A lot can happen in four years - just ask UniSuper private client adviser Nicky Dwyer CFP®.
In the last four years she has changed jobs, started a family and studied for - and attained - her Certified Financial Planner certification.
I feel it really pays to have a bit of experience under your belt before jumping into the CFP, that's the biggest thing. On the job experience gives you so much more relativity.
In her own words, it's been a hard slog.
But it was all worth it when she found out she was to be awarded the Financial Planning Association of Australia's Gwen Fletcher Memorial Award for semester two of 2019, having achieved the highest score in the CFP certification exam. That is, of course, after the FPA had managed to convince her it wasn't some cruel practical joke.
"You look at the people who have received the award before and you know they must be amazing because you also know what a toil it is to get through that whole CFPC subject," Dwyer says.
"For little old me to get a phone call and be told 'Nicky, you've won it' - I was on the phone trying to work out whose voice it was because I was certain they were playing a prank on me."
It's an incredible achievement, particularly given that after four years of hard work, she would have been happy simply passing.
"That's not to suggest I'm a dud student by any means," she laughs.
"I think anyone who gets through the CFP is pretty amazing, trying to balance work, home and life at the same time, but I think I got to the point of panic where all I wanted was to pass. Getting the highest score wasn't something I ever felt like I would achieve - it's a full-on subject."
Cemented as one of those "amazing" people who take out the Gwen Fletcher Memorial Award, Dwyer says it's those that buoyed her throughout her study that are the real stars.
Married to a small business owner and with a two-year old daughter at home, Dwyer often struggled to find the time to study.
"The support that I received from my husband was pretty phenomenal in keeping the wheels turning," she says.
"[When you're studying] I think you have to work as effectively as you can. A full day at work and then missing family time to pick up the books just never would have worked for me."
While her daughter went into childcare an extra day each week, she was also fortunate enough to have family willing to give up their weekends to support her.
"I don't know how anyone does it without their family - it really is like everyone does the CFP together," Dwyer says.
Now that it's over, Dwyer can refocus 100% on what she calls her "job for life" - helping her clients achieve their dreams.
But, like many before her, a career in advice wasn't always on the cards.
Graduating from high school, Dwyer had aspirations of being an accountant. Again, like many before her, those aspirations didn't last long; "I very quickly determined that wasn't the career for me."
Taking a detour, Dwyer was selected by a recruitment firm for a role in a small family business that specialised in self-managed superannuation funds with a secondary focus on corporate super.
"That was my first foray into full-time employment and I didn't even know what a financial planner was at that point," she says.
Introduced to the concept via superannuation, Dwyer later accepted a role at a major institution where she would go on to dedicate 17 years of service.
She spent a decade in administration before moving into an education role. It's this role, she says, that first exposed her to the environment a financial planner operates in.
"I loved it. It's one thing to answer the questions of super fund members on the phone, but to be out there in front of people, educating them on their super and their finances was the next level," Dwyer says.
As time went on, Dwyer began to struggle with the limitations of the role, unable to help clients take the next step and "make it happen for them".
And just like that, she had become the natural fit for a vacant financial planning role, the transition to which she describes as a "real sink or swim moment".
"They basically came to me and said 'We've got a place open and you've expressed an interest in doing this so off you go'," Dwyer explains.
"I just desperately wanted to finish the job, so to speak."
Fortunately, she proved to be a strong swimmer and Dwyer has now been a financial planner for nine years.
Moving to UniSuper in 2016, Dwyer's clients are largely pre-retirees who have spent their lives working in the higher education and research sectors. Of those, she is most passionate about working with single women.
"About 99% of them have done the hard yards, doing everything they can to raise families and to be able to finish off that story and give them a great retirement, that's pretty amazing," she says.
"You love helping everyone, but those stories are kind of special."
For Dwyer, it's all about achieving peace of mind for her clients.
"They don't know what they don't know, so being able to map things out and get them to the point where they no longer have to worry about the financials - I want them to feel someone is taking care of them," she says of her advice proposition.
"At the same time, the financials will sort themselves out and it's lovely for my clients to be comfortable, but it's also about making them understand that the non-financial aspects of their life and their retirement are just as important, if not more."
And at a time when the experience of financial planners is being discounted and - to a degree - dismissed, Dwyer says it's her experience as a planner that saw her through the CFP.
"I feel it really pays to have a bit of experience under your belt before jumping into the CFP, that's the biggest thing. On the job experience gives you so much more relativity," she says.
Of course, she also advises against taking four years to complete it.
"I also think that where people can do it and do it quickly, that's a real godsend... I would have loved to have knocked it out in two years but having a young family just didn't allow me to do that," she says.
"I went on maternity leave in that time and also took a bit of a break from study too, but in hindsight I think the time taken in conjunction with the on-the-job experience all helped to do a good job of it."