The winner of the 2015 AMP University Challenge says he plans to explore opportunities to work as a financial planner overseas, including in the UK and Africa.

Deakin University pulled off a quinella in the 2015 event, with its teams of financial planning students taking first and second places.

Patrick Rowe picked up the winner’s cheque for $4000, a one-year student membership of the Financial Planning Association (FPA), complimentary registration to the 2015 FPA Professionals Congress and the 2016 AMP Advice Summit, as well as textbooks from CCH and a 12-month subscription to Professional Planner.

Rowe (pictured at right with Mark Brimble, Amelia Constantinidis and Michael Paff) also won a $2500 grant for his university.

Finalists in the 2015 challenge ranged in age from 20 to 35, and from second- to sixth-year students, representing three universities: University of Canberra, Australian National University and Deakin University.

A total of 367 students registered for the challenge this year, including a record number of female students.

It was Rowe’s second time at the university challenge. In 2013 he entered, made the final and finished fifth. He says his experiences in the 2015 challenge have convinced him that working overseas as a financial planner is a viable career option.

“My nan was born in England so I’ve got access to a certain type of visa that’s pretty unrestrictive,” he says.

“My girlfriend is from England, so there’s a pretty good chance I’ll spend a couple of years in the UK, hopefully doing financial planning-based stuff. And then after that, I don’t know – that’s a lot of years away. I recognise plans are pretty likely to change pretty quick, especially at my age.”

Translates more simply

Rowe says he believes financial planning translates more simply into other jurisdictions than other professions, such as law.

“I spoke to Sarah [Foley, recruitment team leader, advice recruitment and professional development] and I asked her that question, and she said it isn’t a direct swap – you don’t just go from here to there – but it is less onerous than trying to do it for law.

“I did look that up, and there’s quite a lot of additional study and training you have to do. Whereas I think, from what Sarah was saying, with financial planning it’s a bit easier to get in somewhere and work and learn the differences, because at the end of the day, with financial planning, it’s about your people skills.

“Naturally, I’d say I’ve probably got a knack for the financial side of it, and that’s not actually been complicated for me ever, to learn that stuff. What university teaches is the need to understand the compliance stuff, and then the way to communicate with clients. It’s all people-based.

“With the regulations, it’s easier to do financial planning in the UK than [to do] law. It’s quite a transitional occupation. I wouldn’t mind living in Africa for a year at some point if I could, too, and I reckon it would be easier to get in and do paraplanning and [then] learn the differences in financial products.”

Feedback is constructive

Rowe says the feedback and insights provided by the challenge judges is constructive and helpful for students considering a career in financial planning.

“Lisa [Barber, director and principal of Hillross Aspire Wealth] spoke about the impact that women having children and being out of the workforce for quite a while has on their superannuation, and the astonishing figures that suggest however many women retire in poverty,” Rowe says.

“That shocked me a little bit. There’s got to be ways to overcome that.”

Rowe says that in 2015 he was adamant that he could do better than in 2013.

“I was off last year gallivanting around the world, and you do learn things from that,” he says.

“Things you have learned you kind of forget, so I thought it was a good opportunity to brush up on what I had learned and my skills and try to stay relevant in the industry a little bit – as relevant as a student can be.

“Last time was really fun. If you make it to the finals it’s a great package. You get flown up, and flown back. I’ve extended my stay, so I’ll go from the luxury Quay West at $200-whatever a night, to my mate’s kitchen floor in Bondi. But it’s a great opportunity, the chance to come and speak to these guys who are at the top of the game and get a bit of insight.”

Rowe says he first learned about the university challenge from his lecturer at Deakin University, Michael Clemens, in 2012.

“Michael mentioned that he head some students doing this. He probably mentioned there was prize money up for grabs,” Rowe says.

He says he entered the competition on his own, rather than being part of a team, “honestly, because of the thought of the prize money, and I didn’t want to split it”.

“I probably could have sought out some students to do it with,” he says.

“I probably could have done it with my brother. If that was the case we’d definitely have to have some sort of arrangement where [even] if AMP says it’s meant to be an even split, I’m older so he’d only get 30 per cent.”

Benefits and insights

L – R: Amelia Constantinidis,
Patrick Rowe, Adrian Raftery

Dr Adrian Raftery, a senior lecturer in financial planning and superannuation at Deakin University’s School of Accounting, Economics and Finance, says students who take part in the challenge gain a number of benefits and insights.

“The ultimate benefit for them is getting some type of national recognition that they actually are on the right track,” Raftery says.

“Even just the feedback they receive, even if they did poorly in one part of the task, they got tremendous benefit out of it. Just having it on your CV, because they are in the job market now and it’s a competitive job market, if you can have ‘finalist’ or fifth or fourth or third place in a national competition with all financial planning students, you’re going to have a huge advantage in that job market. [Employers] are going to be jumping over themselves when they see that in the resumes.

“There were 365 entrants, so it’s quite a reasonable number. And the judging panel was saying it’s the best calibre yet. It’s a competitive environment, it’s not a mickey mouse competition. They get tested in terms of technical skills … in not so much what is the concessional contribution limit – not simple yes and no – but thinking a bit deeper and having a look at what’s written in Professional Planner magazine – current events they need to have knowledge about as well. That ended up being quite a difficult task.

“Then they had to present a statement of advice, and talk about a topic. As much as anything else, you can teach all the technical skills to the students but the presentation skills are what mums and dads see. And if they can master that over time, that’s the first step of the financial planning process, building the planner-client relationship. It all comes down to communication.”

While communicating and “selling” advice are often seen as soft skills, Raftery says that the Financial Planning Education Council (FPEC) national curriculum guidelines make it clear the so-called soft skills are “core skills required by any financial planner”.

“Whether it’s building client relationships, or managing client relationships, it’s that ability to communicate,” Raftery says.

Calibre increases each year

At the awards ceremony in Sydney on Monday, AMP’s head of advice recruitment and professional development, Amelia Constantinidis, said the calibre of entrants in the challenge increases each year.

“It’s a fantastic outcome today,” she said.

“Some of you actually said to me this morning you were feeling quite calm – I think as the day progressed with each presentation we definitely saw the nerves, but you all came out really, really strong, so well done.”

Michael Paff, director of channel services for AMP said it is “great, if you think about increasing professionalism across the industry, seeing many talented young university students coming and wanting to be part of this”.

“It’s something we’re immensely proud of, and it’s great to see it grow over time,” he said.

“And it’s great that you’re investing in the growth of yourselves as individuals. I know it would have been challenging … but really that’s the only way you learn and grow, so hopefully you’ve taken something out of that.”

Judging panel member Dr Mark Brimble, head of finance and financial planning, Griffith University, said it was “wonderful from my side of the table, as it were, and as an educator in this country of financial planning and finance students, to see what collectively the university community is producing in this field”.

2015 AMP University Challenge – results

  • Fifth place: Nehra Chopra – Australian National University
  • Fourth place: Team CE (Casey Mills, Edmund Moepswa) – University of Canberra
  • Third place: Team Sam & Beth (Samantha Albiez, Beth Miller) – University of Canberra
  • Runner-up: HRS Wealth Management (Chenxiao Hu, Eileen Reid, David Studley) – Deakin University
  • Winner: Patrick Rowe – Deakin University

2015 AMP University Challenge judges:

  • Associate Professor Mark Brimble, head of finance and financial planning, Griffith University
  • Dante de Gori, general manager policy and conduct, Financial Planning Association
  • Lisa Barber, director and principal, Hillross Aspire Wealth
  • Andrew Heaven, AMP financial planner, Wealth Partners
Simon Hoyle is head of market insight for CoreData Research.
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