High Return on Investment for Illinois Tech Team in Finance Competition



By Scott Lewis
[From Left] Xinsheng Li, Qing Zhu, Ricky Cooper, Yujia Zhai, and Siyuan Wang.

A team of students from Stuart School of Business at Illinois Institute of Technology scored a second-place finish in the 2023–24 Chicago Quantitative Alliance (CQA) Investment Challenge, a rigorous five-month competition that tests the stock selection and portfolio management skills of university students in a simulated hedge fund experience.

After running neck-and-neck throughout the final month of the contest, a team from the University of Toronto edged out the Illinois Tech team to win first place. Third place went to a team from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“The CQA competition is fierce, and some of the best quantitative finance programs in the world participate in it,” says Associate Professor of Finance Ricky Cooper, who served as the faculty adviser for the Illinois Tech team. “This is an incredible result for our students. They won the $2,000 cash prize for second place and are noticed by important people in the investment industry.”

The team members are all doctoral students at Stuart: Siyuan Wang, Yujia Zhai, and Qing Zhu are studying in the Ph.D. in Finance program, and Xinsheng Li is in the Ph.D. in Management Science program with a specialization in finance.

The CQA Investment Challenge gives university students first-hand exposure to the role of a portfolio manager, including the use of leading industry software. Participants actively manage a quantitatively derived and run equity hedge fund portfolio every day from late October through March.

The contest rules govern how the teams construct their portfolios, such as requiring both long and short picks and limiting the amount of any one stock in the portfolio. Compliance with the rules is checked weekly. Scoring is based on compliance, investment return, and—for the 10 teams that make it into the final round in March—the quality of a video presentation created by each finalist team that describes their investment strategy and performance.

Along with Cooper’s mentoring, the team was advised on their presentation by Clinical Associate Professor of Finance Michael Rybak.

According to the team members, the contest was an immersion in applying concepts that they had learned in their quantitative finance and investment courses, and the format provided continual feedback on their strategies and decision-making. All four students pointed to other benefits of participating in the contest, as well.

“It was a great chance to learn from experienced investment professionals and compete against students from top universities worldwide,” says Zhu. “The guidance from industry experts was invaluable in sharpening my analytical skills.”

“Beyond technical knowledge and skills, the experience has enhanced my professional demeanor, teaching me the importance of organizing team meetings, effective communication with colleagues, and timely reporting to mentors,” Zhai says.

“The competition underscored the priorities of investors and the standards of professionalism required to meet their expectations,” Li notes. “Additionally, exposure to a commercial risk model enriched our practical understanding of risk management.”

“There’s a unique thrill in navigating through the volatility of the market, adjusting our strategies in real time to stay ahead,” says Wang. “The camaraderie within our team was invaluable during these intense moments, and it was immensely satisfying to overcome challenges together.”

Photo: [From left] Xinsheng Li, Qing Zhu, Ricky Cooper, Yujia Zhai, and Siyuan Wang.