In our second ‘Out & About with Alex’ episode, ICAN Financial Counsellor, Alex Price-Busch visits Megan Blacklow from the Port Douglas Neighbourhood Centre. They take a trip out to the stunning rainforest Aboriginal Community of Mossman Gorge, where they discuss her NILS program and journey to becoming a financial counsellor through the Ergon/Powerlink Diploma of Financial Counselling Scholarship Program.
ICAN is a proud member of a coalition of organisations opposing the Government plans to axe Australia’s safe lending laws through the Save Safe Lending campaign. The National Consumer Credit Protection Amendment Bill will remove fundamental protections that Australian families cannot afford to lose.
On 15 March 2021, the Bill to axe responsible lending laws passed through the House of Representatives but was unexpectedly deferred for Senate debate until at least May 2021. This decision followed the delivery of an open letter against the changes signed by over 33,000 people,125 organisations and 100 experts.
While this is a win for the campaign, the fight is far from over, and a lot of work still needs to be done to stop the Senate from passing the Bill.
An analysis by consumer group CHOICE has revealed over 31,000 complaints have been made about credit products since the end of the Banking Royal Commission’s hearings.
Changes to safe lending laws would contradict the very first recommendation of the Banking Royal Commission. Commissioner Kenneth Hayne called for safe lending laws to be enforced, not dismantled.
Jillian Williams, ICAN Operations Manager, said, ‘North Queensland communities are some of the most economically disadvantaged communities in the country. They now face the financial impacts of COVID-19, which has hit our tourism industry, amongst others, hard. As a result, the people we help are really struggling to regain lost employment or find new employment. They are facing extreme financial stress and the resulting emotional trauma that has been wrought by COVID-19. Further debt, which is what the removal of these laws will result in, is not going to assist people. It will simply create a debt disaster.’
ICAN provides financial counselling services across Cairns, Townsville, the Tablelands, the Cape and Torres Strait Islands, and see firsthand the harmful impacts of unsafe lending practices and have grave concerns about the axing of responsible lending laws.
‘The power imbalance that already exists between banks and individuals, highlighted throughout the Royal Commission into Financial Services, will considerably worsen if these laws are axed. It is laws, not standards that we need to ensure banks and other lenders engage in safe lending’, said Jillian.
Alan Kirkland, CEO of CHOICE, said, ‘The banks promised they’d clean up their act after the shame of the Royal Commission hearings but over 31,000 credit complaints show there are still huge problems in the system’.
“Repealing safe lending laws is an extraordinary thing to do when many Australians are struggling in the wake of COVID-19. If passed, this will be the biggest handout to the banks we’ve seen in decades. This is a time for the Senate to do what it was created to do – temper the influence of lobbyists and make sure Australians are put first,” says Mr Kirkland.
CHOICE analysed Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) complaints data across consumer loans, credit cards and housing finance from November 2018 to December 2020. Complaints on credit products can range from irresponsible lending and charging of incorrect fees to poor customer service, fraud, and unfair terms and conditions.
“Right now, ABS data shows that mortgage lending is at record highs. This is fuelling a housing boom that is pushing home ownership out of reach of many more Australians. Scrapping safe lending will land many people with large debts they can’t afford and take away their ability to receive justice,” says Mr Kirkland.
“This contradicts the very first recommendation of the Banking Royal Commission – to leave safe lending laws intact.”
The repeal of safe lending laws rests in the hands of the Senate crossbench.
You can sign the open letter to save safe lending here: https://debtdisaster.consumeraction.org.au/open-letter-to-save-save-lending/
COVID-19 has undoubtedly presented challenges to many people, and Registered Training Organisations (RTO) are no exception! Not only are potential students challenged with their own circumstances, they also have to embrace new technologies and ways of connecting to continue their learning opportunities.
ICAN Learn has diversified its delivery of the Diploma of Financial Counselling to a ‘live online’ model. Weekly classes continue, with students meeting with their teacher and classmates to gain the essential knowledge and skills to become financial counsellors.
Michelle Ludwig, a part-time teacher at ICAN Learn, was the first to trial this approach for a group of new students in late 2019. Online learning was the only way these students could participate in the Diploma of Financial Counselling, so ICAN Learn set about meeting learning needs using Zoom.
Michelle, what has been the best thing about delivering your classes via the live-online approach?
‘There is no denying it is nice to come together in a face to face setting; however it is not always possible. Personally, there didn’t appear to be too many challenges with the transition to online learning. Once the technical issues were ironed out and students became familiar with using the ‘Zoom’ portal, classes continued to run as normal.’
You are also teaching some other students that have had to transition to live online delivery. What have been the challenges for them not learning in an in-person live classroom setting?
‘Some students may prefer a face to face setting as it supports their style of learning. As long as you offer additional supports and resources to those that need it, delivery continues to run smoothly.’
Leanne Khan, ICAN Learn teacher and experienced financial counsellor, has been supporting new interns in their education and working with a group of students in the far North West of Victoria.
Leanne, you have been working with students in remote Victoria and throughout NSW using the live–online approach before COVID even hit. How do you motivate students to continue to be an active part of the class in the live-online approach?
‘I use several strategies to keep students connected and motivated’, said Leanne. ‘These include quick quizzes, developing a case study and building on it in each class, and including activities so students can get to know each other better regardless of the physical separation. The use of real case scenarios interests students, and they love the demonstration of expertise through case discussion. We spend a lot of time supporting the students, and ensuring that we meet their needs, providing safe and confidential learning spaces with clear boundaries and expectations.’
Natasha Syed Ali is a full time teacher ICAN Learn and is involved in live-online delivery of the Diploma of Financial Counselling to our Queensland students.
Natasha, you have no doubt had to adjust your teaching delivery to the live-online format. Can you tell us a bit about the skills you have gained through this process?
‘Delivering sessions to simulate the classroom has been a fascinating process. ICAN Learn has always prioritised quality learning experience through personal, interactive and stimulating classroom experiences. I’ve had to utilise very different communication skills to facilitate learning and understanding.
‘My skills are evolving. The challenge is to create positive classroom dynamics and ways to encourage and motivate the students, things that are not learnt from a textbook. I often wish that I could pull out fireworks to maintain energy levels and combat screen fatigue! I strive to deliver a fun, interactive session whilst maintaining professionalism and keeping on track with content. This has been the biggest learning to date.’
Robyn Shepherd-Murdoch, Teaching, Learning and Course Manager at ICAN Learn, has provided enormous support for teachers and students to traverse the impacts of COVID-19 and remote learning.
Robyn, what would you say has been most challenging to students and teachers in adjusting to this COVID response?
‘I would have to say our biggest challenge was moving over to Zoom full time because teachers and students miss the in-person interaction that the classroom offers. All our teachers enjoy attending the classroom, engaging with students and talking over financial counselling using an integrated approach. Zoom’s breakout rooms have been a real help to students when they can’t catch up or study together in person.
‘We have always been used to conducting remote meetings and more informal web-based learning opportunities to support students’, says Robyn, ‘but now our teachers are really leading the way.’
ICAN Learn continues to work using the live online platform providing education for financial counsellors and financial capability workers across the country.
‘What we have realised is that the ability to engage weekly through our adjusted approach has lots of benefits’, says ICAN Learn Executive Office, Bernadette Pasco. ‘Not only have we been able to continue our programs without too much interruption, but we have built teacher and students skills with everyone becoming more IT savvy. We have been able to start increasing our resource base to provide the industry-focused financial counselling and capability education we pride ourselves on.’
We recently caught up with ICAN Learn, Diploma of Financial Counselling graduate Kate Fisher to discuss her training and employment journey.
- What made you decide to study financial counselling?
I had been studying the Diploma of Community Services at SuniTAFE Swan Hill and loved all my learnings. The facilitator for the course identified my passion for financial education as I had worked in the banking industry for many years before having my children. She suggested I explore the option of becoming a Financial Counsellor, and I haven’t looked back since!
- You live and work in a regional area. Can you tell us a bit about the challenges in terms of study and getting into a new profession?
Living in regional Victoria can make it a lot harder to find support to work and study at the same time, especially as a single parent working full time. Technology certainly helps! Also, there aren’t as many opportunities as in metropolitan areas. I guess for me, although I live, work, and studied in regional Victoria, I was lucky enough to have variety in my work and learnings. I also had a clear understanding of our rural communities and how my financial counselling and community service skills would be most useful. Although my passion lies with empowering women who have experienced family violence, I am learning more about the effects of gambling, irresponsible lending, and homelessness on clients. I expand my knowledge every day.
- Tell us about the employment opportunities that have opened up due to your financial counselling studies.
I started as a student financial counsellor in the Southern Mallee, and I am now a financial counsellor for the Echuca region. Both the Diploma of Financial Counselling and Diploma of Community Services has opened up various doors to work in all areas of support services. But I just love financial counselling, and that’s where I plan on staying!
- Tell us the best part about undertaking your Diploma of Financial Counselling with ICAN Learn.
The flexibility to push forward at my own pace and liaise with other students going down the same career path was fantastic!
- What is the best thing about getting your Diploma of Financial Counselling?
The sense of achievement in completing the qualification was a proud moment for me, and I love using what I have learnt to support other new Financial Counsellors with their studies.
- If there is one thing you could say to people wanting to become a financial counsellor, what would that be?
Talk to a financial counsellor, listen to their experiences and how they help people on a daily basis. If it excites you – do it!
- Is anything else you would like to share with us?
I would love to be out in the community doing financial education and creating awareness about the role of a financial counsellor. I believe there is a lack of understanding of what we do and the specialist skills we use to speak up for those in need of support and advocacy. Most importantly though, it’s empowering individuals in the community. Showing people they can advocate for themselves and giving them the tools to control their own financial future is incredibly rewarding. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
North Queenslanders are a step closer to accessing critical financial support, with seven successful scholarship applicants commencing their training to become qualified financial counsellors.
Seven fully paid scholarships have been made available as part of a new partnership agreement between Ergon Energy Retail, as part of Energy Queensland, Powerlink Queensland and ICAN Learn.
The $80,000 partnership offers fully paid financial counselling scholarships over a two-year period to be delivered by Cairns-based registered training organisation, ICAN Learn.
ICAN Learn Managing Director, Aaron Davis, said the seven successful applicants from Cooktown and Weipa, down to Bowen and west to Mt Isa, start face-to-face training in Cairns today.
“We’re pleased to see this regional response to the ongoing financial impacts of COVID-19 officially launching,” Mr Davis said.
“For many communities and households around the state, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for a long time to come.
“Through the use of video conferencing technology, we’re hoping to reach communities that have limited access to these services.”
Energy Queensland CEO Rod Duke said it was important to support the community services sector, as they’re on the frontline assisting Queensland households.
“We are committed to improving energy literacy for our customers across regional Queensland, which is why we are excited to support ICAN Learn in building the financial counselling capacity through our scholarship program,” Mr Duke said.
“Our aim is to ensure that even our most remote customers have access to the information and services they need.”
Powerlink Chief Executive Paul Simshauser said representatives from Ergon Energy Retail, Powerlink, ICAN Learn and Financial Counsellors’ Association of Queensland had completed a comprehensive selection process to cover key areas in need.
“As a result, this program will deliver fully qualified financial counsellors to regional areas across remote North Queensland who have never had access to these services previously,” Mr Simshauser said.
“We’re hearing from consumer advocates that families in regional areas in particular are struggling with pandemic impacts and need support.
“We’re very pleased to be able to support a program that will see that happen and deliver on our commitments as part of The Energy Charter.”
The program commenced in August 2020 delivering energy literacy and efficiency learning webinars to help community organisations better help customers struggling to navigate electricity costs.
2020 has been another big year for ICAN and ICAN Learn! Our Annual Report video looks at our achievements this year and how we transformed our services during COVID to maintain our vision of Empowering Indigenous Consumers and developing the financial counselling and capability sectors.
To all of our readers – thank you for being a part of the ICAN/ICAN Learn journey in 2020, we look forward to sharing our journey with you again in 2021!
ICAN’s long-standing partnership with CBA has facilitated the education of approximately 45 Indigenous Australians to become financial counsellors over the last 6 years. Many of these graduates are now in leadership and formative positions across the country.
In 2017 ICAN Learn was formed to ensure that the empowerment of Indigenous people could continue by increasing the number of Indigenous financial counsellors across Australia through the Indigenous Financial Counselling Scholarship Program. ICAN Learn and CBA partnering for this initiative has cemented our mentorship approach and allowed us to explore different training methods and opportunities.
Every person who undertakes the Indigenous Financial Counselling Scholarship Program in 2021 will commence the program with the Financial Literacy Education Skillset [CHCSS00077], which is required to work in financial capability roles. Fourteen Indigenous participants in the 2017 cohort gained this skillset before embarking on the Diploma of Financial Counselling.
CBA’s funding not only adds to the pool of new financial counsellors in places like Derby, Normanton, Cairns, Port Augusta and regional Victoria but also provides the opportunity to add financial literacy skills to people and organisations across Australia, an approach that could not occur in a fee for service environment. Seizing the opportunity, ICAN Learn has increased employment opportunities for all participants, with graduates being able to be employed as both financial capability workers and financial counsellors.
‘We had the opportunity, through our partnership with CBA to really make a difference’, said Bernadette Pasco, Business and Workforce Development Manager for ICAN and ICAN Learn. ‘We’ve been able to ensure that graduates could work across the financial wellbeing industry, and with CBA’s support, we have been able to make that possible.’
2021 will be no exception! CBA’s partnership with ICAN and ICAN Learn is taking new heights by reaching out to Indigenous service providers to take part in our scholarship program and make a difference in their organisations, and for the communities they serve.
‘We’re focusing on service providers this time around,‘, said Bernadette, ‘that way the partnership provides opportunities for organisations to build expertise in financial capability and financial counselling to expand their service offerings.’
ICAN Learn is taking expressions of interest now for the Indigenous Financial Counselling Scholarship Program in 2021! Email email@example.com and register your interest. Course commencement is late February 2021.
ICAN Learn has uploaded its three-part Ergon Retail and Powerlink Queensland sponsored ‘Empowering Community Services’ webinar series and is about to embark on the partnerships Diploma of Financial Counselling Scholarship Program in early November. If you missed any of the three-part webinar series, you can watch them all here. The series has a focus on the professional development of Queensland’s regional community services, so they can best support their clients in financial hardship and advocate for their energy needs.
Webinar 1 – Introducing the Ergon/Powerlink Diploma of Financial Counselling scholarship program
Webinar 2 – Energy Savings and Hardship Strategies, an Interview and Q&A with Chris Samuelsson, Vulnerable Customer Manager, Ergon Energy Retail. The second webinar in the three part “Empowering Community Services” webinar series.
Webinar 3 – Energy Consumer with the Energy and Water Ombudsman of Queensland (EWOQ), an Interview and Q&A with Jane Pires, Energy and Water Ombudsman of Queensland (EWOQ) and Lucy Core, Investigation and Conciliation Officer (EWOQ), in the final webinar of the three part “Empowering Community Services” webinar series.
Don’t miss these fantastic Professional Development opportunities!
Are you a Community Service Provider or Financial Counsellor in Queensland, whose clients present with energy hardship issues?
Then you need to register now for our Professional Development Webinars!
When you Register for Webinars 2 and 3 of our ‘Empowering Community Services’ series, you will learn how to:
✅ support your clients dealing with financial hardship
✅ navigate financial hardship supports available from Ergon Energy Retail
✅ advocate for your client’s energy issues
✅ give tips for managing energy usage and energy costs
Our live interviews with Queensland Energy Leaders will also include Q&A sessions at the end of each webinar where you get to ask the questions via chat!
Don’t miss out on these fantastic professional development opportunities!
👉 Register here for Webinar 2 – Energy Savings and Hardship Strategies with Ergon, to hear from Christine Samuelsson, Ergon Energy Retail’s Vulnerable Customer Manager
👉 Register here for Webinar 3 – Energy Consumer with the Energy and Water Ombudsman of Queensland (EWOQ), Jane Pires