Category: News

Training needs and innovation highlighted in financial counselling review

The Countervailing Power: Review of the coordination and funding for financial counselling services across Australia

The Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network (ICAN) and training subsidiary ICAN Learn were pleased to learn of the Morrison Government’s announcement earlier this month, to consider strengthening support to the financial counselling sector. ICAN CEO, Aaron Davis said, “the release of ‘The Countervailing Power: Review of the coordination and funding for financial counselling services across Australia’ has provided industry, government and the financial counselling sector with some well-considered recommendations in which to move forward.”

Of particular interest to ICAN Learn Executive Officer, Bernadette Pasco, the review noted that during consultation, providers explained that while training is important to build and maintain a professional workforce, the requirement to complete the Diploma of Financial Counselling may be a barrier to increasing the pool of financial counsellors. For some provider’s this presents a workforce challenge as it can be hard to ensure all staff have completed this qualification.

One Commonwealth-funded financial counsellor stated, “A challenge going forward after December 2019 is the need for all financial counsellors to hold the Diploma in Financial Counselling. This is an expensive way forward for counsellors who are not funded as the cost is $6000.”

The review also noted that, additional challenges to gaining and maintaining qualifications exist for financial counsellors in rural and remote areas, as courses are difficult to access, a counsellor may require a locum, and attendance costs are high. Recruiting and retaining staff in regional areas is also difficult. In these area’s additional employment benefits must often be offered, to negate the challenging conditions.

“Through our own extensive sector consultation, we had identified these training issues and have developed a place-based training model to support regional and remote areas,” said Ms. Pasco. “The model has been successfully trialled in regional Victoria with a new program commencing in the Northern Territory. In both these instances, we were also able to provide scholarships through corporate partnerships with the Commonwealth Bank and EnergyAustralia.”

These initiatives and partners were highlighted in the innovation section of the review, stating, ICAN Learn is a social enterprise Registered Training Organisation whose purpose is to provide quality industry-focused education to those wanting to become financial counsellors and capability workers across Australia. This organisation partners with CBA and EnergyAustralia who provide a range of scholarship programs for individuals to obtain the required education and training to become a financial counsellor. This includes focused opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and those in multicultural communities.

Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston said the Government accepted the aims of the recommendations and would work with the sector and broader industry to consider the development of the Government response.

“The financial counselling sector provides face-to-face help for 125,000 people every year and demand is growing as Australians are faced with an increasingly complex suite of financial products,” Minister Ruston said. “The Morrison Government understands how important it is for the financial counselling sector to be well positioned to support Australians in need of financial advice and advocacy.”

Financial Counselling Australia CEO, Fiona Guthrie, said, “The report is a huge vote of confidence in the financial counselling sector. Its recommendations, if implemented in the spirit intended, would transform the sector, and dramatically increase the number of people who could access free financial counselling.”

Debt, the final straw

Stock image courtesy of Pixabay

Financial Counsellors across Australia witness daily the mental health impacts that unmanageable debt can have on their clients. What happens when your client has already suffered a traumatic event and the financial stress becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

ICAN Senior Financial Counsellor, Jon O’Mally, highlights that this financial stress can be intensified by pre-existing mental health conditions like depression and post-traumatic stress. “Financial counsellors need to be hyper-vigilant in these situations, said Mr. O’Mally. It’s really about ensuring you are improving your client’s situation, whilst protecting yourself from potential vicarious trauma.”

The Blue Knot Foundation website says that the greater the exposure to traumatic material, the greater the risk of vicarious trauma. People who work in services to which people with traumatic histories present seeking help, or who work with traumatic material are at particular risk. 

“The responsibility you feel when assisting people that have discussed suicide or traumatic events, can make you feel like you’re literally dealing with a life and death situation, said Jon. This can add a significant amount of pressure to get a good outcome for your client. Multiply this by an ever increasing case load; that’s when burn-out, compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma can set in.”   

ICAN CEO, Aaron Davis, said, “mental health first aid and trauma informed training needs to become a regular professional development activity for all of our financial counselling and capability workers. We all have a responsibility to identify and address mental health issues as they present themselves. A significant percentage of the people we assist have either been traumatised by active military service, natural disasters, domestic violence or childhood events.”     

Fifteen months ago Steven presented to ICAN with a $251,000.00 debt that had become unmanageable. Steven suffered from, at that stage, undiagnosed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a severe bipolar type one mental Illness as a result of active service in the military. A relationship breakdown had put Steven into a position where he was no longer able to meet his financial commitments, leading to what felt like harassment from his creditors.

“I remember; I was that stressed, I was barely functional and really couldn’t see a future, said Steven. I was completely scared and embarrassed to initially come see ICAN’s financial counselling service.” Steven wanted to declare bankruptcy, however ICAN’s Senior Financial Counsellor, Jon O’Mally, wanted to explore other options with Steven, that would have less of a long-term emotional impact. 

“By actively listening in the initial intake process, I was able to identify that Steven was suffering from mental illness, said Jon. Before we could properly address his financial problems we needed to work on his mental health. We discussed seeing his GP and getting a referral to appropriate mental health services.”

“That conversation gave me the confidence to seek medical help and I now have medication to treat my condition, said Steven. Dealing with my overall stress levels put me in a way better position to address my financial problems.”

Jon and Steven explored the possibility of getting support from his doctor when presenting a debt waiver case to his creditors. “Steven’s doctor’s diagnosis has been invaluable in the credit waiver process, said Jon. She’s supplied letters confirming Steven’s diagnosis and symptoms. An added reason to prioritise a client’s mental health.” 

ANZ, NAB and Lion Finance have waivered a total of $43,000.00, as a direct result of Jon’s, financial counselling process. “The remaining $208,000 mortgage shortfall is still in play, however the other waivers have set a precedent through their acknowledgment of the issues presented, said Jon. What’s more important though, is that Steven is in a much better place.”

“I’m able to cope with things much better now, I can see a future for myself, said Steven. Seeing ICAN was the best thing I could have done, I wouldn’t have done this by myself.”

Game Changer for NSW

Pictured: Graham Smith

ICAN Learn training team met with a group of motivated financial counsellors in Sydney earlier this year to facilitate the next step of designing, developing and delivering the Diploma of Financial Counselling CHC51115. The two days of intense shaped the Training and Assessment Strategy for NSW.

The Financial Counselling Association of NSW [FCAN] selected experienced financial counsellors, Fiona Eaton, Kylie Holford, Gabrielle Locke and Graham Smith to participate in ICAN Learn’s Teacher Program. The team spent two intense days learning about the organisation’s systems and developing a delivery plan for the NSW EnergyAustralia, Diploma of Financial Counselling, Scholarship Program. Aunty Joy Reid was unable to make the sessions but will be involved in the training development team approach to this initiative. 

“We covered a lot of ground and got people thinking,” said Bernadette Pasco, Executive Officer of ICAN Learn. “It’s great to have a group of financial counsellors who want to know more, are prepared to share their knowledge and be involved in developing the sector.”

Kylie Holford, a training participant, said “I am delighted and excited to be part of the ICAN Learn team of dedicated trainer and assessors. I’m looking forward to playing my role in developing the skills and knowledge needed by the newest members of our Financial Counselling sector.  

I hope that the new students find the role as fulfilling and rewarding as I do.”

Graham Smith, who commenced his working life with one of the ‘Big 4 Banks’, told the group about his career change and journey within the community/welfare sector in the late 1970s.  Graham spoke about working in community development in rural areas of NSW and  Central Australia, Great Sandy and Great Victorian desert’s remote Aboriginal communities. Working as a financial counsellor for the past nine years, Graham is glad he made the career change.

Graham expressed his excitement in becoming a trainer with ICAN Learn and teaching the Diploma in Financial Counselling. “I look forward to showing students the impact that helping others in financial distress can have and sharing my passion of being a Financial Counsellors in NSW.”

All members of the group agreed that the professional-development opportunity EnergyAustralia has provided to grow the financial counselling sector is a ‘game-changer’ for the industry nationally. “Having the Diploma of Financial Counselling being delivered by financial counsellors to up and coming financial counsellors is a real win-win,” said Graham.

“It’s an absolute pleasure to work with such a group of motivated professionals,” said, Lead teacher, Robyn Shepherd-Murdoch. “Developing the sectors ability to provide quality training and meet the needs of diverse students and regions is invaluable.”

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.”

Central Victoria welcomes 12 new financial counsellors

Graduates of the Central Victorian Financial Counselling, ICAN Learn, Anglicare and EnergyAustralia training partnership.

There are now more opportunities to regain financial independence thanks to an innovative, Australian-first regional scholarship program.

Ten students graduated last month, and two more later this year, with a Diploma of Financial Counselling following education and support by registered training organisation ICAN Learn, leading energy retailer EnergyAustralia, and Bendigo’s Anglicare Victoria.

“We congratulate today’s graduating class and look forward to seeing the meaningful role they will play for anyone going through a tough time. There’s immense value in financial counselling and our investment is our way of shining a light on this important profession that serves the community,” EnergyAustralia Vulnerability Program Leader Kane Stella said.

“The fact is, no one should struggle to put food on the table or pay an incoming bill. As a provider of an essential service, it’s our responsibility to promote and support these programs, understand people’s difficulties and assist people get back to being at their best.”

ICAN Learn Executive Officer Bernadette Pasco said the program has a positive impact on the lives of people who will become more financially empowered, thanks to qualified help.

“This is a success story and the reception to this initiative has been excellent. Our partnership with EnergyAustralia has meant we can use local trainers and showcase a model for the future, adding immense potential for regional areas,” Ms Pasco said.

The EnergyAustralia and ICAN Learn Financial Counselling Development Program is a three-year initiative to strengthen and build new career development opportunities for the financial counselling sector.

This month, 70 more students across eastern Australia were granted scholarships under the initiative to begin their journey into financial counselling, which will be funded by EnergyAustralia.

The August cohort include students from Bendigo, Ballarat, Gippsland and Shepparton – each eager to make a positive contribution in their community.

One graduate, Bendigo-based Laura Powell, said she jumped at the opportunity to apply. “The financial support I received has enabled me to pursue a career that’s going to help people overcome their financial difficulty,” she said.

Ballarat benefits from industry-focused course

Narelle Clark – Financial Counsellor at Child and Family Services (Ballarat)

Narelle Clark came to ICAN Learn through links with Child and Family Services [also known as CAFS] in Ballarat. Narelle was still working in the banking sector, where she spent the last 12 years and felt that her values were more aligned with a profession that focused on social justice. Narelle discovered financial counselling and then pursued ways of undertaking the Diploma of Financial Counselling. 

“Pursuing a new career while working is difficult, coming to ICAN Learn, I found a responsive and flexible approach to meet those challenges,” said Narelle. I undertook the Diploma to realise my goal, and I chose ICAN Learn through the recommendation of experienced financial counsellors.”

“I needed more knowledge of relevant laws and other financial and legal aspects, beyond what I’d used in my banking role.” Recounted Narelle, “the study gives me great reference material and supports interview and case planning; equally, it is useful when undertaking reflective practice. I was able to tie things together by undertaking my placement, that led to my employment as a financial counsellor at CAFS.”  

ICAN Learn executive officer Bernadette Pasco highlights the personal benefits of place-based learning for regional students. “Most of our students are employed and mature adult learners,” said Bernadette. “Local delivery allows them to maintain their current work and study while transitioning to a new career. It’s a win/win.”

Narelle described the relationships developed and rapport built with peers as a personal benefit.”My classmates are all now working in the sector, which helped with study and now case discussions,” said Narelle. “This all provides greater access to resources, professional networks and financial counselling events. We also collectively share an understanding of the needs and different approaches for individuals living rurally and regionally.”

“Our Anglicare partnership in Bendigo opened up new possibilities for industry led training in regional Australia, said Bernadette. Their fantastic support has demonstrated the benefit of keeping both people and training on the job local.”

ICAN Learn delivered the course using a combination of one week blocks and weekend workshops to keep people in the day to day workforce. Narelle highlighted, “I haven’t used many weekdays for class time, which has allowed more time for direct client service experience and additional professional development opportunities.”

“We’re looking forward to supporting more regional partnership initiatives in the future, said Bernadette. There’s a real financial counselling training gap for both agencies and people wanting to get into the industry in regional and more remote Australia. People like Narelle make a real difference in their communities.”

CBA pledges new support for those affected by domestic and financial abuse

ICAN Learn partner, the Commonwealth Bank, announced earlier this month that it would increase its support for victim-survivors of domestic and family violence to achieve long-term financial independence. The additional $5 million investment and development of partnerships with leading community organisations and experts, will see new products and services for those impacted. 

The additional $5 million investment will support organisations including DVNSW, Financial Counselling Australia, Women’s Information and Referral Exchange (WIRE) and Social Ventures Australiawho deliver support to people impacted by domestic and family violence. Institutions like the UNSW Gendered Violence Research Network will contribute to the academic research, evidence and understanding of the issue.  

ICAN Learn will pilot a multicultural financial counselling diploma program in Western Sydney as part of the collective response led by CBA. The program will have a more in-depth focus on assisting clients affected by financial abuse, exploring the drivers and circumstances of violence through a cultural lens. ICAN Learn is working with current ICAN Learn/CBA multicultural program students to understand better the impacts of trauma and views on responding to family violence. Pilot participants will undertake work-placement in agencies that assist those that have been financially impacted by domestic/family violence, enhancing their development opportunities. 

In support of CBA’s coordinated action, ICAN Learn has also joined forces with a Melbourne based multi-disciplinary team of leading community organisations, academics, survivors and advocates. Good Shepherd Microfinance will head the design of bespoke not-for-profit financial solutions for vulnerable people. 

Bernadette Pasco, ICAN Learn EO said, “Building sustainability for victim-survivors and working collaboratively with like-minded organisations is essential in changing the future landscape.”  

Commonwealth Bank CEO, Matt Comyn, said: “Many Australians know domestic and family violence is an urgent issue, but far fewer are aware how closely it is linked to financial abuse. Disturbingly, research tells us that financial abuse is prevalent in domestic and family violence situations about 90 per cent of the time. The impact of this is not only devastating for the individual but also for the wider community.”

“Over coming months, we will work side-by-side with our partners and experts in a new collaborative workspace dedicated to creating tailored products and services to help victims and survivors of domestic and family violence achieve long-term financial independence.

Financial abuse in the context of domestic and family violence is a hidden epidemic. Approximately one-quarter of women in Australia have experienced at least one incident of violence by an intimate partner (ABS, 2017). Among those who seek support, up to 90 per cent are also affected by financial abuse (Adams et al. 2008). 

In an emergency or if you’re not feeling safe, always call 000.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit

For counselling, advice and support call MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978 or

Yarnin’ Money heads to Nhulunbuy

Nhulunbuy, Yarnin’ Money training participants preparing preparing a fire for dinner.

For a week in June 2019, Carmen Hegarty and Bernadette Pasco from ICAN Learn headed to Nhulunbuy in Northern Territory for an immersion experience in Yarnin’ Money and financial literacy education training.

Sandy Graham Senior Manager – Operations Support at Anglicare in Nhulunbuy contacted ICAN Learn some time ago to see what could be done in terms of combining Yarnin’ Money approaches with the more conventional training requirements for Financial Capability Workers in the region, with the aim to build workforce capacity and broaden its reach.

Participants came from as far as the remote Aboriginal communities of Ramingining, Gapuwiyak and Ngukurr and shared in the learning experiences together with staff from Anglicare in Nhulunbuy. Ramingining is in central Arnhemland near the Arafura Swamp (Murwangi), Gapuwiyak is in north-east Arnhemland on the shores of Lake Evella and Ngukurr is situated on the banks of the Roper River in southern Arnhem Land.

The narrative approach of Yarnin’ Money led to many wide ranging conversations about the different challenges in more remote areas fueled by predatory phone and online selling, the underpinning challenges about the understanding of value of money and a solutions focused approach to changing individual and community money stories.

Yarnin’ Money trainers and participants share dinner and a beautiful sunset around the fire.

Carmen Hegarty capably displayed the ‘Octopus’ model a new tool to use with groups of women. Did you know that an octopus has blue blood, rich in copper so it can survive in low oxygen environments; that it can cut off and regrow its tentacles and keep functioning? Some great analogies that open up ways to talk with women about their stories, many of which include family violence and then use those analogies to build resilience!

Fiona Pettiford, Manager – Money Support Hub East Arnhem, said it was a great opportunity to explore the potential of Yarnin’ Money and accredited training delivered together. There will now be additional capacity to deliver capability in the region. ICAN Learn’s Yarnin’ Money team is focusing on building additional capacity in the NT to work towards the mission to educate and empower locals to become the leaders of the future.

Ngukurr elder and local leader, Daphne Daniels, participated in the group and sees a strong link between financial wellbeing and the social model of health. Daphne is a strong advocate and runs exposure programs about the Indigenous way of life in Ngukurr. She is working to embed change in the Ngukurr Stronger Communities Program and sees the need to link financial wellbeing to health and closing the gap. 

Miranda from Gapuwiyak has taken the opportunity to learn more about financial matters because she sees many inequities for people in her community. Miranda, who has other languages before English has just been employed by Anglicare as a financial capability worker, which means that she can provide great information to assist people in a real way. Yarnin’ Money has assisted Miranda to gain skills for her role.

Roxanne from Ngukurr will be using her new skills in her everyday work with families in Ngukurr. She sees many ways that people can assist others reduce the risk of getting into financial troubles.

Dorothy, from Ramingining sees a lot of trouble related to money and say that tools in language would help. There was a start to the conversation about specific topics that affect people in their communities and ways that conversations can be had to explain financial rights.

Our time in Nhulunbuy brought answers as well as new questions about complex matters, encouraging ICAN Learn to continue to collaborate and look for the next opportunity to embed Yarnin’ Money and support the development of capacity for financial literacy education and reducing the gap a little more. 

Bendigo strikes it lucky – again

Pictured: Paul Rankin

Paul Rankin is fairly new to financial counselling and works at Anglicare in Bendigo. Paul comes from many years of experience in the accounting and financial management industry and also a number of years in youth work and chaplaincy fields. Living in Bendigo and working in Melbourne made a local financial counselling position look very attractive; Paul decided to jump ship and apply. Undertaking the Diploma of Financial Counselling was a requirement to do the job, so Paul set out to do just that!

Paul stated that “Choosing to do the diploma in Bendigo in a format that worked around my work requirements rather than commuting to Melbourne was a no brainer.”

“Even though I had significant experience in both finance and social work fields I still had much to learn particularly around the legal and technical side of financial counselling.”

Paul mentioned that the diploma has laid significant foundations for him in the legal and technical areas and has added significantly to the counselling foundational skills he already had. Paul outlined that “Blending the assignments with work practice enabled strong reflection and quick learning in my work as a financial counsellor.”

Personal and professional benefits of the industry based course for Paul have included the course and development structure fitting in with his work requirements. Anglicare has been very flexible as an employer, encouraging the professional development and obtaining of the qualification.

“Professionally I am a far more confident employee and am able to provide a far superior service to clients due to the completing the course. Personally, the interruption to my family was reduced and I was still able to earn a full time wage and minimise time away from my family.”

The ‘Bendigo Group’ – as participants in Bendigo have become known colloquially, has been a success due to the willingness and ability of participants to support each other, share ideas and refine individual ideas through discussions and activities in the workplace.

Anglicare has benefited by the conducting of the course in the region; it has enabled addition of new staff members with significant skills in a variety of areas of expertise adding significantly to team practice. The ‘Bendigo Group’ consists of financial counsellors with previous work histories in financial advising, social work, nursing, finance management legal areas of work all coming together as a team to provide a wide range of skills that benefit clients in the Bendigo region.

Congratulations Paul on committing to the financial counselling profession and taking your skills to new heights!

Meet our very first financial counselling graduate

John Sheehan – ICAN Learn’s First Diploma of Financial Counselling graduate.

John Sheehan came to financial counselling after a long career with ANZ where he had a range of experiences including accounting, project management, industry work, operational risk and compliance. 

When my time was up with ANZ, I didn’t think I was done yet and I looked around for a new challenge.  I had heard about financial counselling whilst at ANZ and explored the role.” says John, now employed as a financial counsellor at Diversitat in Geelong.“It seemed a good fit with my objectives – a new challenge in working with people one on one, and an area that I believed I could be successful in.” 

John was clear that the first step was to undertake the Diploma giving him an opportunity to return to study.

John undertook the Diploma of Financial Counselling as part of a small group in Melbourne, Victoria, commencing in 2017 and completing his qualification earlier this year.  John told us a bit about his experiences as a financial counselling student and how this changed his outlook about issues for clients and ways of providing support for people in financial difficulty. 

“After working for many years in the finance sector you have confidence in your broad financial knowledge.   However, it didn’t take long for me to realise that I had a lot to learn when it came to supporting people in financial difficulty.  I found this quite motivating as it is always great to learn and expand one’s knowledge and skills.” 

John addedthat “The most significant benefit of undertaking an industry-based course was working with teachers who had worked in the sector for a long time.  You were always confident that you were getting advice and guidance that was based on direct and current experience.  We also had a small group making things more relaxed; people were able to share their experiences and knowledge.” 

We asked John to tell us a bit about how undertaking the course has facilitated his understanding of the financial counselling sector and industry links for his work. 

“The teachers always encouraged us to participate in the sector as much as possible.” John said, “This included attending Professional Development training, workshops and conferences which immediately opened our eyes to the sector, the people within it including the opportunity to build contacts and, of course, learn.” 

John described the best and most difficult things about his experience of becoming a financial counsellor as “the feeling of making a difference to someone’s life”and reflected that “back in the corporate world, you could try to make a contribution, but it was really hard to work out if you actually made a difference!”  

John noted that financial counselling does have its difficult times;“Hearing people’s stories and situations is not easy and you really do need to focus on what you can do to assist.”

One thing John says about the sector is that“It’s great to meet and work with people who have such a wonderful passion for their job and are so motivated to do what they can to assist their clients.” 

We congratulate John on being the first student enrolled with ICAN Learn in the Diploma of Financial counselling to complete his full qualification starting from scratch! 

Congratulations John!