Picture this: you’re new on campus, and you either have faintly heard of finance as a career path and want to learn more, or maybe just want to learn more about how to manage your money. But as a woman, the male-dominated Wall Street numbers-crunching world may not appear too inviting.
Smart Woman Securities wants to change that. In just four years on UChicago’s campus, this registered student organization known as SWS has leapt from 15 members to more than 100. The first SWS organization was established in 2006 at Harvard as a way to welcome students to investing at the introductory level. As the national leadership shares on their website, “The goal of SWS is not only to educate its members, but also to build a community where women can learn and feel comfortable with managing their finances.” Now, the national nonprofit supports chapters on 23 campuses across the country.
“Finance is still a field that’s really underrepresented to women. By this being an all women’s club, it’s a comfortable space for women to come and learn about things that aren’t promoted to them usually,” said Amanda Wallbrink, a fourth year and former co-president of UChicago’s SWS chapter.
From seminars to stock pitches, from mentorship to conferences and everything in between, SWS allows female College students to start at square one in personal finance and investing.
New members join in fall quarter and attend a quarter-long seminar series led by Chicago finance professionals. They teach workshops on topics such as personal finance, understanding the stock market, analyzing investment ideas and trends, understanding financial statements, and creating an investment recommendation.
“A lot of people just assume it’s a club for those interested in going into finance, but our seminar series is helpful for anyone who’s interested in learning more about the stock market and managing money,” Wallbrink said.
That was the case for Nisha Palla, a second-year student who joined the group this fall. “As a neuroscience major, I don't get to take a lot of business/econ related classes, so partaking in a club that allows me to both learn and practice fundamental analytical and research skills in terms of financial markets was particularly compelling,” she said. “It’s applicable to almost every career path.”
The seminar series culminates in a stock pitch at the end of fall quarter, where the new members use the terms and skills they learned to pick and evaluate the money-making potential of a stock to make a case for investing in that stock. They make the pitch in front of a panel of presenters from the SWS seminar series and fourth year-year students who have worked in the industry, signaling their “graduation” from new member status.
“With SWS, I was able to learn about technical skills like how to analyze stocks using certain statistical measurements and understand how to use a balance sheet to understand the value of a company,” said first-year Jennifer Zhuo, who joined the RSO this fall. “At the same time, we were introduced to global news of what was happening in the large scope of the international market and and how it affects other markets.”
Members also work together in industry research teams to learn more about specific branches of finance, such as healthcare, energy, and tech / telecommunications / media. Senior SWS members lead each group, usually women who’ve interned or specialized in that field. Members can also join the investment committee to manage the chapter’s mock investment portfolio, using the lessons they learned from the seminar series. They compete against other SWS chapters’ mock portfolios in a national competition. The chapter also hosts a winter Women in Finance panel, bringing female finance professionals to campus to talk about their own experiences.
“Business was an area that sparked my interest for a long time,” Zhuo said. “However, it is such a vast field of different careers. I felt that Smart Woman Securities would be able to broaden my perspective on what is available and what interests me. “
Palla feels the same way: “I don't plan on going into finance out of college, but knowledge of finance is essential regardless of career choice. So hopefully I can use what SWS has taught me to make successful financial decisions in terms of my personal life.”
Wallbrink said she and the RSO are excited for the future of the family they are helping build. “I’ve met a lot of very smart, talented, high-achieving, nice women who really care about each other and helping each other out,” she said. “We take a lot of care in making sure that everyone feels comfortable and can learn as much as possible and foster friendship in addition to knowledge.”