Category: News

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!

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CBA Indigenous Multi-Cultural Scholarship Program applications open

ICAN would like to thank the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s (CBA) ongoing commitment and continued partnership with ICAN Learn to support diversity and build representation of Indigenous and Multi-Cultural financial counsellors within the financial counselling sector. The three-year CBA sponsorship agreement will see four place-based diploma of financial counselling scholarship programs being delivered between 2019 and 2022.

The first Remote/Indigenous/Multi-Cultural Diploma of Financial Counselling (CH51115) Scholarship Program is to be held in the Northern Territory later this year. The team at ICAN Learn are now seeking applications, with a closing date set for Wednesday the 31st of July. This is a great opportunity to receive a free diploma qualification (normally priced at $8000.00) in a supported learning environment. 

Click here to learn more or apply now for submit your application today. Please NOTE: Make sure all application questions are answered before you submit.

Yarnin’ Money Report 2019 Released

Yarnin’ Money Report 2019 – Promo Video

ICAN Learn is pleased to promote the Yarnin’ Money Report 2019. The report examines how ICAN Learn’s parent community organisation ICAN developed and delivered a financial capability program through an Indigenous knowledges framework which involves Aboriginal epistemology and pedagogy, and how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples acquired financial capability knowledge and skills through the Yarnin’ Money program over the period of 2015 to 2018.

In late 2014, the Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network (ICAN) received a grant from the Ecstra Foundation to create Yarnin’ Money, a financial capability program wholly developed by and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In the 2014 grant round, Ecstra sought to fund projects that would: ‘work to improve the financial literacy and money skills of Australians; provide practical materials that will advance financial literacy in Australia [and] expand the body of knowledge around financial literacy’[1].  As one of the nineteen funded projects in 2014, ICAN piloted the Yarnin’ Money financial capability program which would 1) develop unique financial capability educational content to meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; 2) reach a significant number of people in remote and discrete Indigenous communities across North Queensland and the Torres Strait, and; 3) have the ability to scale. 

With Ecstra funding, ICAN embarked on a journey to develop a methodology founded within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ontologies (ways of being) and epistemologies (ways of knowing), so as to design a financial capability program that would align with one’s own axiology (ways of doing) within their own cultural frameworks. This methodology was purpose built so as to depart from traditional expectations of what financial literacy programs are expected to achieve and explore what could be possible when a financial capability program is developed and delivered from an Indigenous knowledges framework. In creating the Yarnin’ Money program, ICAN strived towards building a model for how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia can develop meaningful financial capability knowledge and skills that align with Aboriginal concepts of wellbeing and ‘lives lived well’[2].

Key Findings of the report include:

  • Financial capability training programs can thoughtfully engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples when Indigenous methodologies and knowledges are embedded into the design of training resources and methods of delivery.
  • An appropriate investment of time is needed to develop and deliver a quality training program to remote and discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
  • Best practice methodologies and methods can be shared across financial wellbeing programs and services, in order to 1) meet the cultural needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; 2) improve the quality of overall service delivery.
  • Dual training and evaluation tasks directly impacted on the quality of training provided, due to limited funding for evaluative purposes.
  • Short-term, outreach financial capability programs with a mandate to scale will be limited in their ability to measure longer-term outcomes such as behavioural change.

Highlights from the report include:

  • Over the three-year period, ICAN delivered 28 training sessions to 272 people in urban, regional, and remote and discrete communities across Queensland.
  • 66% (n=180) of all participants stated Yarnin’ Money was the first financial capability training they had ever participated in.
  • Through the Yarnin’ Money training delivered in the Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) region of Cape York, a significant systemic consumer issue was uncovered, relating to the sale of used vehicles by Barry Young Car Sales, to NPA residents. ICAN Senior Financial Counsellors worked with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Credit and Investments Ombudsman (CIO) to achieve a $72,000 for ten affected consumers in the NPA. Subsequently, the car dealer’s credit license was revoked by ASIC in 2017[3].
  • ICAN was able to measure moderate behavioural change along the Stages of Change theory.
  • 30% of all participants were enrolled in a Job Active program.
  • The majority of training requests came via Job Active services.
  • Outside of the program KPI’s, Yarnin’ Money was also delivered in other urban, regional and remote areas of Australia, and to international audiences in New Zealand and Canada.

The Yarnin’ Money Report 2019 can be downloaded here. (10MB)

For further information, please contact:

Carmen Daniels

Research & Communications


m: 0412 357 888


[1] Financial Literacy Australia. (2014). ‘Grants program: funded projects 2014.’

[2] Grieves, V. (2009). Aboriginal spirituality: Aboriginal philosophy, the basis of Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing. Darwin: Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health.

[3] Australian Securities and Investments Commission. (2017). ‘17-361MR ASIC cancels Cairns car dealer’s credit licence.’ October 27.

Multi-Cultural Scholarship Program Rising Stars – Part 3

Christian Unger arrived in Australia from Chile in the late 70’s as a 5-year old with his brother and parents. Today Christian is the Coordinator of the Brotherhood of St Laurence Saver Plus program, where he is able to support the struggles of immigrants to Australia, an experience vivid in his own memory. 

  • Tell us a little about yourself, how long you have been in Australia and why you decided to undertake the Diploma of Financial Counselling.

“We didn’t know anyone in Australia when we arrived.” says Christian, “Life was very hard without financial support, or maybe we just didn’t know about it.”

The first priority of his parents was to find employment and earn an income. 

“We had no knowledge of the Australian way of life. How do you get a license? How do you connect your utilities? How much do you pay for medical attention? How do find the bus routes? In an era without internet, and English as a new language, these were all the questions that we asked ourselves as a family. I remember as a five-year old asking my school teacher about some of these questions because my parents had no support.” 

For Christian, the fear is still there. Knowing personally what that fear is, he feels better equipped to communicate and express empathy to new migrants. 

I decided to do the Diploma of Financial Counselling to have another tool in my toolbox to better assist those in need in our society. My experience at the Brotherhood of St Laurence taught me that finances was always a factor in many of issues faced by members in our society. Gaining a Diploma of Financial Counselling will give me the resources that I require to create a better system on how to assist newly arrived Australians through Financial Counselling. There are financial counselling programs especially dedicated for Problem Gamblers and Domestic Violence, so why not newly arrived migrants. Unfortunately, from my experience with Settlement workers, they do not have all the tools required to assist a newly arrived Australian.

  • Tell us about the work you do at the moment and how your financial counselling knowledge will benefit people in your community / will you be able to integrate financial counselling into your current role as a social worker?

 “I have recently been employed as a financial capability worker and before that I was in an unpaid role developing financial programs for different groups in our society. I have worked towards the goal of designing and running financial programs that require the skill sets of both a Financial Capability Worker and a Financial Counsellor.  I  I take a holistic approach to financial programs and believe that by having both the skill sets of a Financial Capability Worker and a Financial Counsellor I can make more of a difference in meeting the needs of my clients.

  • As a person from a diverse background, tell us about some of the key things that will influence your work in financial counselling and capability, and what do you see as important for financial counsellors to focus on when working with the multicultural clients / are there additional practice considerations?

Christian has a keen passion to understand the needs of his clients; “The biggest focus on working with multicultural clients would be to fully understand the person; their past experiences,  cultural believes and  goals.”  “It is really important for financial counsellors to develop capacity to understand diverse issues and find out how people would tackle their current issues in their home country.” 

Processes in Australia are quite different and there is often a lack of understanding of procedural approaches when people are new to this country. “In most third world countries, a lot of things get done with much less red tape. Quite often I see the frustration in people’s eyes when they hear that things will take a certain period of time. We need to understand their expectations of us and understand how they think we will be able to help them.” 

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

Christian says that “All offices with multiple financial counsellor workers need to employ a financial capability worker.”  

Christian notes that organisations focused on financial wellbeing that offer particular products such as No Interest Loans and Savings programs should all engage in having the full suite of financial well being workers – financial capability workers and financial counsellors; when delivered without that support, the client often does not get the best outcomes.

Scholarship Applications Close 31st May

This is your last chance to apply for the EnergyAustralia Diploma of Financial Counselling scholarship program, commencing mid-2019. Check out the options below to see if your State is covered, this is a great opportunity to receive a free diploma qualification (normally priced at $8000.00) that provides a real education and industry connections. 

EnergyAustralia – 2019 Diploma of Financial Counselling (CH51115) Scholarship Program

EnergyAustralia and ICAN Learn have partnered to deliver a Diploma of Financial Counselling Scholarship Program in QLD, NSW, Vic and SA in 2019. The EA scholarship program is one in a suite of initiatives designed to continue the professionalisation of the financial counselling sector over the next three years. Watch this space for future opportunities including an EA Advanced Diploma of Financial Counselling Scholarship Program.

Apply HERE! or go to to get more information.

Growth equals opportunity to advance financial counselling

Labor Leader Bill Shorten announces $640 Million fairness fund to support financial counselling. Photo Credit AAP

A recent federal government review of financial counselling and a Labor Party funding announcement made for the upcoming election has placed future funding in the spotlight, which would provide greater opportunity for new sector development through training delivery. ICAN Learn provides quality industry education to those seeking to become qualified financial counsellors and capability workers across Australia.

ICAN Learn, through its EnergyAustralia partnership and links to State peak financial counselling bodies, has recruited 20 experienced financial counsellors in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia to undertake Certificate IV in Training and Assessment TAE40116. The training will increase the number of teachers available to deliver units in the Diploma of Financial Counselling, drastically improving the opportunity and quality of vocational education.

In 2019-2020, ICAN Learn and EnergyAustralia are providing Diploma of Financial Counselling Scholarship opportunities for 20 students in each of the states mentioned above. Highlighting the significance of this delivery model, ICAN Learn Executive Officer Bernadette Pasco said, “this model could be scaled with increased corporate funding and administered through a traineeship approach, where participants undergo a combination of classroom and workplace learning and become work ready in the process.”  

The team at ICAN Learn has an extensive background in the provision of high-quality financial counselling services. Over the past 10+ years ICAN Learn’s co-founders have noted the inconsistency in agency financial counselling approaches to systemic advocacy work with regulators and EDR schemes and other sophisticated financial counselling services. ICAN Learn co-founder, Aaron Davis said, “I believe varying approaches are major contributors to service variances, and can be attributed to agency understanding of the role of financial counselling as well as the differing quality of training received by financial counsellors.”

The financial counselling needs of our communities across Australia are becoming increasingly more complex, not less. “Financial counsellors are now witnessing complex emerging issues including small business/sole trader debts linked with personal assets, family violence, elder abuse and an increase in the fluidity and complexity of financial product/contracts,” said Mr. Davis. “There is also a significant increase in insolvency actions as middle class representation is growing, especially in regions that have industries in decline.” With these growing complexities in daily financial counselling casework, brings the need for more technical and placement-based training for future financial counsellors. “This is exactly the moment when we need to be building upon and increasing the quality training standards for our sector”, said Mrs. Pasco. In a current landscape where RTOs are seeking to reduce the work-placement requirement(s) implemented through the industry skills council review 2013 – 2016, we argue for its preservation noting the role it can achieve in building a workforce of financial counsellors who will be effectively prepared to meet the complex needs of our communities.

Studies have indicated that a disciplinary knowledge base alone – that is, training without hands-on experience – may not wholly prepare students for the workforce nor guarantee employment upon graduation (Govender & Wait, 2017; Wheelahan, Leahy, Fredman, Moodie, Arkoudis & Bexley, 2012). Work placement or work-integrated learning (WIL), can consolidate theoretical learning with practice by aiding students to “develop skills and attributes they need in a job” which are acquired in experiential environments (Govender & Wait, 2017; Wheelahan et al., 2012). Work placements “embedded into course curricula are an important vehicle” for assisting students towards work readiness by integrating the real-life contexts in which they will work into their learning environment (Von Treuer, Sturre, Keele & McLeod, 2013). In the work placement environment, “knowing and learning are co-constructed” through onsite learning, where students can “transform work experience into knowledge”, only achieved by considering both the role (of the trainee financial counsellor) in conjunction with the environment “in which the role is enacted because this has a direct impact on the knowledge and skills practised and learnt” (Armatas & Papadopoulos, 2013).

Since ICAN Learn’s establishment and registration in 2017, ICAN Learn’s Lead Instructor, Robyn Shepherd-Murdoch, has been providing real-life learning opportunities for up and coming financial counsellors and capability workers, by supporting Diploma of Financial Counselling students to secure their 220-hours work placements, an integral component of vocational education. The placements have resulted in real employment outcomes for a significant number of ICAN Learn students, who have now entered the workforce in financial counselling roles. “Our training is delivered by accredited trainers that have at least five years’ experience as practising financial counsellors,” said Ms Shepherd-Murdoch. “ICAN Learn believes strongly in the mandatory 220-hours work placement for Diploma of Financial Counselling students. Having financial counsellors who have been involved in real-life case work by the time they graduate, provides assurance to the sector and the wider community that our growing sector is fully equipped to meet the financial counselling needs of the Australian community.”


Armatas, C., & Papadopoulos, T. (2013). Approaches to work-integrated learning and engaging industry in vocational ICT courses: evaluation of an Australian pilot program. International Journal of Training Research, 11(1), 56-68.

Govender, C. M., & Wait, M. (2017). Work integrated learning benefits for student career prospects–mixed mode analysis. South African Journal of Higher Education, 31(5), 49-64.

Von Treuer, K., Sturre, V., Keele, S., & McLeod, J. (2011). An integrated model for the evaluation of work placements. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 12(3), 195-204.

Wheelahan, L., Leahy, M., Fredman, N., Moodie, G., Arkoudis, S., & Bexley, E. (2012). Missing links: the fragmented relationship between tertiary education and jobs. Adelaide: NCVER.

EnergyAustralia’s Queensland FC Teacher Program Underway

Top L to R: Jon O’Mally, EA’s Mathew Morrison, Natasha Syed Ali, Tukie Balanzategui, Mathew Morrison and Jill McKinlay. Bottom L to R: Jill McKinlay, ICAN Learn’s Majella Anderson & Robyn Shepherd-Murdoch, EA’s Louise Nicoloudis and Natasha Syed Ali.

ICAN Learn and EnergyAustralia recently caught up with all four of Queensland’s up and coming financial counselling teachers at the annual Financial Counselling Association of Queensland (FCAQ) conference held at Southbank Brisbane, between the 5thand 7thof March. The Queensland contingent is part of a larger EnergyAustralia sponsored Financial Counselling Teaching Development Program in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales where a total of 20 experienced financial counsellors are either currently completing or updating their TAE40116 Cert IV in Training and Assessment.

Tukie Balanzategui, Natasha Syed Ali, Jill McKinlay and Jon O’Mally have a combined 50+ years of financial counselling experience that they will share with the sector. “I want to support and boost the professionalism of financial counselling by doing my part to ensure we have well-trained, well-informed and well-supported people,” said financial counsellor, Tukie Balanzategui.

Experienced financial counsellor, Natasha Syed Ali supported Tukie‘s sentiments, stating, “A lot has changed over the last 10 years in the consumer advocacy space, I would like to expand my passion and motivate new financial counsellors to be the best they can, not just for our clients but also for our sector.”

Highlighting the need for teaching diversity within the financial counselling teaching program, ICAN Learn Executive Officer, Bernadette Pasco said, “We want to match the right teachers with the right units within the Diploma of Financial Counselling. Everyone has a passion, and when they’re sharing that passion, it’s an extremely effective way to share and build knowledge .”

Jill McKinlay commenced her career in financial counselling after the Brisbane floods in 2011. For Jill, the impact of financial counselling on a person’s economic and personal wellbeing has always been an extraordinary thing to observe. “People will often comment that they wish they’d known about financial counselling sooner,” said Ms McKinlay. “I recently studied a masters of counselling to meet the increasingly complex needs of our vulnerable clients, learnings to be utilised in my teaching endeavours.”

Newly appointed FCAQ president Jon O’Mally summed up the EnergyAustralia sponsored program, “It’s about practising financial counsellors taking charge of the teaching provided to new people coming into the sector,” said Mr O’Mally. “This makes the teaching relevant and a real game-changer for the professionalism of the sector.”

North Meets South

Yarnin’ Money team (front) with participants from various Victorian organisations.

When North meets South, amazing things happen! ICAN Learn made history last week by taking a specially designed for women Yarnin’ Money ® program to a whole new Victorian audience. 

Eddie Buli, the brains behind Yarnin’ Money said “it’s a fantastic opportunity to show the adaptability of Yarnin’ Money® to all audiences, transcending cultural boundaries, building respect.” 

Carmen Hegarty joined ICAN in 2017, and aside from working alongside Eddie to develop an understanding of the Yarnin’ Money® style, she developed the women’s approach whilst working as a financial capability worker and undertaking the Diploma of financial counselling with ICAN Learn. 

February 21 and 22 saw the culmination of 12 month’s work by Cathie Oddie, ICAN Learn and staff from Fitted for Work, Women and Mentoring [WAM] and HESTA , provide a unique opportunity to explore different ways to talk about our money story – an empowering way to explore barriers to financial inclusion and financial literacy for marginalized women. 

Ms Oddie stated that the driving passion to link women at various levels to opportunities for empowerment and change led her to instigate this partnership. 

Day 1 of Yarnin’ Money® with women,led by Carmen, provided a great opportunity to explore different ways to talk about money, expose barriers and guide new ways of thinking through the money story; all members felt the full exposure of their story and the vitality that brings to money conversations.  

Participants were led through day 2 by Eddie, exploring the pillars on which Yarnin® Moneyis built so that they could use it to develop their own approaches.

Participants were thoroughly engaged in the approach with reflections including: 

“The Yarnin’ Money® wheel gave me a bird’s eye view of my situation and along with the timeline- it made me think differently. I think it’ll be great with clients.” 

“It [the approach] opened my eyes to different issues.” 

Participants will become part of the Yarnin’ Money ICAN Learn community of practice and continue to develop their own Yarnin’ Money® style to empower change in those they work with every day. 

Multi-Cultural Scholarship Program Rising Stars – Part 2

Zion Lo pictured above.

Zion Lo is a social worker with a large palliative care organisation in Victoria. He works daily with clients who are impacted by health issues and sees first-hand the disadvantage caused by chronic illness and the impact that financial difficulty has on care choices and wellbeing. Zion decided to undertake the Diploma of Financial Counselling when the opportunity arose through some key communication facilitated by Sonia Vignjevic, a Victorian Multi-Cultural Commissioner at the time. Zion Lo joined the Multi-Cultural Scholarship Program with ICAN Learn in 2018 and has since been able to offer his services as a volunteer financial counsellor to other multi-cultural organisations.  

Tell us a little about yourself, how long you have been in Australia and why you decided to undertake the Diploma of financial counselling.

“I have been in Australia for about ten years. I came to Australia as an international student from Hong Kong, and I have decided to call Australia home to serve the Australian community as a social worker. In my social work practice, I am privileged to work with people who are, by large, disadvantaged by social inequality depending on our social and political discourses. While we cannot ignore the significant impact driven by our sociopolitical systems, I believe that I can to play a vital role in the community, and be part of something that is important for those who seek help. That’s why I decided to undertake the Diploma of financial counselling.”

Are there any challenges in learning about financial counselling as a new Australian?

“Hong Kong operates under the common law system due to its colonial history. For many new Chinese Australians, including myself, financial counselling, its values and the philosophy of this service are a new concept to me. Australia’ consumer protection laws and its mechanisms are more advanced and well-developed compared to Hong Kong. 

In Asian culture, my cultural heritage, financial responsibility is considered to be an individual / private matter; the “social justice” approach that is in Australia, might be foreign to those of Asian background. I can clearly remember one of my relatives accused me of learning to be a profession of helping those who are being “irresponsible” in the community. 

I am extremely pleased to embrace the challenge of knowing and understanding the critical role financial counselling plays in our consumer and financial sectors, and how far financial counselling could be extended to ensure the wellbeing of our clients regardless of cultural differences. I highly recommend FC service as an essential settlement service to be promoted across different communities nationally.”

Tell us about the work you do at the moment and how your financial counselling knowledge will benefit people in your community / will you be able to integrate financial counselling into your current role as a social worker.

“I practice social work in community palliative care settings and hospitals. My core work is with people affected by terminal illness and domestic violence. Undertaking the Diploma of Financial Counselling has enabled me to develop knowledge and skills to respond to clients’ financial and social needs. Organisations I work for are slowly progressing on an idea of “combined professional-social worker and financial counsellor”; timely referral is critical in a crisis, and financial counsellors possess the skills and theory to assess the financial situation of the client adequately.  

My Financial Counselling skills are also being utilised by the Chinese Cancer and Chronic Illness Society of Victoria (CCCIS) where I volunteer to ensure people can access information and support when in financial difficulty, regardless of their mobility, cultural differences, language barrier and life expectancy. I’d want to thank the manager of CCCIS Dorothy Yiu OAM for taking on this leadership role in the community.” 

As a person from a diverse background, tell us about some of the key things that will influence your work in financial counselling and capability, and what do you see as important for financial counsellors to focus on when working with multicultural clients / are there additional practice considerations?

“Clients from diverse backgrounds need cultural responsiveness, active listening and willingness to go the extra mile; doing some research into various cultures; to consider and discuss clients’ social circumstances with the client are some of the vital aspects to this work to achieve sustainable outcomes. I always reflect on what my ICAN Learn educator Robyn Shepherd-Murdoch and placement supervisor Julie Trompf have humbly and genuinely demonstrated in their financial counselling practice – ‘do the financial (advocacy) bit and the counselling bit’.”

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

“Knowledge and skills in financial counselling are crucial in different areas of human services practice. I’d love to see the integration of financial counselling into social work education and other professions, and professionals refer to financial counselling as a priority across the human services and financial sector.”