Azaria Bell may only be in her early-20s, but she’s about to become what most advisers want to be: a financial planning university graduate.
The aspiring adviser has not only received an impressive amount of industry recognition – being a finalist for the Money Management Women in Financial Services 2018 Young Achiever and winning the Financial Planning Association’s (FPA’s) 2017 University Student of the Year are two of her recent accolades – but she’s also on track to meet the Financial Adviser Standards and Ethics Authority’s (FASEA’s) incoming requirements before most planners much older than her.
Considering Bell has just finished her bachelor degree – her final exam was, in fact, this month – Money Management sought her tips on how to navigate financial planning studies and why her degree will make her a better adviser.
Benefits of hitting the books
While advisers are probably sick of being told the benefits of the university education that many feel is being forced on them, Bell urges them to keep an open mind.
“I think studying financial planning, and doing a degree in general, teaches you discipline and the concept of short term sacrifice for long term gain,” she says.
Bell also notes that while many advisers are well informed across their particular areas of expertise, they will still need to put in the hard yards to gain their degrees.
“There is no doubt the majority of good advisers are knowledgeable on the subject matters they’ll be studying, however often at university, knowing the answer alone isn’t enough to succeed,” she says.
“Utilise university resources including referencing tools and academic writing workshops, and don’t be afraid to learn from those around you,” Bell recommends. “The internet is full of great resources. In particular, I’ve found that YouTube has helped me greatly with study tips and concentration methods.”
The synergy of academic and practical experience
Although many advisers understandably lament that their years of work experience should be better recognised by FASEA as comparable to what they’ll learn at university, there’s truth to the argument that they will gain more by undertaking both study and practice.
Bell believes that her degree “taught me a lot of crucial information”. She now has a strong understanding of financial services legislation, for example, which she’s found isn’t something you deeply analyse in your working life on a daily basis.
She also cites her degree as a good introduction to writing statements of advice and reports for clients that are easy-to-read, which is an area where clients often feel the industry can improve.
At the same time however, Bell’s industry experience (she currently works at Stonehouse Group in Brisbane) has also been instrumental in her development.
“It is easy to memorise numbers and concepts, but this information can be meaningless without real life context,” she says. “Working in the industry has been invaluable for learning the soft skills and developing an understanding of how our clients’ minds work.
“Certain traits, such as approachability, empathy and confidence, can’t be taught … I’m not sure a textbook can prepare you for a client breaking down in tears in your office.”
In this, the combination of her academic and practical experience has served Bell well: “Working and studying simultaneously helped immensely with understanding advice delivery,” she says.
Overcoming the challenges of study
As some advisers and industry groups have worried, going back to study will increase the workloads of those already working. Indeed, Bell cites balancing university, work, and having a social life as the biggest challenge of her studies.
“Add family commitments into the mix, and I imagine this gets even more difficult,” she says. “I understand for a lot of people, studying means taking a step back from work and reducing income. It is not easy, but it is important to keep the end goal in mind.”
It’s little wonder, with these time commitments, that one of Bell’s main priorities now she’s finished her last exam is catching up on five years of Netflix!
In this vein, the soon-to-be graduate reiterates the need for those studying to find time for themselves, too.
“It is easy to have the pressures of study, work, and your personal life build up and have a negative impact on your mental health,” she says, adding that there’s no shame in reaching out for help if it all becomes overwhelming.
And for the advisers who push through, she promises that “the feeling you get when you finish that last exam makes it all worth it”.