Jayson Forrest is the managing editor of Money & Life Magazine.
Swan Hill planner,Erica Cummins AFP® is the sixth woman to win the Gwen Fletcher Memorial Award for being the highest achieving student in Semester 1 of the CFP® Certification Unit. She talks about what this achievement means to her.
Age should never be a barrier or excuse when it comes to learning. It’s a view held closely by Swan Hill planner, Erica Cummins AFP®, who took a 13-year hiatus from her CFP® Certification studies back in 2003 to concentrate on raising her three children.
But it seems her break in studies did the trick, with the 36-year-old taking out the Gwen Fletcher Memorial Award for being the highest achieving student in Semester 1 of the CFP® Certification Unit.
Even Erica admits to being surprised and “more than a little humbled” by the achievement.
“Back in 2003, my focus was on raising a family. There are times, particularly for a mother, when life does get in the way. That was the case for me, but the thought of returning to my studies and finishing the CFP® Certification Program was never far from my thoughts,” she says.
It’s a wonderful long-range achievement for an individual with a financial services career spanning 19 years.
“I more or less fell into financial planning,” Erica admits. “I started an administration traineeship in a financial planning practice, mid-way through Year 11.
“Somewhat fortuitously that same week, RMIT University advertised its Bachelor of Business degree with a major in financial planning. That was something that really appealed to me, so I signed up for it.”
Value education and learning
Having successfully completed her degree with distinction in 2002, and with a blossoming career as a paraplanner, Erica finally transitioned across to a financial planning role in 2013. But completion of the CFP® Certification Program was something that nagged her.
“The CFP® designation had always been on my radar,” Erica says. “The planner who I first started working with was a CFP® professional, and the importance he placed on this designation was something that rubbed off on me.”
But after her studies took a backseat to marriage and raising a family in 2003, 13 years later, Erica was ready to hit the books again and finally complete the CFP® Certification Program.
“The kids were a bit older and off to primary school, so I had a bit more time to dedicate to my career. This included refreshing some of my technical knowledge and there was no better way of doing that than through the CFP® Certification Program.”
But Erica didn’t underestimate the challenges involved in juggling the demands of three young children and a full-time planning career, before resuming her studies.
“Looking back now, it was challenging,” she laughs. “But I received a lot of support from family, friends and work colleagues, which has been invaluable. I think it was most important I had the support of my family, particularly during times when I needed to take the time to study.”
In fact, with Erica’s husband having recently completed his Bachelors degree, she says it was a good learning experience for her children to see the value their parents placed on education and continuing learning.
“I really believe it’s important to never stop learning,” she says. “We all need to constantly challenge ourselves and step outside our comfort zone. That’s how we grow as individuals. So, I was glad to show my children firsthand the importance we placed on studying and learning.”
Tips and insights are invaluable
In fact, educational excellence is something Erica is familiar with, having been named the top student for CFP 3 last year. She even agreed to present a webinar to the program’s CFP 3 students in semester 1, while completing her final unit — although it’s something she speaks modestly about.
“The webinar I did was relatively short — about 7 minutes. As a student, I always enjoyed hearing from previous students about their tips for the unit of study. So, providing my own insights was a great opportunity to give back to other students. Hopefully, I’ve provided some tips to students that will make their studies a little bit easier.”
So, what are some of Erica’s study tips for students of the program?
She says her top tip is to have a ‘study partner’.
“I had a study partner for three of the five units I did, and he helped to keep me accountable for my studies. Otherwise, it would have been too easy for life to get in the way and put things off,” Erica says.
“We had a weekly phone call or Skype session, where we set our study goals, like discussing topic 1 this week and then topic 2 the following week. That accountability made a big difference for me, otherwise, I could have ended up a few weeks out from an assignment deadline, having not even started it.”
High standard of students
Although it’s taken 15 years to complete – admittedly, with a fairly long break in between – Erica doesn’t regret the time, commitment and self-sacrifice it’s taken to complete the CFP® Certification Program. And while patience may be a virtue, she acknowledges the benefits that come from being a CFP® professional.
“Having successfully completed the CFP® Certification Program, I believe it’s made me a better professional, as it has deepened my understanding of many advice areas. I also believe CFP® Certification provides clients with the confidence they are dealing with a professional who has an internationally recognised designation.”
So, it’s fitting that someone who places such high value in education and the CFP® Mark, has taken out the Gwen Fletcher Memorial Award for semester 1 of the CFP® Certification Unit. But what does it mean to Erica to win such a prestigious award?
“It’s an absolute honour to win this award,” she says. “While I didn’t know Gwen personally, I know a lot about her. Gwen was a prominent industry identity, who did so much for financial planning. The technical quality and high standard of students completing this program was excellent, so to win this award is a wonderful achievement — not just for me, but for all past and future recipients.”
Erica is the sixth woman, out of a total of eight award recipients, to win this award. She says she is encouraged to see more women making a career out of financial planning.
“Women are still under-represented in the profession, so I think it’s fantastic that more women are studying to achieve the CFP® designation,” she says. “Hopefully, it’s a sign there are more women stepping up into these leading financial planning advising roles, and bringing to the table a different skill set.”
In congratulating Erica, FPA chief executive officer, Dante De Gori CFP® says Erica’s outstanding results are “a testament to her commitment and dedication to advancing her career through gaining the CFP® designation”.
“I look forward to welcoming Erica into our growing CFP® professional community,” De Gori says.
The Gwen Fletcher Memorial Award was established in 2014 in memory of Gwen Fletcher AM, who was considered by many to be the ‘first lady’ of financial planning.
The award honours in perpetuity the memory of Gwen Fletcher, and supports one of her key legacies in her lifelong endeavours to champion the vital role of education and its central importance in nurturing the financial planning profession.
Gwen Fletcher was not only a respected financial planner but also an educator and mentor, and helped shape the industry into an emerging profession. She was also responsible for bringing the CFP® Mark to Australia in 1990.
The Gwen Fletcher Memorial Award is presented each semester to the highest achieving student in the CFP® Certification Unit, which covers all three required assessments in the CFP® Certification Program.
As part of the award, recipients receive a certificate of recognition, a complementary ticket for the FPA Professionals Congress and $1,000, which is funded by the FPA.
For students undertaking the CFP® Certification Program, advanced standings may apply, depending on previous study.
For example, students can progress to a Masters degree to meet CFP® Certification Program entry (with exemptions for CFP 2, CFP 3 and CFP 4 in most cases) or add CFP 1, CFP 2, CFP 3 or CFP 4 to achieve a ‘Masters equivalent’ to meet the degree requirement.
Some education providers will allow you to count your FPA study towards a Masters degree as ‘cross credits’. If you completed an approved postgraduate program less than 10 years ago and have a degree, advanced standings for CFP 2-4 may apply.