This month, we caught up with Tammy Cross, a Bushfire Recovery Financial Counsellor at Anglicare Victoria, East Gippsland. Tammy gave us insight into how she came into financial counselling and how it works in the East Gippsland area.
Please tell us about your career background.
I was born and bred in East Gippsland before hitting the road for 4-5 years fruit and vegetable picking around the country with a stint in the UK for 11 months working in a factory on a production line. I spent several years being a stay-at-home mum before I started working at the local Patties pie factory and studying to become a teachers aid.
Unexpected life events meant my teachers aid career was cut short and led me to work alongside my father for the next 13 years in his business of farm fencing contractors. Towards the end of my time building fences, I obtained my Diploma of Community Service and got back to concentrating on my previous career goal of assisting others. After working in the youth residential care units, I stumbled across financial counselling 18 months ago where I am today.
What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?
After working with farmers in my local area after the 2014 bushfires rebuilding their farms and their livelihoods, I knew how many lives would be impacted by the much larger 2019-2020 bushfires in my LGA.
I started searching for employment to be able to assist those impacted. To be honest I did not know what a financial counsellor was and had applied for an intake worker for the bushfire financial counselling team. I was advised the position had been filled and I was asked if I was interested applying for a position to become a financial counsellor to which I said yes to not knowing what it was! I researched financial counselling over the coming weeks before my job interview and it fit with my career goal of helping those vulnerable people of my community and at the same time assisting bushfire impacted people. I hit the ground running and with a great team to learn from I always felt supported as I completed my Diploma of Financial Counselling at the same time as working in the field.
What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?
East Gippsland is a large area and those impacted by the bushfires are spread far and wide, from larger towns to some very remote places. Working with clients in these areas can be a challenge especially with the added layer of COVID-19 lockdowns and due to mobile and internet service in some remote areas being non-existent. Many of the older community members (which was a large percentage of those impacted) do not have capacity to use computers or devices.
We use handheld radios to travel some of the roads due to the lack of coverage and the narrow windy roads that are shared with many large trucks. The roads have numbered posts on the side and as you go up and down the roads for safety reasons you call the number on the post and which direction you are heading over the radio so oncoming traffic are aware you are coming and vice versa. It’s quite an adventure travelling to some of the towns and areas.
What has been your proudest achievement to date?
There has been many in my short time as a financial counsellor, every time there is an outcome for a client no matter how big or small, you know you have made a positive impact on their life. Working with bushfire impacted clients to have an outcome where they receive what they are entitled to through their insurance after them being underpaid or claim denied is very rewarding, as this assists them rebuild their homes and their lives.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?
Short-term funding contracts. This makes it hard for the sector to hold on to those experienced financial counsellors that are needed not only for their work in the sector but also the wealth of knowledge they offer and share with new financial counsellors. The short-term funding contracts offered for disaster recovery financial counsellors were initially offered for 1 year and extended only by 6 months at a time. This poses a risk of those experienced in this field to move on to more stable positions outside of the sector.
What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?
My most valuable resource is my team. I receive valuable advice daily from the more experienced team members and team leader in our bushfire team. I rely on their experience and knowledge on a daily basis, and they have happily shared this knowledge with me as well as supported me, this has assisted me to grow into the financial counsellor I am today.
Do you have any favourite TV shows?
I don’t watch TV shows as such; however I follow many 4WDing and fishing YouTube channels as these are my hobbies.