Nerida Hicks often pinches herself. It feels like only yesterday, although it was close to two decades ago, that she was a young mum of twin girls, studying administration at TAFE during the day and learning touch-typing at night to re-enter the workforce.
“I wanted to work again, but I didn’t know much about computers so I went to TAFE to learn,” says Hicks, who is based in Nowra, on the south coast of NSW. “I joined a financial planning firm as a PA and started to work my way up. I was offered a position in planning and said ‘yes’ but under the proviso that I could return to PA work if I didn’t enjoy it.”
Nerida need not have worried – she loved planning. She had wanted to be a stockbroker on the floor when she left school, but that wasn’t a job that seemed open to women at the time.
Instead, it has been her stellar career in financial advice that has sated her love of economics and investments, and she has steadily progressed up the career ladder to become an owner of Bridges Financial Services in Nowra.
“About five years ago, I decided to buy out the business,” she says. “It was one of those moments that you think, ‘Well, why am I working so hard to make other people rich?
“I really have worked from the bottom floor of the planning office to the top floor, and if you had told me that this is where I would be 10 years ago, I would have struggled to believe you.”
The awards and accolades have come thick and fast.
Hicks was included on the esteemed Barron’s list of Top 50 financial planners in Australia for both 2017 and 2018.
She was nominated for Telstra Businesswoman of the Year in 2017 and 2018.
While she was chatting to Professional Planner, an email pinged in her inbox, telling her she had been nominated for the Financial Standard’s FS Power50 list of Australia’s most influential advisers – which she was also nominated for last year.
The recognition means a huge amount to Hicks and is proof, in her mind, that you don’t need to move to a capital city and join a Shadforth or a Morgan Stanley to build a successful career.
She employs five staff, many of whom have been with her for a long time, and has more than $282 million in funds under advisement.
“There is a lot of opportunity in regional centres for planners and there are also a lot of people here with a lot of money,” she says. “That is one thing I have definitely learnt: you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
The secret to her success, Hicks says, is her “ordinariness”.
“Planning is all about relationships, it’s the number one element,” she explains. “I just talk to people. I don’t focus on ticking boxes in the initial meeting or outlining investments, as I find that flows naturally when you establish a good relationship with people.”
Putting people at ease is crucial.
“I can often see the fear in clients’ eyes when they first walk in the room and afterwards they tell me that it wasn’t as bad as they thought,” she says. “I often say, ‘I’m not the dentist, don’t worry. ’ ”
Being open with clients and staff is another important part of Hicks’ ethos.
“I tell clients about my own life and I encourage clients to come in and say hi and have a coffee,” she says. “There will always be someone here who can have a quick chat with them.”
In any case, Hicks’ down-to-earth approach and her commitment to listening and building relationships with clients has defined her career.
“When I first decided to go back to TAFE and learn computer skills, and back when I decided to buy out the business, each time I took a deep breath and stepped out onto the ledge,” she says.
“And I’m so glad I did.”
Name of firm: Bridges Investment Services
Name of licensee (if not self-licensed): Bridges Investment Services
Time in the industry (previous jobs?): 20 years
Academic qualifications: Diploma of financial planning
Accreditations: Fellow chartered financial planner
Professional association memberships: Association of Financial Advisers