is excited about the possibility of having their ideas formed into new legislation.

“I think that’s one of my goals, to improve public policy that will better society,” he said. “It’s also a great opportunity to just be able to share our ideas with policy makers and take our ideas into consideration.”

Browning said while the cash prize and trip to the Capitol are gratifying, the chance to share the experience is a reward in itself.

“It’s a lot of work, and it’s a commitment, but it’s also an awesome opportunity to take what you’ve learned and share it with a ton of people,” he said. “Being as young and as early in our careers as we are, I think that’s really the big benefit. I think if I was going to tell somebody who is going to be on the team next year why to do it, do it to share what you’ve learned, and hopefully it’ll make a difference.”

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