Partnership with Morningstar, Inc. Opens Doors for Students in Rapidly Growing Fintech Sector



By Casey Moffitt
Assistant Professor Yong Zheng talks with a student

Yong Zheng, assistant professor of information technology and management at Illinois Institute of Technology, has earned a grant from Morningstar, Inc., which marks the beginning of a long-term collaboration between the university and the Chicago-based fintech outfit.

Zheng and his research team will collaborate with Morningstar to develop intelligent and effective solutions for financial portfolio optimization. A multi-objective optimization framework will be built that considers expected returns, potential risks, and corresponding metrics in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards. This framework will be realized through algorithm development, coding, and evaluations.

A possible second phase of the project, which could begin in 2023, will focus on developing smart visualization tools to help select and identify the optimal solution from the multi-objective learning process. The goal is to provide more transparency for Morningstar clients and other stakeholders. Student researchers working on Zheng’s team for this phase will be expected to delve into interactive visualization skills by using Python programming language and web visualizations. 

“The visualization is expected to explain why one portfolio is better than another so that the investors can learn how the financial advice was produced,” Zheng says. “Eventually, the enhanced transparency can let investors trust the technologies and products, which should result in more consumers and order flows into these financial products or services.”

Morningstar is a global provider of independent investment research, offering products and services for individual investors, financial advisors, asset managers and owners, retirement plan providers and sponsors, and institutional investors in the debt and private capital markets.

Morningstar provides data and research insights on a wide range of investment offerings,

including managed investment products, publicly listed companies, private capital markets, debt securities, and real-time global market data. Morningstar also offers investment management services through its investment advisory subsidiaries, with approximately $265 billion in assets under advisement and management as of March 31, 2022.

Establishing a relationship with a local fintech leader that has a global reach can open exciting new opportunities for Illinois Tech students to work on research projects or internships in a rapidly growing industry, Zheng says.

“The collaboration is expected to establish a long-term relationship with Morningstar, which results in not only future research collaborations, but also strengthens our data analytics and data science programs,” he says.

Zheng says the emergence of the fintech industry in Chicago adds to the traditional career paths in information technology, which includes options such as data analysis, quantitative or equity analyst, data architect, data scientist, and financial product specialist.

“I consider this a milestone in university/industry partnerships for the Department of Information Technology and Management,” Zheng says.

Photo: Assistant Professor Yong Zheng talks with a student