More than Monopoly Money

The Student and Foundation Fund at UNC gives finance students real-world experience investing and managing a portfolio on behalf of the UNC Foundation.

Standing on the floor of Century Link Center in Omaha, Nebraska, taking in the bustling surroundings of the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders meeting, senior Business Administration student Erica Estes was captivated.

“It’s like the Super Bowl of the financial industry. There were people camped out there overnight just trying to get good seats,” Estes says. “We got to explore Omaha and be in the same room as Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger, so that was exciting. Even Bill Gates was there so, it was like, ‘Whoa, we feel really important.’ ”

Estes and four other UNC students had the opportunity to attend the exclusive annual meeting in May as a result of their work with the Student and Foundation Fund (SAFF).

“We hold B shares of Berkshire Hathaway in our portfolio, so that gave us passes to attend,” Estes says.

Every semester a small group of upper-level finance students are selected for the demanding SAFF class. Together the students manage two portfolios of real assets that are valued at more than $2.5 million. It’s a tangible experience, made possible by an allocation from the UNC Foundation. 

“It’s designed to be as real world as it can be — just like they’re a money manager,” says Rod Esch, president of the UNC Foundation.

Each student is assigned a specific sector to watch and evaluate all semester. Then, together as a class, they must decide where to invest. 

“We evaluate their performance all the time, and we meet them face-to-face and have them present to us as one of our money managers,” Esch says. “They don’t just evaluate what investments to make. They establish and kind of institutionalize their structure and organization to operate like a money manager.”

A demanding experience, Estes admits, but one that’s helped her grow leaps and bounds as a business professional.

“I don’t think you get that experience in other classes. You do a simulation and it’s not real money, and the thing with SAFF is that you have a fiduciary responsibility to the university,” says Estes.

An experience, she says, that’s prepared her to work with a diverse team and make critical decisions after graduation. She recognizes the value of this opportunity — and treasures the donors who’ve made the experience possible. 

“Just having that faith and allowing us students to figure out these career paths, and figuring out investing and finance, it is a huge opportunity,” Estes says, and she’s grateful that some of the earnings they acquire through SAFF can benefit other Bears too

“It’s cool to know that what we do helps provide scholarships for other students at the university. It feels like I’m almost helping out my friends who receive these scholarships. I was a part of that, and it provides opportunities for other students to flourish.”

–Kaitlin Berry