2016 AMP University Challenge winners Team MDM (L to R): Daniel Petrov, Megan Cull and Mitchell Bogdanov.

Competing in the AMP University Challenge convinced co-winner Megan Cull that she wanted to pursue a career in financial planning. And for fellow finalist Erika Wright, taking part in the challenge led to a position as a financial planner with Integrated Wealth Solutions, a Securitor practice in Nowra, on the NSW south coast.

Cull and Wright were each on one of the five teams that contested Finals Day of the 2016 challenge. On October 27 this year, five new teams, made up of 11 total students will compete in the final of the 2017 challenge at AMP’s Sydney headquarters. This year’s finalists represent five institutions – four universities and TAFE NSW – that offer financial planning degree courses (see table).

2017 AMP University Challenge finalists
Student Team University/institution
Aiden Dela Cruz Getting Old and Dying Western Sydney University
Jacob Robach Getting Old and Dying Western Sydney University
Timothy Veloso Getting Old and Dying Western Sydney University
Artur Kurnikov Griffith Elite Group Griffith University
Monica Rayos Griffith Elite Group Griffith University
Jacob Kaczkowski JaCa TAFE NSW – Higher Education
Clive Moyo JaCa TAFE NSW – Higher Education
Patrick Egstorf Sequoia Advisory University of Queensland
Angus Kizil Sequoia Advisory University of Queensland
Sean McBurnie Sequoia Advisory University of Queensland
Kimberley Guild Kimberley Guild La Trobe University


This year, each team will be required to do research to produce an eight-minute presentation on which new initiatives could be introduced into the financial planning profession to reduce the escalating burden of funding a growing number of retirees. The presentation accounts for 20 per cent of a team’s overall mark on the day.

Both Cull and Wright consider taking part in the 2016 event pivotal in their respective careers. During Finals Day last year, Cull presented a Statement of Advice to two clients, role-played by two AMP Horizons recruitment consultants.

“Just having that audience there and the panel of judges was a little bit off-putting, but I am really glad I was involved in that part of the challenge because it made me decide I wanted to pursue financial advising as a career,” Cull says.

As part of the client meeting, Cull explained the use of a mortgage offset account to save money and pay off a mortgage faster.

“It was a mock role-play, but the clients were quite happy they could pay off their mortgage in half the amount of time and save a lot of money in interest as well,” Cull says. “Seeing the value and the benefit of advice and that client interaction made me want to pursue financial planning.”

Even beforehand, Cull understood some of what Finals Day would entail. She was briefed beforehand by Deakin University associate professor Adrian Raftery and senior lecturer Marc Olynyk, whose students had competed in the challenge in previous years – but even they couldn’t predict everything.

During the role-playing session, one of the clients received a phone call presenting an opportunity to buy an investment property. This didn’t fit comfortably into the plan Cull and her teammates had drawn up, and she was forced to think on her feet.

“I thought something might come up in the meeting that would throw me off, but I couldn’t prepare for it, so when it came up, it was still a surprise,” she says.

After graduating from university, Cull applied to the AMP Horizons Adviser Academy, undertaking three weeks’ online training and three weeks’ residential training, followed by 23 weeks of paid employment at AMP’s Melbourne Horizons office. After a weeklong break, she started on October 9 this year with Capital Wealth Advisers, a Charter Financial Planning practice in the Melbourne CBD, as an associate adviser.

“I’m involved in the admin side, a support advice role,” Cull says. “At the beginning of the process, I’m involved in researching clients’ existing policies, and then I’m also involved at the end of the process with the implementation of advice…The other part of the role is advice, and I’ll be meeting with my own clients and providing advice to my own clients.”

Cull says University Challenge Finals Day was a productive, confidence-inspiring experience.
“They’re not there to see you fail and they’re not there to criticise you, it’s just to give you feedback,” Cull says. “If you don’t do a good job, they’re not going to sit there and laugh at you and be mean to you, they’re just going to give you constructive feedback so you can better yourself as an adviser.”

Competing solo against teams

While Cull was part of the winning three-member Team MDM, along with fellow Deakin University students Daniel Petrov and Mitchell Bogdanov, Wright competed in the 2016 challenge solo. She handled all of the day’s events on her own, including a public speaking session.

Wright says it wasn’t necessarily her intention to enter the competition on her own, but it was a natural extension of the coursework she was doing at the University of Wollongong.

“It was a very positive day but you needed to be very dedicated and focused to last through all those challenges, particularly if you’re an individual,” she says. “If you’re part of a team, I guess you get time to switch off or enjoy and relax a little bit more during the day and just focus on your own part of the competition. But for myself, it was quite full on. I was exhausted at the end of the day.”

Almost 12 months after the event, Wright says she considers it to have been well worth the time and effort, and the experience has helped her career. She took part in the challenge before completing her degree in mid-2017 and joining Integrated Wealth Solutions.

“When I applied for this role, I was recognised because of the University Challenge, and because of the supporting media as well,” she says. “I think it helped that my team name was Erika Wright, and that was splashed everywhere. My name was recognised…That was really pleasant to find. I think it enhanced my opportunity of getting this role.”

Wright says a client case study submission that forms the basis of an entry to the challenge was embedded in the course she was doing at UoW.

“There’s the fact-find in there, and as students in the class I attended, we had to use that as the basis for our major assignment,” Wright says. “I’d done all of that already. You don’t do it in teams in the subject, you do it individually. So I entered [the challenge] individually. I just thought, ‘I’ve done all the work myself anyway.’ In hindsight, I wish someone who was a bit stronger on public speaking had been invited into my group.

“I was fully prepared for it and I psyched myself up, but as soon as I was standing there in front of the judges, I kind of caved a little bit. I haven’t watched that video. I can’t.”

Wright says the experience of Finals Day and her mock client interview, which involved presenting a financial plan and strategy and associated aspects of compliance, were instructive on how to make sure clients understand recommendations, and why recommendations must be in the clients’ best interests.

“Those sort of things that are fundamental to a planner, they have helped me now,” she says. “I know a lot of people thought [feedback from the judges] was quite harsh, but I love that constructive criticism. You can speak to me quite frankly and I’m not going to get upset. I take it on and I try to incorporate that into my style. I found that really beneficial, the feedback from the judges.”

Wright says conducting the interview in front of an audience and judges was daunting, but dealing with clients holistically is one of the most appealing aspects of the job.

“You’re having discussions with them about even general interests that they have,” she says. “That’s got nothing to do with the strategies they’re recommended, it’s just, ‘What have they been doing?’ ‘What are they doing on the weekend?’ or ‘How are the kids?’ All of those things. That was a big part of the [University Challenge] marking criteria last year but, from discussions I had after, I think it changes each year.”

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