On the Money: UTM expands personal finance course to meet demand

Closeup photo of financial spreadsheets and hands using a calculator and
Thursday, August 23, 2018 - 12:39pm
Blake Eligh

A personal finance course aimed at first-year undergraduate students has proven to be so popular that the University of Toronto Mississauga campus has doubled the number of course sections offered for the upcoming academic year.

Launched in 2017 and offered through the Department of Management, Intro to Personal Finance (MGT130) is the first-ever personal finance course offered to students enrolled in all disciplines at UTM. The elective covers the foundations of personal finance, from bank accounts to retirement planning, with tips on developing good credit history, working with financial institutions and building long-term goals such as property ownership.

Now in its second year, popular demand for the course has prompted UTM to triple enrolment—300 students are registered across four sections in the 2018-2019 academic year, up from 100 students across two sections in 2017. 

Management professor and department chair Mihkel Tombak says that the course is invaluable to students who are just beginning their financial lives. “There was a recent survey of high school students that found Canadians don’t know much about personal finance, but it’s really something that everyone needs to be cognizant about,” Tombak says. “We need to be more financially literate, but it doesn’t need to be mystical. With this course, students can become financially literate and develop a good understanding of how investments work, how to manage their household finances and more.”

Mitchell HuynhThe course was developed by UTM alumnus Mitchell Huynh who taught the inaugural course and will return to the classroom again this year. Huynh earned an undergraduate degree—a double major in biology and math—at UTM before realizing his passion for finance, which prompted him to return to UTM to earn a second undergraduate degree in commerce and finance. He went on to work in the hedge fund industry and was a financial advisor in the banking sector, but it was while working on his MBA that Huynh studied wealth inequality and decided the best way to help people was to arm them with the knowledge to help themselves.

“Knowledge is the best way to decrease the gap between high and low wealth,” says Huynh, who is currently the director  of the business owners and high network division with  h Experior Financial Group. “With knowledge and good advice, the same strategies can be used by anyone.” In addition to teaching, Huynh shares his expertise on television: he offers his expertise as the host of two financial advice television programs, Smart Money and Wise Guys: Finance My Life.

Huynh says that many students have little prior experience going into the course. “They have fresh minds,” he says, so he begins with the basics—how to open a bank account, apply for credit cards and check a personal credit score. From there, the course moves to savings and investment strategies, private lending practices and strategies for investing in rental properties to grow personal wealth. “These are strategies that have been used in increasing my own net wealth,” he says. “What students learn in this course will empower their future financial decisions.”

Students put their new knowledge into practice with the course’s major assignment which askes them to create a financial plan for themselves or another person. “This is something that students can apply practically to their own financial future or to help a family member,” Huynh says. “This is information everyone should know and put into action.

UTM’s unique course is one of a handful of university-level personal finance courses offered in Ontario.  U of T offers additional courses in investing through the School of Continuing Studies and an exciting new study of personal finance and student debt by sessional lecturer Radha Maharaj of the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology. The Elly in Action Competition: Find the Fun in Finance project invites student entrants to engage in the discussion through creative submissions in dance, art or song. It runs from September 2018 to March 2019.