The SIU student team advances to the national business competition after beating the top schools in the regional competitions

Members of the SIU's Deloitte FanTAXtic Team 2022-23

Members of SIU’s 2022-23 Deloitte FanTAXtic team are (from left) Lexie Lingle, Ben Morgan, Jayda Smith, Matthew Carrazco and Mackenzie Piazza. Photo by Russell Bailey

November 15, 2022

The SIU student team advances to the national business competition after beating the top schools in the regional competitions

by Christ Mathis

CARBONDALE, Illinois — A business student team from Southern Illinois University Carbondale heads into a national business solutions competition after taking top honors in the regional round in which the Salukis defeated two of the nation’s best players of the last two years. The achievement is made even more notable by the fact that SIU is entering the Deloitte FanTAXtic Case Competition for the first time, which presents students with a realistic business challenge and encourages them to present solutions that address business and tax implications.

Across the country, hundreds of students from more than 40 colleges and universities competed in eight regional competitions sponsored by Deloitte Tax LLP, with the top two teams from each region advancing. SIU was a Region 5 winner, outperforming the competition that included the 2020 national winner, Truman State University, Baylor University and other strong contenders. The University of Northern Iowa, the runner-up in the 2021 national competition, is the other university advancing to Region 5 nationals.

The members of the Saluki team are:

  • Mackenzie Piazza, Senior Accounting and Finance Major from Normal, Illinois.
  • Matthew Carrazco, a junior accounting major Des Plaines, Illinois.
  • Lexie Lingle, a sophomore accounting major Anna, Illinois.
  • Jayda Smith, a sophomore accounting major Marion, Illinois.
  • Ben Morgan, a freshman finance major from Kankakee, Illinois.

Tim Hurley, Clinical Assistant Professor of Accounting, serves as the team’s faculty advisor.

Piazza said she was excited to enter the team competition as soon as she found out about it.

“Deloitte is one of the top-grossing professional services companies in the world,” she said, “and I wanted to help show them that SIU has high-performing students who would benefit from being hired into their company.”

She also wanted to prove to herself and everyone that SIU has what it takes to compete with top schools from across the country. She and her teammates believe they did just that.

Take on a real challenge

The competition provides experiential learning that complements students’ classroom instruction to prepare the next generation of talent for careers in business and tax, Hurley said, as it provides students with an opportunity to solve a complex, real-world tax problem. The competition’s interactive format includes case simulations, role-plays and presentations that provide students with insight and perspective on the challenges facing the profession today, future trends and the changing corporate tax market. Deloitte Tax LLP professionals, managers and partners provide support and guidance to students throughout the competition and act as clients.

Each group of students at the university was given a specific case, a “client” who owns a business and wants to start a new, separate business. To fund the startup, the owner could sell one of its three investments: two different types of stock or Federal I-Bonds. Which option would offer the lowest total tax liability based on the customer’s personal situation and existing business income? What type of business entity should the client then form, based on tax and other business considerations in light of the financial projections provided by the client? Those were the questions the SIU team had to consider and then come up with detailed recommendations along with the data to support their position.

In the regional Zoom contest late last month, contestants had to create a PowerPoint file illustrating their recommendation, give an oral presentation, and then answer questions from the judges. Hurley said the competition helps students improve their problem-solving, teamwork and public speaking skills and offers them a valuable opportunity to see what a career in tax is like.

Piazza knew that in preparing for the competition, the tax-oriented research and work of making tax decisions as in real businesses, getting the numbers, and proving the validity of recommendations and other aspects of the competition would be similar to what she would encounter in of their accounting career and it is an invaluable experience.

“When we started preparing for this competition, everything was new to me, but I just tried to apply what I learned in the class I’m taking this year and it worked,” said Carrazco.

Hard work and many hours involved

Lingle said the competition offers a unique opportunity to test her skills, research and discover strengths while learning about tax in general and collaborating with other SIU business students.

The Saluki team spent 5-7 hours a week researching the Internal Revenue Code and calculating the tax liabilities of various decisions the “client” was considering, Piazza said. After taking regular accounting and business classes, they met to “dive deep into tax issues that many entrepreneurs and successful businesses need to consider.”

“We spent a lot of time working alone, meeting in the library and practicing via Zoom,” Lingle said. She said that although it was hard work and time-consuming with a lot of trial and error, it was also a lot of fun.

“Each team member worked very hard to complete their pieces and help the other group members when needed,” she said.

Lingle and Smith were together when the results were announced and they were pleasantly surprised and very excited. “I’m so proud of the hard work of my teammates,” Lingle said. “We worked very well as a group and had no trouble demonstrating our skills on this project.”

Piazza agreed, saying after spending so much time researching and putting together the control slides, followed by several hours of practicing the presentation leading up to the day of the competition, “it felt like a huge load was lifted off our shoulders was taken and everything else our hard work had paid off. It was also very exciting to know that we outperformed some of the top accounting programs in the country to beat them and earn a place to move forward.”

Hurley said the team’s work and dedication is very impressive.

He noted that while he gave the team pointers and general information about the competition, they did all the preparation and actual competition work themselves. What’s more, they achieved victory even though only two of the students had an actual tax class at this point in their college careers, though they have different business-class experiences, he said.

“These students are very busy, not just with classes and schoolwork, but also with work and other extracurricular activities,” Hurley said. “They are motivated, goal-oriented professionals who worked hard to win this competition. They all were. That makes it even more impressive.”

Benna Williams, the School of Accountancy’s program coordinator and associate professor and CPA, said the students represented their university well.

“I’m very proud of our students for their hard work and dedication to this competition,” she said, “and I’m grateful to Professor Hurley for leading the team to such a great achievement and opportunity.”

Future Benefits

The win will look “amazing” on her resume, Smith said. “I think employers will be really impressed.”

Smith said that through hard work and what she learned at SIU, she has already completed an internship at Hudgens and Meyer LLC in Marion and completed another internship for the winter and summer of 2024 at Grant Thornton LLC’s St. Louis office Has. Coupled with winning the competition, her SIU experience and education gives her a great start to her accounting career.

The students are now preparing intensively for the FanTAXtic competition from January 20th to 22nd, 2023 at Deloitte University in Westlake, Texas. SIU will enter 15 competitors in the personal competition sponsored by Deloitte Tax LLP with support from the Deloitte Foundation.

“We’re going into national competition and we’re excited to continue learning and taking on the challenges as a team,” said Piazza, noting that the teammates have become good friends so it means even more, harder on analysis collaborate on tax situations. “We are pleased to continue to prove that Salukis can compete with the leading accounting programs in the country.”

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