Trifecta Finance, the brainchild of Luke Shuman, a senior at Palisades High School, teaches financial literacy to students in South L.A.
Shuman and two close PaliHi friends, Ian Ishak and Ari Bolloshimi, came up with the name Trifecta because they founded the group.
“We love doing this stuff together and felt it reflected our goal of combining different avenues of education – coding, math and public speaking – to produce financial education,” said Shuman, who grew up in the Huntington Palisades.
When Shuman was a sophomore and the pandemic hit, he started tutoring kids online through the El Nido Family Centers. “I was teaching ESL students in math and English, using Spanish to communicate,” he said, noting that he knew a little Spanish and this would help him practice.
In the process of improving his language skills, Shuman won the Presidential Service Award and El Nido’s Community Impact Award because he developed three programs: elementary game-show math, competitive high school math and financial literacy.
While tutoring, Shuman started to develop close relationships with students and their parents.
“I noticed a major underlying commonality between these families was financial insecurity,” he told Circling the News. “Because most of them were undocumented, they didn’t have access to open traditional bank accounts and were forced to using third-party services such as payday loans and check-cashing entities that charged exorbitant interest rates to cash their checks and pay their bills.
“I remember one mom told me that she paid nearly 370% of interest on her funds annually,” said Shuman, who attended Village School and Paul Revere Middle School. “I was really bothered by this and felt that if I could somehow educate the next generation, I could help alleviate this issue.”
That spring in 2020, Shuman handed his math program to interns at El Nido, so that he could focus on building a financial literacy program. Even though his class load was heavy (this year he’s taking AP Literature, AP Statistics, AP Government and Politics, AP Environmental Science, AP Physics and AP Computer Science), he developed a customized financial curriculum with Bank of America. He was able to secure their sponsorship through an existing connection at El Nido.
The 10-week curriculum gives high school students a basic understanding of investments (stocks, bonds, cryptocurrency and real estate), credit vs. debt, the difference between liabilities and assets, and the keys to financial sustenance.
“I needed help teaching the [finance] classes,” Shuman said, noting that originally he had 20 students, so “I turned to two of my closest friends, Ian, who was a freshman at the time, and Ari, who started the financial literacy club with me at Pali that same year. Together, we formed the Trifecta Finance group.”
We asked Shuman if the program is working. “We have evidence it is effective,” he said. “We track data weekly through interactive Kahoot games and culminating tests. Eighty percent of students showed an improvement of at least 50% during our programs last year between our prerequisite test and culminating exam.”
Bank of America consumer market leader Jamie Trujillo told CTN in a January 18 email, “We support classroom-based programs like the student-led Trifecta Finance program. In this case, local bank employees have come to help teach some of the curriculum and answer questions.
“Honestly, it’s been exciting to see the teens engaged and motivated to create better money habits and make sound financial decisions that can last a lifetime,” Trujillo said.
Shuman, whose family is in the entertainment industry, has a keen interest in finance (no surprise!) and is active in algorithmic trading in stocks. “It’s a hobby of mine.”
During his sophomore year in October 2019, Shuman started a blog on Special Purpose Acquisition Companies [SPAC] to distill information on these companies in a digestible way, writing one-pagers that broke down complex financial information such as deal structure, target company profile, and post-business combination business model.
SPACs are public companies that are formed with the sole purpose of acquiring private companies and subsequently taking them public.
“They allow the average retail investor to invest in private companies, similar to private equity,” Shuman said. “SPACs level the playing field for all investors which is why they gained such popularity.
“The SEC didn’t regulate the space very well, so my blog served as the ultimate source for SPAC intel.”
MIT Sloan Professor Luis Barros, a lecturer in the Global Economics Management Group and a managing partner of Leading Business Ventures (a biotech accelerator firm), contacted Shuman through Shuman’s subscription-based newsletter.
“He wanted to set up a meeting between me and his managing partners to share the research I was doing,” Shuman said. “When I told him I was only in high school, he offered me an internship in Boston.”
Shuman interned with Barros in Back Bay, Massachusetts this past summer, researching the viability of an arbitrage opportunity around SPACs for underrepresented investors who didn’t have access to institutional investment opportunities at big banks/firms.
“My work is being published in CAIA’s (Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst) 2022 Spring Fintech Journal (“Increasing Access to Illiquid Alternative Investment Opportunities),” Shuman said. “Over the summer, I built software applications that used machine learning and data science to pinpoint arbitrage opportunities for underserved communities in the form of an investment fund.”
He thinks that this project will be launched in the next 18 months by Barros, but “I’m not sure if I’ll be involved because of school.”
Shuman has applied to numerous schools, “I hope to go somewhere that has existing financial literacy programs that will allow me to keep building initiatives for underserved youth with Bank of America.”
The second Trifecta partner, Ari Bolloshimi, grew up in Santa Monica before attending Revere and then PaliHi. He hopes to attend UCLA and continue running his music merchandise business, Music Exchange.
Ian Ishak, who is a junior and attended Warner for elementary and middle before his family moved to the Palisades when he was in eighth grade, will take over the El Nido programs and handle the Los Angeles operation for Trifecta this fall.
Shuman is optimistic. “The organization should expand nicely as it will naturally grow with Ari and me going off to college.”