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Financial Planning Students Learn Through Competition

Northwestern Mutual sponsors scholarship competition for students.

Jessica Bies, Mankato Free Press, 5-3-2015

It was like watching a grown-up and incredibly serious game of LIFE.

Get married. Have children. Buy a car. Retire.

In the Milton Bradley classic, you choose careers, make serious financial decisions and accumulate mortgages almost on a whim.

In real life, things are more complicated. There are IRAs, 401(k)s, mutual funds, 529 plans, life insurance policies, disability insurance, annuities, dividends, trusts, financial portfolios and more to contend with.

As financial planning students at Minnesota State University, Mankato could doubtless tell you, life — and all its financial intricacies — is no game. During a high stakes competition Wednesday, they set out to prove it, presenting financial management plans made for a hypothetical couple, the Stensons.

“How are the kids, Julie?” Jordan Ludewig said, taking a seat. Tiphanie Phorasovong and Tom Sheely, both from Northwestern Mutual, played the Stensons.

“They’re good,” Phorasovong said. “Thanks for asking!”

The competition was held Wednesday by Northwestern Mutual, which awarded $6,000 in scholarships to the finalists. The life insurance and financial services company also employs about 13 interns from Minnesota State Mankato and employs several alums.

Colby Staloch, managing director at Northwestern’s Mankato office, said the goal of the program is to get students hands-on experience in financial planning, as well as opening them up to career possibilities.

“They come into the office and run through how they would actually make a plan,” he said.

Ludewig, who graduates this spring, said normally students wouldn’t get to use business-grade financial planning software — they’re stuck with Excel.

Plus, the activity gave him a taste of what it’s like to work with real clients: people with houses and cars and kids and dreams for the future.

You have to put yourself in their shoes, his teammate Dylan Malberg said.

“I wouldn’t want some guy to tell me I can’t take vacation because I need an IRA,” he said.

Leo Chen, who teaches a capstone financial planning class at Minnesota State Mankato, said the competition shows students what it’d be like to be a financial adviser. It’s a growing industry, he added. By 2020, the number of jobs is expected to grow 27 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Retiring baby boomers are not only creating openings but will need advice on how to manage their assets.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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