Financial Planning

Experience is key: FPA University Student of the Year Award

25 February 2019

Jayson Forrest

Jayson Forrest is the managing editor of Money & Life Magazine.

The University of South Australia’s Mary Hadgis was named winner of the FPA University Student of the Year Award.

Mary Hadgis

Age: 20

University: University of South Australia

Educational qualifications: BBus (Major Finance)

Graduation: April 2019

At 20 years of age, Mary Hadgis embodies all the qualities that makes an outstanding financial planner: academic excellence, high ethical standards, terrific people skills and a genuine motivation to help people from all walks of life reach their financial goals and lifestyle aspirations.

Mary is the first student from the University of South Australia to take out the 2018 FPA University Student of the Year Award, which recognises finance students who demonstrate strong potential in the areas of accounting, banking and finance.

In winning the award, the judges not only praised Mary’s academic excellence but also her commitment to becoming a future leader within the profession, as well as being a driving force behind the University of South Australia becoming a Financial Planning Education Council (FPEC) accredited provider of a financial planning degree.

And while winning the award was an “absolute honour” for the student, who is completing a Bachelor of Business with a major in Finance, it was also something she never anticipated being in the running for.

“I knew I was up against some other outstanding candidates, so I wasn’t expecting to win this award. However, to have won it, I am truly honoured,” Mary says.

“It’s incredibly heart-warming and encouraging to see so many young people entering the profession. Coming from Adelaide, there currently aren’t many students studying financial planning, but attending the FPA Professionals Congress and seeing so many young people who are passionate about the same things as I am, has reaffirmed my decision to seek a career in financial planning.

“Winning this award has provided me with the added motivation to drive myself further and develop the skills and competency as a financial planner in this wonderful profession.”

Every single day is different

Mary confesses her decision to major in finance was a relatively easy one for her to make, having been raised in a family with a strong finance background. But first and foremost, her decision to undertake a Bachelor of Business (Finance) degree was altruistic, with Mary’s strong desire to help others with their own financial needs.

“Financial planning is about empowering people from all walks of life,” she says. “It’s not about the ‘big dollars’. It’s about helping out mums and dads; the widow down the street; or the young couple next door. That’s what I love about financial planning. Every client is different, every single day is different. So, financial planning enables me to use my passion for people and building relationships to help them with their financial goals.”

With Mary scheduled to graduate from university in April 2019, she is currently putting her skills to good use working at People’s Choice Credit Union in a graduate position.

“I started working at People’s Choice Credit Union as an intern, which involved undertaking a 14 week program, and I was fortunate enough to secure the graduate position.”

As part of her graduate role, Mary is mentored by two senior financial planners within the organisation, including a CFP® practitioner. As part of this mentoring process, Mary is not only exposed to the implementation side of financial planning but also the strategy side.

“This allows me to see things from a different perspective,” she says. “It’s practical, on-the-job training, which enables me to apply what I’ve learnt. This is much different from text book learning at uni. So, I’m incredibly fortunate to work for a company that is nurturing my growth and wants to see me develop as a professional.”

And as part of this professional development, Mary has firmly set her sights on the CFP® Certification Program as the next step in her career progression.

“I’m looking to start the CFP® Certification Program in 2019. In fact, with the profession’s new education and professional requirements, I believe the CFP® designation will become an essential part of a planner’s technical requirements.”

Generational engagement

When it comes to engaging with students, or the next generation of planners, Mary concedes the profession still has a lot to do, particularly with raising the profile of financial planning as a career choice, as well as encouraging more tertiary institutions to offer approved degrees.

In fact, with the University of South Australia not having an approved financial planning degree at the time of her studies, Mary became a driving force behind her alma mater becoming a Financial Planning Education Council (FPEC) accredited provider of a financial planning degree.

“We really need to do a better job of showing the benefits and good examples of financial planning to students, particularly as the dust settles on the Royal Commission’s findings. However, when it comes to disciplines like finance, most students only think about investment banking and the like, whereas there are other options available to them as well.”

But Mary concedes financial planning is still not widely known or considered by most tertiary students as being a viable career option, and that’s something she is hoping to change.

“In Adelaide, student awareness on campus of financial planning is low. The profession really needs to be more pro active by going to university campuses and engaging more closely with students. That would be a great way of raising awareness.

“It’s all about lifting the profile of the FPA and the profession, and showing students what financial planning actually is, instead of what the media portrays the profession to be.

“And as a career, financial planning is a viable option. That’s something we need to do a better job of conveying to all students – not just at tertiary level but also at secondary level, too.”

Taking control of your career

So, what advice does this Adelaide local have for other students considering financial planning as a career?

“My advice is fairly simple,” she says. “Just get yourself out there! Do your research, contact reputable practices and ask for work experience or an internship. That’s the best way of getting your foot in the door. I can’t emphasise the importance of getting some work experience. You just have to get yourself out there and see what the profession has to offer.”

Mary gained her “foot in the door” through social media – LinkedIn and GradConnection.

“I used both social media platforms to apply for a number of internships, and I was successful with gaining my internship with People’s Choice Credit Union. I was able to show potential employers what I could offer and that I was willing to learn.

“I also think it’s important for students to understand that in this profession, when starting out, they don’t need to know everything. This profession is about continuous learning, so you need to show that you are willing to learn, and LinkedIn and GradConnection are great places for students to begin their journey.”

And finally, Mary advises to use “word of mouth”.

“The simple act of speaking to your course co-ordinator can generate valuable leads. Students should not be daunted by making the first move and reaching out to those planners or practices they want to work with. Ultimately, it’s about you taking control of your own career path.”


The FPA congratulates the runners-up of the FPA University Student of the Year Award:

Mitchell Harrison – Deakin University (Vic)

Paul Travis – Griffith University (Qld)