Becoming a financial counsellor in the red centre

Pictured: Karan Kumar, CBA Multi-Cultural FC Diploma program scholarship recipient.

Karan Kumar is from Punjab in the northwest of India. He arrived in Australia in 2008 and lived in Melbourne for six years before moving to Alice Springs to get remote work experience and community services qualifications.

Tell us a little about yourself, your background and why you decided to undertake the Diploma of financial counselling? 

“My background is in commerce, in which I have a Bachelor degree and I also have a Diploma in Business and Certificate IV in community services.”  

After completing Certificate IV in community services, Karan joined Mission Australia in 2016. In his new role as a Housing Officer, Karan says he had to learn to deal with people struggling with debt.  

“I started running a session with my clients in relation to money management; Very simple things such as the importance of paying rent, how to budget with a limited Centrelink Income; how to reduce debt through proper planning etc. I also used to refer my clients to financial counselling service providers which are very limited in Alice Springs.” 

Karan started to think about studying financial counselling and searched the web for information on how to become a financial counsellor, with the view to building on the limited services available in Alice Springs. 

You won a scholarship to undertake the Diploma of financial counselling – what made you come to ICAN Learn?

“I was unable to afford the fees of doing a diploma, so I started exploring scholarships or government grants, to just to try my luck. While exploring information I came to know about the ICAN Learn Multi-Cultural Scholarship Program.”

It was not possible for Karan to attend the face to face Multi-cultural program in Melbourne, so ICAN Learn and Karan collaborated on ways to achieve the Diploma requirements. 

Can you talk a bit about the challenges in learning to become a financial counsellor?

The main challenge I have faced was to get into placement because I am in a remote area and as I mention above there are not much service providers in town and most of the services are outreach, where one needs to travel 6-7 hour drives on dirt roads into communities for minimum of two weeks at a time. This is very challenging a the best of times, especially when you have family with kids.

I am glad I got the scholarship with ICAN Learn, there was opportunity to study online and still get 1:1 live support from the teacher. Without these two options I don’t think I would have been able to do this.” 

You have undertaken some Learning in the Workplace as a part of your course, can you tell us a bit about whether that helped you learn more about how to do financial counselling.

Learning in the workplace is very important part of this course. It provides an opportunity to understand the local needs and issues of the client group you are dealing with. Also it will provide insights and a picture of the field you are going to enter into. It is an opportunity to learn so many other things which are far beyond the theoretical knowledge. The tasks we perform during placement allowed us to apply our learning study in a real world environment, which will help to develop the interpersonal and problem solving skills by interacting with clients and other team members.”

You have recently had the opportunity to undertake some remote work with a financial counselling agency in Alice Springs. Tell us a little about what you learned when you were on that placement. What sort of casework did you get involved in?

It was great experience to do some remote and correction centre work with Lutheran Community Care. Dealing with remote client group is very different and challenging in many ways such as Language barriers, cultural barriers and very limited resources.

I assisted clients to prepare for lodging their tax, was also involved in resolving some cases of unwanted sales made by telecommunication providers and insurance companies and worked on lost superannuation cases and other areas of casework.”

What do you see as important for financial counsellors to focus on when working with Indigenous and multicultural clients in more remote communities, are there additional practice considerations?

Karan says it’s very important to “..have a lot and lots of patience when interacting with Indigenous clients. Have a bit of cultural competency by doing a bit of research about the community before you go and follow laws of the community.” 

Karan learned that you always need to send a request before going to the community which means finding out whether it is good and safe to go to the community and making sure there is no sorry business or other cultural business going on. 

Find the information about sacred and grief sites of the communities and do not enter into those sites. Send information about your visit to the community engagement officer and if there is a shrine by saying how many people are coming and what is the duration-and purpose of the stay. Please also make sure you do 100% arrangement of your food and accommodation before you commence a trip . If unsure of the accommodation, do not go.” 

If there was one thing you could say about financial counselling sector development, what would it be?

Karan is insistent that proper funding is required which includes consideration for the travel needs of the organisation and the individual. 

“We need more qualified financial counsellors in the NT and jobs to employ them!” 

Thank you Karan for sharing your story with us and undertaking to become a financial counsellor. Alice Springs will benefit from your new knowledge and skills.