Embracing Diversity

Pictured: Natalie Chong

ICAN Learn E-News caught up with Natalie Chong, a vibrant participant in the Commonwealth Bank’s Multi-Cultural, Diploma of Financial Counselling Scholarship program. Natalie initially came to Australia from Malaysia eight years ago to undertake a social work degree. Eventually, she became a Family Services Case Manager and realised that she often had clients experiencing financial hardship that impacted their lives significantly. 

“I took the financial counselling scholarship opportunity to upskill myself and provide better support to my clients,” said Natalie.

When asked about the challenges of learning about financial counselling, Natalie reflected on her early understanding of Australian systems. “Social work, welfare and financial counselling were all new to me when I came to Australia,” said Natalie. “There were many questions from home about the studies I undertook and the work I was doing. Do you get paid for being a social worker? I thought you help people, and there is no need to study to become a social worker. What is a financial counsellor?”

“There was a lot of information to take in, and sometimes I was confused,” said Natalie. “However, the lessons that I learnt from the class are beneficial for both my work and personal life. The lecturer Robyn Shepherd-Murdoch was very experienced, and I learned a lot from her.” 

Speaking about the community benefits that will come from her newfound financial counselling knowledge, Natalie said,” People will benefit from understanding their rights and options. Knowing there are services available for them and where to seek support. It’s about having a safe place to talk about their financial stress, where the financial counsellors share the same cultural background and understand the cultural issues.” 

Learning about financial counselling has helped Natalie’s social work. “I work as a Family Services Case Manager with families who have children from 0-17 years old,” said Natalie. “They need support with family breakdown, physical or mental health issues that can impact their parenting capability. With the financial counselling knowledge that I have learnt, I can work with clients and talk more confidently about budgeting, discuss their financial situations and options.”

“I can also advocate on behalf of my clients with creditors or empower them to negotiate with creditors themselves,” said Natalie.” Sometimes, I assist people to contact external dispute resolution bodies or other services, and make referrals if I can’t support them.” 

Coming from a diverse background provided Natalie with a tremendous financial counselling and capability practice insight. “Every society, ethnic group and culture have gender role expectations,” said Natalie. “As a woman from a diverse background, I would think that it is important to value and respect diversity and to be sensitive to different cultural needs. Understanding the issues behind how women manage money is important. Sometimes, it’s due to the way they were raised, their role in their community or family that cause them to be reluctant to changes or to bear the consequences.”

Natalie highlighted her hopes for financial counselling. “The sector desperately needs more funding, there is a lack of financial counsellors, and the waiting lists are far too long.”