The Oberlin Stories Project

On being a member of Oberlin Student Finance and Investment Club

Jiayu Lin ’11

“All club members learn together in various forms: an ExCo, themed discussions at meetings, and, most often, the teamwork involved with putting together the stock presentations.”

Three students at a table with calculators. One holds up a card.

When I first walked in a meeting of the Oberlin Student Finance and Investment Club (OSFIC), I was intimidated. Don’t get me wrong, the OSFIC folks were as friendly to a freshman as anyone else on campus, but the terms–ROA, ROE, P/E, EBITDA, the list goes on—and Excel models they used to analyze stocks sounded completely foreign to me. As a professional and Oberlin alumnus later advised me, finance should indeed be studied as another language. Little did I know that OSFIC would become a group of friends closest to my heart: colleagues as well as friends with whom to spar over ideas, study, and trade jokes.

Economics was a field of interest to me when I came to Oberlin, and I thought an investment club was a good opportunity to learn about the market at work. As I attended more meetings and gobbled up the aforementioned foreign terms, I found what the club did rather fascinating. As a student-run club, we manage part of Oberlin’s endowment, a portfolio of about $250,000, and invest in about 20 stocks in various sectors—industrial, media, technology, and business services, to name just a few.

When some members of the inaugural class of Oberlin Business Scholars Program created the club in 2005, they sought to educate all interested Oberlin students about finance and investing and improve presentation and networking skills. All club members learn together in various forms: an ExCo, themed discussions at meetings, and, most often, the teamwork involved with putting together the stock presentations.

The OSFIC Fund, donated by Oberlin alumni, seeks long-term growth through investment in a diversified portfolio. The target average holding time for securities is one to three years, and the goal is to outperform our benchmark—the S&P 500. However, the club does not mandate any particular method to achieve the goal, which creates an environment in which OSFIC is exactly as valuable as we make it. The environment expands the challenges of OSFIC to include not only responsible investing, but also the teaching and creating of an organizational structure that brings out the best of all its members.

The relation of different ideas and fields of study make OSFIC a great place to talk about how these things interact. Everything is done in a team fashion: sector teams collaborate and present to the club, then we make the investment decisions as a whole. When making recommendations on a stock, analysts in the club examine the macroeconomic environment. Students of the social sciences, including myself, project the growth of the industry and the impact of relevant government policies, applying lessons from economics and politics classes. We look at the financial health of the company, while students of the science faculty use their knowledge of fields such as health care and technology.

The best way of learning investment is making it. I was a member of the media sector team and also shouldered some publicity responsibilities. My team’s first recommendation for the club had us carefully analyzing the macroeconomic market, the trend of the industry, the performance projection, and management of the company, along with other factors. Although there is no pressure to make positive returns—OSFIC is a learning experience for all—the rapid growth of the stock price, proof of our diligent research, definitely motivated us to keep it up. OSFIC has witnessed not only my growth as a passionate economics major, but also my personal development, as I was elected cochair in my second year.

The vibrant and diverse extracurricular environment at Oberlin poses challenges for student organizations: how do you to keep an organization active from week to week, semester to semester, when everyone has so many choices on top of schoolwork? At a place known for its political liberalism, a finance club doesn’t automatically attract a crowd. During a transition when the club was almost falling apart, I initiated a strategic planning process. Through a series of discussions among the core members, we refined our priority to educating ourselves and promoting business analysis in the community, and together created an action plan in which each member incorporated personal skill development goals into the growth of the club. The action plan achieved positive results: OSFIC’s members became more engaged, and at the end of the year many members ran for positions to sustain and build upon our vision. I am deeply grateful to all the members for the heated debates and a shared journey of growth.

Indeed, it is the members that make OSFIC a close-knit group, a challenge that’s worthwhile. OSFIC attracts a certain kind of student, but what unites OSFIC members is their passion. These are the students who know what they want—to help families back home, to make a difference by investing in green technology, to challenge themselves on Wall Street—and are willing to work hard to get it.

To us, OSFIC is about that attitude, and that’s how we conduct thorough research, read company reports, give presentations, take criticism in front of a room, and do it again, do it better. To me, OSFIC means being part of collaborative efforts and making Oberlin-inspired ethical choices, combined with ordering in burgers from the Feve on celebratory occasions and playing vintage investment board games with a group of good friends to round up a year of club activities.