It was a costly “hot tip” on a speculative mining stock that gave Gwen Fletcher Memorial Award winner Sunitha Chamala the drive and passion to become a financial planner.

Chamala (pictured) had been lucky in financial literacy. From a young age, her grandfather bought small parcels of shares in her name and taught her about the stockmarket.

That’s why after two years of slogging away as a Subway sandwich artist for about $6 an hour, saving more than $8000, she wanted to invest it.

“A relative said it was a stock ‘you can’t go wrong with’ and so being young and naive I put the whole lot into one speccy mining stock, which of course in six months had halved in value,” Chamala says.

It was a devastating mistake, and left a clear impact on her.

“It was a real realisation on how important it is to make really informed decisions,” she says.

“Now I look at the balance sheet and see it was bound to happen; the mining company had no cash flow.

“It was a life lesson not to take anyone’s advice, even someone you trust, but to ask advice and seek information before making any investment decision.”

 Stop this happening to others

It is no surprise that a desire to stop this happening to others led Chamala straight to a career in financial planning.

Working as an associate wealth adviser at BDO in Brisbane combined her love of finance with an intense curiosity and joy in meeting new people and learning about how they have accumulated wealth.

“It’s also about helping set people up so they don’t make the same mistake I did, and then helping them achieve their ultimate goals,” she says.

Her own goal is to do everything to the best of her abilities, a trait that helped her win the Gwen Fletcher Memorial Award for topping the CFP certification program.

“Ever since I was a young age I’ve been taught that education is the key to building your future, so it just made sense being in this industry to want to achieve the highest designation possible and give clients the confidence that I’m committed to a high professional and ethical standard,” she says. “I didn’t even see it as an option [not to do it].”

Prepared to hear the worst

The award was a surprise. In fact, when called by Judy Saunders at the Financial Planning Association, Chamala was prepared to hear the worst: that she had failed.