This month, Nicky Tsalamandris from the Small Business Debt Helpline generously gave us some of her time to share some background about why she was motivated to pursue financial counselling and tell us more about the work being done at the Small Business Debt Helpline. We are certainly glad Nicky felt the ‘fire in her belly’ and became a financial counsellor! Thank you for doing this interview, Nicky.
Please tell us about your background.
I grew up in family small business, open 7 days per week, living above or behind the shops. As a young child I would see people from non-English speaking backgrounds bringing letters to my father and asking him to explain what it meant and asking for his help in dealing with authorities. My late father was self-taught, proficient in business and the English language, and had a strong work ethic which earned him the trust of the community. My mother worked hard in the business, on top of the home duties, and maintained her charity work for those in need. I would often see my mother communicating with non-English speaking women with empathy and her hands, until she worked out what they wanted.
I loved my time cooking galaktoboureko with mum and hands-on home maintenance with dad. Hence, my love for cooking and hands-on home maintenance.
What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?
As the hands-on business ended, I followed my aspiration to work in the community and went back to study in my early 30’s. With 2 young children and a ‘fire in my belly’, I completed a number of courses including a BA in Community Development, after which I fell into financial counselling, as a natural progression. I understood money gives you choices, I understood discrimination, I understood struggle. Most importantly, I soon came to understand social justice was ‘the fire in my belly’.
In 1999, I started a financial counselling position with Springvale Community Aid and Advice Bureau. I went on to work for Gamblers Help, Family Mediation Centre and spent just under 14 years with Darebin City Council.
When my position ended with local government, I felt it was time to concentrate on my family. Looking after my mother, who was diagnosed with dementia, and grandparenting duties for my 3 grandchildren.
I took up short-term community work – no stress, no intention to return to financial counselling – until the bushfires hit 2019.
What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?
When the bushfires hit in 2019, I felt an overwhelming conviction to return to financial counselling. I knew our sector would be in demand and we would not have enough workers to support our family and friends who were affected by the fires.
I added my name to the FCVic locum list and was prepared to help in any way I could. To my surprise and delight, I received a call from Sandra Blake explaining FCA was developing a Small Business Bushfire Financial Counselling Support Line… the rest is history. I joined this amazing team and worked in a new direction of Small Business and the Corporations Act.
Within a few months, COVID-19 directed us into lockdown and we were dealing with small businesses affected by bushfire, lockdowns, floods, and personal circumstances. As a team we grew to develop and address the needs of small business owners as they arose, and we continue to do so.
This team has transformed into the Small Business Debt Helpline – the jewel in the crown of my financial counselling career. It is a privilege to work within such a great, diverse, knowledgeable team. We bring a variety of expertise to the table, are constantly supporting each other with self-awareness, integrity, and respect.
What has been your proudest achievement to date?
When I first started working as a financial counsellor, I remember going to meetings and being in awe of senior FCs who spoke with passion, confidence, and expertise. They were so knowledgeable, and I felt proud to be working in our sector with them. I felt proud we were lending our voices to others who, for whatever reason, could not speak up for themselves. I still feel proud.
I’m most proud of my two daughters, my son-in-law and my three grandchildren.
Inspiration of Success from Ralph Waldo Emerson
To laugh often and much,
To win the respect of intelligent people
And the affection of children,
To earn the appreciation of honest critics,
And endure the betrayal of false friends,
To appreciate beauty,
To find the best in others,
To leave the world a bit better,
Whether by a healthy child, a garden patch,
Or a redeemed social condition
To know even one life has breathed easier
Because you lived,
This is to have succeeded
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?
Historically, funding stability has always been a challenge.
What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?
Self-respect, keep your word, give more than you take and invest for the future. My parents maintained that we have an obligation to be a good citizen. They even wrote it in my Christmas cards.
I see these traits in my financial counselling colleagues.
What book are you reading at the moment, or do you have a favourite book?
‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’. It’s about love, compassion, and reverence; ‘a journey of enlightenment’.
What is your favourite app?
SnapSendSolve – this app notifies local councils, utilities and other authorities of issues that need to be addressed in your community.