Students claim second place, $5,000 in American Express competition

CULLOWHEE — A three-person team from Western Carolina University captured second place and $5,000 in scholarship money in the annual American Express Planning Invitational, a competition in which students pit their financial planning abilities against students from other universities across the nation.

This marks the second consecutive year that students from Western claimed a top-three finish. In last year’s inaugural event, a team from Western finished third and brought home $1,000 in scholarship money for the WCU financial planning program. Western is the only university to finish in the top three both years.

This year’s competition was held April 26-29 in Minneapolis, home of American Express Financial Advisors corporate headquarters. Western’s second-place team consisted of three seniors majoring in finance through WCU’s financial planning concentration, the only certified financial planning degree program offered in The University of North Carolina system. Team members were Janet Carstens of Cullowhee, Dustin Alsop of Mooresville and Josh Hughes of Greensboro. Their faculty adviser was Grace Allen, associate professor of finance.

“This is a great opportunity to have interaction and feedback from a premier financial planning company,” said Carstens. “It’s also a great way to use the financial planning skills I’ve learned, in a practical and fun way.”

Students were judged based on their presentation of a financial plan they created for a fictitious family, and for their performance during the “How Do You Know?” challenge, a game-show style competition that tested their financial planning knowledge. For the second consecutive year, Western’s team finished first in the “How Do You Know?” challenge. Each student received $350 for the first-place finish in that event.

“The American Express Planning Invitational is a great experience for the students to see they can compete on a national level with those from larger schools,” Allen said. “Western Carolina is a small school, but our continued success shows our students are well-trained and marketable in the financial field.”

A team from Fort Hays State University won first prize and $10,000 in scholarship money, while students from the University of North Texas finished third and earned $1,000.