Four candidates in the Master of Financial Risk Management (MFRM) program at the Rotman School of Management placed first in the Risk Management Challenge organized by the Professional Risk Managers’ International Association (PRMIA), winning the 10,000 USD cash award. The PRMIA is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “promote, develop and share professional risk management practices globally.”

The challenge

Undergraduate and graduate students studying fields such as finance, economics, and mathematics participated in this three-tier challenge. 

The Risk Management Challenge commenced in December 2020 with an online preliminary round, in which the participants were asked to write a three-page executive summary analyzing a scandal at the National Australia Bank — a fictional case inspired by a real-life event — from a risk management perspective. 

The teams with the best executive summaries progressed into the regional round where they presented their analyses to a panel of judges as part of a presentation, and also submitted a MATLAB challenge solution.

The regional winners then competed in the international round on April 19, 2021. The international championship consisted of further analyzing the original case study and a 20-minute virtual presentation followed by a question-and-answer session with a panel of industry experts.

The winning team, The Big Four — comprised of Jason Ho, Laura Liu, Mingze Li, and Irene Liang — was announced at the end of the international round. The Varsity spoke with members of The Big Four regarding their victory and unique experiences.

Becoming a team

Ho told The Varsity that in the beginning, it was just him and Liang on the team. Ho recruited the other two candidates, Liu and Li, because of their reputation in class. Ho described the MFRM program as being very tight-knit, and since all the candidates were enrolled in the same classes, all the team members vaguely knew each other just through class participation. 

“We heard many good things about each other before forming the team,” Liu told The Varsity.

The team credited their MFRM program coursework as being a key component of their success. Ho told The Varsity that the content taught in the MFRM program gave all four teammates a strong understanding of ‘operational risk’, which was an important part of the case they had to analyze. He also explained that the MFRM program did not only help students learn technical skills, but also how to clearly communicate their solutions.

Despite the fact that they were all learning the same skills through the MFRM program, Li highlighted that each candidate brought their own prior knowledge to the table. 

“Each of us have different backgrounds, and different strengths. For example, Laura has a very strong background in operational risk. Jason is very strong in market risk and monitoring,” Li said. The team divided up the presentation and case study work according to these strengths. 

Presenting during a pandemic

The team acknowledged that presenting online had pros and cons. Both Ho and Liu explained that there was less pressure presenting online and it was less intimidating. The MFRM program also requires students to present on many different occasions. 

On the other hand, presenting virtually came with its challenges. Liu expressed difficulties with effectively conveying emotion and enthusiasm to the audience over a virtual platform. She also pointed out that technical issues can complicate giving presentations over a virtual platform.

The Big Four team members had some advice for future PRMIA Risk Management Challenge participants. 

Ho advised that students not get too caught up in focusing on the technical portion of a case and remember to deliver their main message as clearly as possible. Liu echoed this sentiment and urged students to think about the root cause of any problem that they are trying to solve. 

Both Ho and Li emphasized the importance of finding a great team. Li expressed that having a team with a diverse background that is eager to learn is extremely important. 

“Together, we turned out to work very well,” Ho said. “I think that’s the reason why we won the case competition.”