Corporates give high marks to a University of Idaho program where students learn real-world lessons by trading.
Treasury and finance teams searching for talent with the right stuff—and an edge in this tight labor market—might want to take a page from Starbucks and Micron Technology by strengthening their ties to colleges and universities that are finding innovative ways to teach students financial decision-making skills.
- Micron treasurer Greg Routin and Melanie Canto, a former Starbucks treasurer who is now a senior business transformation leader at the company, spoke at a recent meeting of NeuGroup for Tech Treasurers where they described the value of a program at the University of Idaho where students are given real money to trade.
- With the dual objectives of capital appreciation and financial education, the Barker Capital Management and Trading Program teaches students high-level academic risk management and trading theory to develop their own strategy for trading individual, funded accounts.
Getting real. “It takes a lot of time to learn the fundamentals of treasury, like market sentiment and money flows,” said Dr. Darek Nalle, the program’s director, who also attended the virtual meeting. “But I believe in learning through real money, in real markets, in real time.”
- Dr. Nalle said “trading is the hook and the shiny thing” that attracts students to the sought-after program, which has grown from 20 enrollees two years ago to 100 this year from the College of Business and Economics and the College of Agriculture.
- Equities, foreign exchange, commodities, futures, junk bonds—everything is on the table, but the focus is on learning decision-making. Speculation is discouraged.
- Students participate in group accounts, each led by an industry professional, which execute about 500 trades per semester; individual accounts start with $15,000.
- The program takes the “training wheels” off to teach students to “be more comfortable being uncomfortable” and make decisions with “imperfect information,” Dr. Nalle said. In addition, students need to get Bloomberg certified, another helpful tool in the belt for new treasury recruits.
Developing a world view. “I’ve never seen anything like the Barker program,” said Ms. Canto, a University of Idaho alumnus who recruits from the program. Students are “very actively looking outside at what’s going on in the world just by the nature of trading. This isn’t normally taught in schools.”
- She added, “They’re reading news all day, they know what the trends are, they see them coming down the pipe; that’s unique in early talent. They’re also learning to make decisions with the right amount of information, and that’s usually a gap you see [with recent graduates].”
- A bonus benefit: Because the program is co-sponsored by the agriculture college, some students possess very real knowledge of the factors influencing the value of certain commodities like dairy, which is a significant risk to manage for a company like Starbucks.
On the map. The program also helps fill talent gaps for companies that lie outside the nation’s major tech and finance hubs, including Micron Technologies, based in Boise, Idaho. Mr. Routin at Micron has employed “roughly a half-dozen” Barker grads, has two on staff now and plans to continue recruiting them. “I have been proactive in developing deep relationships with local universities,” he said
- “The University of Idaho has differentiated itself in terms of the caliber of students and their willingness to work,” he told peers. “I encourage everyone to develop strategic relationships with a select group of universities to expand your talent pipeline, if you’re not doing so already.”
- Dr. Nalle added another reason treasurers may want to connect with “real-world” programs like his: cost savings. He said it typically “takes 18-24 months and $300,000 to bring a diploma to usefulness,” but hands-on training can cut that down significantly.