Category: News

New blood to build Australia’s financial counselling sector

EnergyAustralia/ICAN Learn Scholarship Program

The 21st of October 2019 was a momentous date in four of Australia’s eastern states; with the commencement of the long awaited EnergyAustralia/ICAN Learn Diploma of Financial Counselling scholarship program. South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland all have newly trained teachers delivering the diploma of financial counselling under the watchful eye of ICAN Learn lead teacher, Robyn Shepherd-Murdoch. “It’s amazing to see so many new students interested in undertaking the Diploma course with experts becoming teachers,” said Ms Shepherd-Murdoch.

ICAN Learn welcomes the 25 new casual teachers and 70 new students to undertake the Diploma of Financial Counselling CHC51115, all of which would not have been possible without EnergyAustralia sponsorship. EnergyAustralia dipped their toes in the water by sponsoring the Diploma of financial counselling for 14 newly employed financial counsellors in the Central Goldfields, Central Highlands and Greater Shepparton regions, which completed in July this year, and are now in for the long haul!

Bernadette Pasco, ICAN Learn’s Executive Officer, highlighted the great opportunity the scholarship programs have provided in linking new people to financial counselling through industry focused training. “All applicants are of extremely high calibre” said Ms Pasco.“it’s really exciting to have so many highly educated and passionate people come into the financial counselling sector, making a difference for consumers in financial difficulty; and equally exciting to assist qualified financial counsellors explore a new chapter in their careers by becoming teachers.” 

The months leading up to the delivery of the scholarship program have been incredibly intense. The small team have coordinated expressions of interest, enrolments, teacher training, course induction, access to learning portals, training material reviews, expectation management, Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) processes, coupled with daily compliance requirements.

The EA initiative is a notable step in the move to increase the number of financial counsellors in Australia, a major recommendation of the DSS commissioned Sylvan report[1].


[1] 2019 Sylvan, Louise 

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. 

‘The debt trap: How payday lending is costing Australians’ data released

Consumer Action Law Centre CEO, Gerard Brody releases ‘The debt trap: How payday lending is costing Australians’ data in front of Melbourne, Cash Converters store.

This week the Stop the Debt Trap Alliance released new data showing the scale of Australia’s payday lending crisis. The Debt Trap: How payday lending is costing Australians provides never before seen data demonstrating the extent of harm caused by the payday lending industry and the people who are most susceptible. Read the full report here.

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 www.1800RESPECT.org.au

For counselling, advice and support call MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978 or www.mensline.org.au