MMF student Allen Li honoured with Peter Christoffersen MMF Award for academic excellence

Allen Li, a student in the McGill Master of Management in Finance (MMF) program, was recently awarded the Peter Christoffersen MMF Award in recognition of his outstanding CGPA and contribution to Desautels Capital Management (DCM)—Canada’s first university-owned, student-run, licensed and regulated investment firm designed to give McGill students invaluable experience in the industry.

“Allen has been an incredible asset to the DCM team. His dual passion for the volatile IT sector and monetary policy have helped us generate alpha and make informed investment decisions,” says Vadim di Pietro, MMF professor and DCM’s Chief Investment Officer. “I was more than impressed with his stock pitch and valuation of CGI, a Canadian IT consulting company, which is now one of our fund’s top outperformers. Thanks to Allen, I also very much look forward to FOMC meetings, to read his in-depth analysis, especially his comical takes on what Federal Reserve Chairman Powell did wrong. I have no doubt that Allen’s passion for trading will take him far in this field and I look forward to tracking his progress.”

We recently spoke to Allen about his journey to studying finance, his experience in the program, and what this honour means to him.

Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Back in high school, I was always fascinated by the sciences, since I enjoyed learning about how things worked. When I was deciding what I wanted to study in university, I didn't want to do something super math-heavy like physics, because math is kind of scary, right? So, I chose something life science related—physiology—and ended up enjoying it. At the same time, I was always interested in following world events and politics, but couldn’t figure out how to turn that into a career. What could I do? A degree in poli sci and hope that I have an entry into politics? It seemed impractical. It turns out that this interest in world events and politics would be a big reason why I came to love finance. In 2017, I received my undergraduate degree in physiology and decided to pursue a master's in neuroscience. I did that for two and a half years, which brings us to March 2020. At this point, I was working on my final thesis for my master’s. Then COVID hit, and a bunch of things happened at the same time that had a big impact on my future.

With your background in the sciences, what was it that drew you towards a career in finance?

When the pandemic hit, the lab where I was finishing my degree was shut down, so I was uncertain as to how long it was going to take for me to graduate. At that point, while I had enjoyed my master’s, I realized that neuroscience was not something I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life, so I was particularly open to alternative career paths. That March, as COVID struck, the financial markets were very volatile. I had no experience with markets before, but I found following them super interesting. I opened an account, started trading, and spent every day glued to my screen. At this point, trading was just a hobby, but I also realized that this could potentially turn into a new career, so that was in the back of my head. At the same time, a couple friends I’d met through chess, while I was president of McGill’s chess club, wanted me to help grow their business. Their company, called Chessbrah, mainly streamed chess on twitch. Working with friends is always attractive, and their business was also doing quite well, because as you can imagine, COVID had shut everything down and their company was online. I also realized that this job would allow me flexibility during the day, which would let me investigate if my interest in markets and finance was something that I could turn into a career, or if it was just a fleeting interest. Given this opportunity, I left my master’s to go work with my friends. I worked with them for two years and it was a really great experience. During that entire time, I became even more captivated by trading and finance. I was completely addicted, following markets every single day. I realized that trading was so interesting because what happens in the market reflects political and economic events that happen across the world. All throughout my undergrad I was interested in politics, and now I realized that through finance, I could convert my interest into a career by trading markets.

What led you back to McGill for your Master of Management in Finance?

After two years, COVID was letting up and I realized that finance was definitely what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, because I just spent two years mesmerized by the market. I decided to apply back to McGill. I was really happy to do that, and I chose McGill because I was familiar with it. Since I was a little bit older, I wanted to find a program that I was comfortable with; I didn't necessarily need to experience the whole university life again. It also looked like the best program, a very concentrated finance program that covered everything that I enjoyed. To prepare for the program which began in June 2022, I took the CFA level 1 in May. I was able to do well which helped my confidence and gave me a solid finance background before starting the MMF.

What has been the best part of your experience in the MMF program so far?

The best part has definitely been the amount that I've learned. I've learned much more than I ever thought I would, and that’s not an exaggeration. In fact, my friends kept telling me about how if you're really interested in trading, you don't really need to go back to school because you can learn this stuff by yourself, and now I realize that's not at all the case. The MMF has been really helpful in teaching and reinforcing certain concepts about finance, like valuation, that have aided me greatly in trading. I've also met some brilliant classmates who’ve been a pleasure to work with and who’ve driven me to be a better student.

What does it mean to you to be this year’s recipient of the Peter Christoffersen MMF Award?

It honestly does mean a lot. I know everybody probably says that but to me, it really does mean a lot, because I worked hard for these grades. Of course, when I get something like this, it's going to feel vindicating. It's like “Yeah, my hard work paid off.”

What do you hope is next for you after the program, and how do you think the MMF will help you get to where you want to be?

I recently interviewed at a trading firm which does exactly what I did for fun back during COVID, when I was just developing my interest. I’ve yet to find the right position but I’m excited to be able to reach out to such opportunities. This wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t attended the MMF. There's no way I would have known about this firm had I not been in the program, since I learned about them at a McGill job fair. Also, these opportunities don't really arise if you don't have an academic background in finance—most companies sort of dismiss you. Let's say I tried to apply to this company with my physiology background and 75% of a neuroscience degree. They would be like what's going on here? Now that I have the MMF under my belt, I’ll have more opportunities across finance.

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