Kelly Nicholson

Kelly Nicholson

Doctor of Philosophy candidate
Bachelor of Laws (Honours)  
Bachelor of Business in Finance

How do institutional and non-institutional factors enable economic harm in Aotearoa New Zealand? That’s the interesting topic Kelly Nicholson is exploring for her PhD in finance.

“Economic harm is used to entrap an intimate partner. It restricts or excludes a person from access to financial resources and financial decisions, or may exploit a person’s financial resources for the abuser’s benefit. This forces a person to become financially dependent on their abuser or erodes their financial autonomy. It’s a form of psychological abuse.

“Financial institutions are in a unique position when it comes to household finances and intimate partner relationships. For example, online banking can offer the ability to manage household finances and empower people to improve the family’s economic wellbeing. While developing new technology may empower some, it can also be used by abusers to access financial information and perpetrate economic harm. Unfortunately, financial institutions have been co-opted by abusers, enabling abuse and essentially weaponising the institution.”

Kelly – whose PhD research is supervised by Professor Aaron Gilbert and Dr Ayesha Scott – says understanding how Aotearoa’s institutions are unwittingly misused to enable economic harm is crucial.

“With the Financial Markets (Conduct of Institutions) Amendment Act 2022 coming into effect in 2025, banks will be reviewing their policies, processes and systems to ensure they meet their legal obligations under the fair conduct principle. As part of paying due regard to consumers’ interests and meeting their needs, a robust review would include minimising opportunities for the financial institution to be misused to perpetrate harm. Examples include liabilities for joint debt and coerced debt, joint signature requirements and the disclosure of personal information including locations.”

Finding her path
For Kelly, her journey towards a PhD started when she decided to study a Bachelor of Business after being in the workforce for several years.

“I was looking for the next step in a people-focused career but every job I looked at wanted a relevant qualification. I didn’t want to limit my career so I decided to study. My interest and skills were aligned with HR, which was offered by the Bachelor of Business. I chose finance as a second major because I liked a couple of the courses and decided to challenge myself.

“Unfortunately, my dad died at the start of my second semester and I had to withdraw from courses with upcoming assignments. Because I needed to complete the core courses to progress in my degree, I had to do that in the following semester and timetabling didn’t allow for the HR prerequisite courses. I had already done the finance courses, so I stayed down that path and also added a law degree because the complexity of my dad’s estate exposed me to various experiences that led me to apply for law.”

She has enjoyed achieving beyond what she thought she was capable of.

“Finance and law had always intimidated me and I would never have dreamt that I could have done it. I’ve even received a number of awards throughout my studies, including being on the dean’s honour roll for business. I’ve enjoyed the relationships I’ve built at AUT, and have enjoyed a sense of knowing that I’m in the right place doing what I’m supposed to do.

“My sister is currently doing a Bachelor of Business at AUT, and it’s a bit of a novelty to go to university with my sister as mature students and have lunch together. My best friend from school also did postgraduate study in business, and we were able to attend the same graduation and have our families celebrate together. I was also able to share my law graduation week with my friend of 15 years as he graduated from engineering at AUT. This is something I thought would only happen for school leavers.”

Advice for other students
Kelly, who received a Vice-Chancellor’s Doctoral Scholarship to support her PhD, has some great advice for other mature students who are considering university study.

“For mature students, it can be quite devastating to get less than an A+ because we’ve come from the workforce where we must get our jobs right every day or there are significant consequences. I’d like to remind those students that these grades are not a reflection of your worth, and that nobody is going to care what you got for that course in 10 or even two years.”

Keep in mind the different external pressures for mature students, she adds.

“Maybe you didn’t get an A+ in this assignment, but you probably sacrificed it to be an A+ parent, sibling, child, grandchild, employee, colleague, or whatever it was that meant that uni wasn’t your sole focus.”