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Student investors hit $1 million mark

Professor and students from the Osprey Financial Group


Seven digits are no joke.


The University of North Florida’s Osprey Financial Group is a serious business enterprise, and the students running the show know a thing or two about getting the most out of an investment. After launching in 2002 with a $500,000 seed donation from Jody and Layton Smith, a dedicated pair of University donors, the student-run Osprey Financial Group eclipsed the $1 million mark in July. Faculty adviser Dr. Reinhold Lamb said the fund posted a 7.62 percent growth rate during the last financial cycle, outperforming the standard industry markers by about 1.35 percent. Beating the market is the elusive white whale for scores of big-time financial advisers, but the Osprey Financial Group has consistently done just that.


“The way we designed this whole program is to focus on the real-world applications for everything that happens in the trading room,” Lamb said. “We’re monitoring real money, using real databases, working with real clients and striving for real benchmarks.”


Those clients include the members of the UNF Foundation Board, who oversee the management of the funds. The original Smith gift was given to the Foundation expressly for the purpose of enabling a special group of students to manage an initial $500,000 portion of the Endowment. That total has grown steadily during the past 12 years thanks to a yearly injection of bright student minds from the Coggin College of Business.


These students serve two-semester appointments that count as six electives. The real-world asset management experience begins with interviews for team selection. Then, the chosen students are administratively organized with officer positions and responsibilities to best ensure the allocation of a diversified portfolio of equity and fixed income securities.


Colleen Kinevan, a second-year M.B.A. student, handles green plays for this year’s team. Her task is to select high-quality investment opportunities out of the assortment of national companies that have launched sustainability initiatives. Managing a hot investment property for a $1 million portfolio is not what most graduate students would expect to be doing in the classroom.


“The level of opportunities available to UNF students is just amazing,” Kinevan said. “There’s no real substitute for an experience like this, to learn investing in a really practical environment. It’s challenging, thought-provoking and will hopefully let me stand out at the next level when I’m looking for a position after graduation.”


Many local financial companies have taken note of the team’s accolades, and some have even stepped up to support the students’ continued success. David Welling, general manager at Black Diamond, a division of Advent Software, said there are more than 40 UNF graduates and interns in the company’s Jacksonville office. Supporting UNF students just makes sense to him.


“When they’re successful in the classroom, they go on to be happy, successful employees,” Welling said. “The greatest mission we have in this industry is to provide clients with the best service possible using the best technology at our disposal. That’s why we provided the Osprey Financial Group with the tools needed to make sure they’re working like the professionals. The students are eager, excited and well trained. It’s a great symbiosis for us as a company with Jacksonville roots.”


Lamb reiterated that the students operate in a completely professional environment. Every database and computer program they use is industry-standard, along with their headquarters, a $100,000 trading room and financial research lab that was built in 2003 thanks to a $100,000 donation by State Farm Companies. Outfitted with trading desks, flat-screen monitors and Bloomberg, students have access to the same technology and data as professional fund managers. It’s no wonder that dozens of graduates from the Osprey Financial Group have gone on to manage big-time portfolios across the country, including a group of 15 alumni who currently roam the trading floors of Wall Street.


“They’re incredibly marketable when they leave our program,” Lamb said. “This kind of hands-on learning experience isn’t typical for most entry-level graduates. Our students enter the workforce at a level in which they’re able to immediately contribute in the professional money management industry.”


A student from the most recent team, Raymond Gonzalez, moved to New York City after graduating in April to work as an analyst in training for CIT Group Inc., a financial holding company. The same skills he developed as a member of the Osprey Financial Group — research, analysis and critical thinking — are in play for him on a daily basis in the world of professional finance.


“A big credit goes to Dr. Lamb because he set up an environment for the team where students not only had to answer questions like professionals but formulate questions like professionals,” Gonzalez said. “We learned to work with the client in mind and approached it like a job. It gave me the confidence to go to New York knowing that I had the skills necessary to succeed.”


Some members of this year’s team have dreams of following in Gonzalez’s footsteps and parlaying their UNF investment experience into a spot on Wall Street. Christian Odhner is one of them. The senior finance major is the team’s expert on commodities-based plays, responsible for selecting the best investments out of the thousands of companies specializing in energy and metals. The budding investor dreams of being a security analyst one day, and he views the Osprey Financial Group as the best stepping stone he could’ve hoped for from an undergraduate educational experience.


“For employers, just seeing the amount of money you’ve worked with and the roles you’ve had on the team, that’s job marketability right there,” Odhner said. “The on-the-job knowledge you can get from this work is irreplaceable. I’m going to give the Osprey Financial Group a prominent place on my resume and cover letter going forward, and I bet it will be incredibly useful.”

Lamb said the different roles assigned to Osprey Financial Group

 members allows the class of nine undergraduate and three graduate students to gain a specialized skillset that differentiates them from other prospective investment professionals in the same age bracket. They also receive Bloomberg certification, a necessary tech skill for investment specialists.


Mark Travis, president of Jacksonville-based Intrepid Capital Funds, remembers about a decade ago when UNF students would travel to his office to use Intrepid’s assortment of Bloomberg machines. Back then, the University didn’t have Bloomberg licenses, which got Travis thinking. He’d spoken with a number of the Osprey Financial Group team members and witnessed their passion for the field. They deserved the tools to apply that passion in as professional an environment as possible.


“Providing those Bloomberg portals was a no-brainer for us,” Travis said. “Jacksonville needs highly trained financial experts, and UNF students — especially those in the OFG — are stepping up. We’ve hired many of them ourselves.”


With a strong precedent of financial success to build on, Lamb expects big things from the latest iteration of the Osprey Financial Group.


“This isn’t the classroom, it’s real life,” Lamb said. “If they can succeed here, they can succeed anywhere.”