FPA University Student of the Year 2021: Nicole Gardner

22 February 2022

Money & Life team

Money & Life contributors draw on their diverse range of experience to present you with insights and guidance that will help you manage your financial wellbeing, achieve your lifestyle goals and plan for your financial future.

An interest in discovering people’s stories and her passion for supporting them towards financial independence have both kept FPA University Student of the Year award winner Nicole Gardner motivated to achieve at a high level during her course of studies.

EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS: Bachelor of Business (Financial Planning) RMIT

POSITION: Provisional Financial Adviser

PRACTICE: Acquire Strategic Advisers

LICENSEE: Capstone

As a mature age student and working mother of three, Nicole Gardner has shown just how much can be achieved when you’re highly motivated and organised. For her Bachelor of Business degree at RMIT, she performed at a consistently high level, receiving a high distinction grade in eight units, and reaching distinction level for nine.

To stay focussed on her degree while working and raising a family took a disciplined approach from Nicole as well as practical support from her family. “Juggling motherhood, life admin, kids’ sports and family dinners while working fulltime and studying is definitely a challenge,” she says. “I have to be extremely organised, disciplined with my time and focused on the end goal. I also have a very supportive husband which helps. Learning to accept help and support from others has been a challenge for me, but I’ve improved in recent years. I no longer see accepting help as a sign of failure – it’s a sign of strength.”

Nicole Gardner
FPA University Student of the Year 2021

A promising start

Nicole’s determination to get things done and her aptitude for learning served her well throughout her time at school. However, she also came up against obstacles that made her doubt her ability to work in a profession like financial planning. “I was always a good student with a love of learning,” she says. “In primary school, my teachers arranged for me to take extra classes with a group called PEAC (Primary Extension and Challenge) – a programme designed to challenge and further the education of children at top academic levels.

“At high school my favourite subjects were economics, science, maths and music. I asked to join a maths club that some of the boys were involved with where they received extra coaching from the teacher. Both the members of the club and teacher told me this wasn’t a thing for girls. I took the teacher’s advice to focus my efforts on English instead and went on to win awards in Year 12 for the highest marks in English and Music.”

People and their stories

While Nicole took pride in her high school achievements and went on to study for a degree in Communications and Journalism at Edith Cowan University, she had already dismissed her ability to work in a role where strong mathematical ability was required. “At that time, I would never have considered a path in finance, based on the belief that I was not good at maths,” she says. “But studying for my first degree did allow me to pursue my passion for uncovering stories. I wanted to be an investigative journalist like Liz Hayes or Jana Wendt, exposing social injustice. But, as I began to learn more about the media, how it was owned and operated, I became disillusioned with the industry and chose not to follow that path.”

This interest in people and their stories has been a strength Nicole has played to in developing her skills and passion for financial planning. “I was first exposed to financial planning when I started working in banking more than a decade ago,” she says. “My office was next to a financial planner’s and I would often ‘sit in’ on appointments for clients I had referred to them. That’s when I realised I wanted to add more value and help people in the same way the financial planners did.

“I love talking to people. I love learning about who they are, what makes them tick, where they’ve been and where they plan on going. I think having a genuine interest in people and understanding their story is an important quality for a financial planner to have. And it’s the smiles and success stories I see and hear from clients every day that keep me feeling  so positive about being a financial planner. Hearing them talk about the intangible benefits of having a financial plan is so rewarding – the relief of having a plan, the clarity on their goals, the security in knowing where they’re heading and how to get there, the free time they now have back in their lives, the improved relationship with their partner – the list goes on.”

Family values

Nicole’s insight into the benefits of financial planning through her role in banking was just part of the personal story that led her to study for her financial planning degree in 2016. Having seen the financial stress her mother went through after experiencing a series of negative life events, Nicole was determined to do her part to protect other vulnerable individuals.

“At age 42, Mum was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease and not long after her diagnosis, her marriage to my Dad ended,” she says. “She found herself with no income, no insurance, no super and no certainty about her financial future and on top of this, a serious disease to fight. It was a terrible situation. As her health became progressively worse, my brother and I assisted Mum into an aged care facility. She was only 53 but there were no other services that suited someone of her age and with her health condition. Sadly, she passed away at age 59.

“I can’t help but think how different her situation would have been if she had some financial independence. There might have been more opportunities for her to enjoy the fun things in life; travelling, fine dining, trips away with friends, spending time with her grandchildren, gardening and shopping. This is why I’m passionate about pursuing a career in financial planning. I want to help as many people as I can to have a plan in place, to improve their financial situation and to generate some wealth, so that no matter what life brings, they will have the security and freedom to live their good life.”

New year, new goal

Never one to take things easy, Nicole has gone on to study for her Masters in Financial Planning with Kaplan. On completing the course she will also receive her CFP® designation. She was also successful in her application for an FPA Women in Finance scholarship towards her course fees.

“Things haven’t really slowed down since I completed my degree at RMIT in 2020,” says Nicole. “I’m now in the middle of my professional year with Acquire Strategic Advisers in Brisbane. I started out with Tribeca in Melbourne before relocating for family reasons and I’m continuing with that part of my financial planning qualification here in Queensland. With six months to go to complete my professional year and my Masters I have some big goals ahead of me this year. Looking beyond that, I hope to work my way up to being a senior planner so I can be a mentor to encourage others to help their clients in the same way as I intend to.

“As an FPA award winner, I hope to inspire others – especially women, mature age students and parents – to realise that you can do these things if you want to. It’s never too late to study or to change your career path. You can make it work and I’m proof of that.”

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