Interview with Mona Mrad, Uniting

Interview with Mona Mrad, Uniting

Please tell us about your background.

I have been a Financial Counsellor for over 20 years, and during that time I have worked in many programs and with many funders.  I started as a generalist Financial Counsellor, a Family Violence Financial Counsellor (yes, 20 years ago we had family violence funding and CALD funding), and Gambling Financial Counsellor. I have worked with CALD communities, and been involved with community education, financial literacy, microfinance, energy and community housing.

Positions I have held include Program Manager for Financial Counselling and Community Housing for over 10 years, and a Team Leader Financial Inclusion as well as being a Professional Supervisor.

During that time I have had the opportunity to mentor, supervise, manage, recruit, work with, and support many new and highly experienced financial counsellors, whilst keeping a close connection with community and clients.

I am particularly proud of our work during the Black Saturday Kinglake Bushfires in 2009, as I was one of the first financial counselling responders, followed closely by the whole financial counselling team at Uniting Kildonan working seven days a week, taking it in turns to support the communities of Kinglake and surrounds.


What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

I first heard about financial counselling whilst completing my BA Degree in Community Development, which was surprising as I was working with and supporting CALD communities, was on the board of the Migrant Resource Centre and had worked with Women’s Health in the North. I enrolled in the financial counselling as an elective subject and thought this is where we can make a real difference to clients. I was amongst the first group to complete the newly developed two year Diploma Community Services (Financial Counselling), and graduated in 1999. I completed my first placement with Peter Gartlan at Coburg Brunswick Legal Service and Financial Counselling in 1997.


What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?

I work with an organisation that has provided many opportunities to work on innovative programs that support clients and the community, including energy, financial literacy, micro-finance, community housing and many outreach services, Credit Helpline (now NDH) and to hospitals.

I have enjoyed working with a great team, a highly committed, experienced, caring, supporting team, who make a great positive difference to their clients every day. Getting great outcomes and making a difference to client’s health and wellbeing. We constantly get positive feedback from clients and other agencies to thank the financial counsellors for the positive difference they have had on their lives.

Amongst the many opportunities provided, I have appreciated the opportunity to consistently be involved with community education especially to Aboriginal and CALD communities, to empower communities, by providing them information about their consumer rights, and the availability of financial counselling and other services.

Some client feedback for the FCs: “I will never be able to thank you for all that you have done for me.”

“You truly are an incredible lady. Your kindness, caring and compassion you have shown me is second to none.”

“Just want to say thank you and your team for all the support I got in a difficult time of my life and for the overwhelming result which I would’ve never been able to achieve myself, such a wonderful result. Once again thank you very much.”

The work is rewarding to know we are making a difference.


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

There have been many achievements as there have been many firsts, but working at the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) stands out. I was the first financial counsellor to work at the RCH in 2003, which started off on the oncology ward, and supporting those families. Providing them with support, and advocating on their behalf to allow them to care for their child and spend precious time with their loved ones.

That work resulted in receiving funding for five other hospitals, which I coordinated. We had a financial counsellor at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Monash Hospital, Mildura, Horsham, Newcastle and Brisbane Hospitals. That is a great achievement, and a service that is greatly needed.

As I always say, I believe that there should be a financial counsellor at every hospital. A financial counsellor to advocate for clients who are under great stress, and often experiencing trauma, to provide information and explain options, and to make a difference to clients who are not in a position to advocate for themselves at that time.


What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

Ongoing funding is always an issue for financial counselling, and financial counsellors need to have the security of knowing that they will always have funding.

Financial counsellors need to feel supported by their agencies, and their managers need to know and understand the complex work of financial counsellors, including working with:

  • The complex and ever-changing nature of legislation and policy related to financial counselling.
  • Clients with mental health issues.
  • Victims of family violence.
  • Perpetrators of family violence.
  • Clients suffering from addictions.
  • Clients in extreme financial hardship.
  • Clients impacted by the bushfires, and other natural disasters.
  • COVID-19.

What has been the most valuable advice you’ve given?

“We do the best we can, we don’t have a magic wand.”

”We have a great resource with a wealth of experienced financial counsellors. If not sure, always ask.”

“Listen to your client, build rapport, believe your client’s story, advocate, and show compassion.”

“Be passionate about making a difference”


What TV show are you currently watching?

I am watching Anne with an E on Netflix as I had in my younger years enjoyed reading Anne of Green Gables and the set of books by the author Lucy Maud Montgomery.


What is your favourite app?

At the moment, with COVID-19, I like WhatsApp as it is free and I can video call my Mum, send and receive photos, videos, voice messages txt etc. even with no sim card in the phone.


Thanks to FCVic and FCA for the resources and CPD.

Interview with Sandra Blake, Small Business Bushfire Financial Counsellor

Interview with Sandra Blake, Small Business Bushfire Financial Counsellor

Please tell us about your background.

When you are born and raised on a farm as I was you have dirt in your shoes from a young age and once you’ve got dirt in your shoes its really difficult to get it out. Apart from a few years in my twenties, home has always been my farm. It was an upbringing I was keen to replicate with my own three daughters.

As a library technician I worked in public libraries, sometimes driving a large bookmobile. Later I added training quals and a decommissioned bookmobile was transformed into a computer-learning centre with desks and laptops in the back where basic computer skills were taught to indigenous and newly arrived refugees in an unthreatening space. My handsome printer husband was keen to be his own boss so we bought a printing business. I have always done the books for our business while pursuing my own career path.


What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

While teaching in the training van it became evident that those I was trying to help would benefit from financial literacy. I came across a course called Financial Counselling, completed the diploma then used the points as credits towards a degree in Social Science/Welfare.

By working in various fields as a financial counsellor I’ve built valuable, strong, supportive networks across a wide genre. Those roles have been: solo generalist financial counsellor (FC) in a busy welfare agency where I saw far too many clients, burnt out and got compassion fatigue; FC for students at a university; Telephone FC at MoneyHelp (now National Debt Helpline); Financial Literacy educator; Rural FC visiting farmers from broad acre crops in the Riverina to dairy farms in the Upper Murray talking issues from debt management to succession plans; Outreach FC, and two current roles: Small Business Bushfire Financial Counsellor and Older Person’s Financial Counsellor.


What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?

It felt important to help however I could after the recent devastating fires. I evacuated from our farm and the fire-fighter printer husband was away for many days and nights with the CFA, so I do relate. When Fiona [Guthrie] asked if I would help establish a new telephone service to assist small businesses in bushfire recovery I accepted the challenge. It happened quickly; treasury offered funds on the proviso that the service was up and running within the month. There was so much to organise.

Now we have a full team of specially trained FCs and while we have capacity, answer calls from small business affected by COVID-19 not only bushfire. We talk through what grants, assistances or loans they may be eligible for and debt problems. Business owners are passionate about their livelihood; it consumes their total being. Their distress is clearly audible over the phone, but callers are always left with something. Working on this project with the team at Financial Counselling Australia (FCA) has been invigorating.

I also have a part-time role as Older Person’s FC at Royal Melbourne Hospital. This is the first time an FC has been directly employed by a hospital. Melbourne Health hope to write a paper on this work with a vision towards financial counsellors becoming employed more regularly in hospitals. There are two parts to this job: educating staff about what a financial counsellor does, and assisting older people in their home who have been identified as victims of financial abuse.


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

As an FC: Successfully advocating for positive changes that assist the masses. I’ve long been advocating for reform of payday lending and rent-to-buy services after witnessing widespread harm they cause in my community. I took time off from work to volunteer with independent MP Cathy McGowan and met with various other MPs. With regard to passing the Small Amount Credit Contract (SACC) bill, Cathy said we “kicked a goal along the way to winning the match”.

That’s definitely been a marathon and continues. I still follow this closely and have spoken at two senate hearings. I do believe it will pass, hopefully without too many amendments. Change isn’t always so onerous to achieve, e.g. advocating for policy change with your local credit union to benefit the vulnerable. Getting to know your local leaders, and ensuring they know you and what you do is a great way to bring about change. These people will come to you for opinions when they know what you have to offer.


What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

It’s taken two unmatched disasters this year to bring about industry funding. From this arises the challenge of sourcing and adequately training new staff to execute our work. Then support, recognition and respect for financial counsellors is needed.

FCVic has made sound progress towards educating agency managers about our needs. Hopefully this advocacy continues and results in supportive, respectful agencies that rightfully acknowledge the true value of our work and knowledge base. Our sector can ill afford to lose quality, experienced members.


What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?

Garry Rothman told me once early on: “Remember, if you can’t help them, don’t harm them”.
Thanks Garry.

The Hume Region Network of FCVic has always been a terrific support and resource for information sharing.


What book are you reading at the moment?

Adele Ferguson’s Banking Bad. I remember Adele announcing at an earlier conference the need for a Banking Royal Commission. It was a privilege to hear her again at the FCVic conference in 2019 speaking about her book written on that topic. My eldest daughter is a librarian and with my own library background we are never short of a good read in our home.


What is your favourite app?

Words with Friends. Anyone up for a challenge? I’m sandylea.

Interview with Sarah Brown-Shaw, Consumer Action Law Centre

Interview with Sarah Brown-Shaw, Consumer Action Law Centre

Please tell us about your background.

I am currently employed by Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) as a Senior Financial Counsellor , where I have been working on the National Debt Helpline (NDH, previously MoneyHelp) for the past 8 years. Prior to this I worked as an Enquiries Officer at Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) – where I would answer questions relating to various pieces of legislation including Residential Tenancies, Fair Trading (Now ACL), Owners Corporation, Motor Car Traders & Domestic Building amongst others. My background is  actually in Youth & Community Development. I worked as a Youth Worker for about 15 years both here and in the UK – but not long after moving permanently to Australia (in 2002) decided that I’d like to do something completely different so I settled for a nice comfortable part time government job which suited me perfectly when my children were little.


What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

I first found out about financial counselling when I was working at CAV. The enquiries team would often refer people to financial counsellors and I became curious about what FCs do. Once I found out I thought it sounded amazing! With my background in Youth/Community work as well as my knowledge of legislation, I thought it sounded like a great fit for me. The timing was perfect too as there were limited opportunities for career progression at CAV – especially for those needing/wanting to work part-time and I was getting restless. I remember emailing FCRC back in 2010/11 to ask about becoming an FC and was informed about the Diploma of Financial Counselling that was about to start at Vic Uni (2011) so I signed up pretty much on the spot & haven’t looked back!


What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?

I absolutely love my role at CALC/NDH. It’s funny because I never really imagined staying in this role for this long! I was initially taken on as a trainee as I was still completing the diploma. I think I imagined staying for a couple of years and using it as a bit of a stepping stone but 8 years on I’m still here. What I love about my role is the variety, my day is never boring. As well as working on the advice line, I’m regularly involved in training and supporting new staff, working with policy, speaking to external groups about our service and the work of FCs, hosting various VIPs for ‘A Day in the Life’ and I also get to work at the Federal Court every second week as a financial counsellor which I particularly enjoy. There’s always something going on in the office – late last year we hosted Scott Pape and his entire film crew!


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

We often focus on the ‘big ticket’ wins and obviously there is a strong focus on systemic issues for good reason, but for me I think some of my proudest achievements have been the impact I have had on an individual. Knowing that I’ve made a difference to that one person, being able to give them hope, to listen & not judge, to show them care & compassion, to relieve some of their immediate stress, offer some practical support (e.g. referral to a food bank) get them linked in with a local FC service for ongoing support and advocacy – that gives me a lot of personal satisfaction. The impact that we have on peoples lives cannot be underestimated. It can literally be lifesaving.


What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

The biggest challenge I feel in the current political climate is definitely funding. For such a critical service that FCs provide, it’s outrageous that many have to practically fight to keep their jobs at the end of each funding cycle. There needs to be stability and certainty that the funding will be there, it should not be dependent on who’s in power at any given time and what their particular views/priorities are. I do feel that as a sector we need to be far more creative about where we obtain funding and not rely so heavily on the Government (both State & Federal).


What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?

I feel that I have been extremely fortunate coming into the Financial Counselling sector. The year I did my diploma was the first year that the diploma had been offered by Victoria University and coincided with the requirement that existing FCs needed to have the diploma. As a result, I found myself studying alongside a fantastic group of talented and experienced people – most of whom were working as FCs and had been doing so for quite some time. The expertise of the student group was invaluable to someone like myself who was brand new. I was also fortunate to have Bernadette Pasco as my tutor, as well as my supervisor for several years after qualifying.

My colleagues and co-workers at CALC, including my manager Penelope, have also been and continue to be an amazing resource. When I started as a trainee I felt so fortunate to be working alongside FC’s who had 10, 20+ years of experience. That’s a lot of knowledge to be passed on.


What book are you reading at the moment?

I love reading. I probably read 1-2 novels a week. I can’t get enough of reading – it’s definitely one of the main ways I unwind. I recently read The Tattooist of Auschwitz which I really enjoyed – so I ordered the sequel Cilka’s Journey from the library which I just finished on the weekend. I seem to have developed a particular passion for historical fiction lately – another book I absolutely loved was The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.


What TV show are you currently watching?

The vast range of shows available on Netflix is a little overwhelming at times – there’s just so many great shows to watch. I recently finished watching The Crown . I’m not a royalist at all and really surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it. Other shows I’ve enjoyed recently have been Years & Years (UK post Brexit – scary stuff) and have just this week started watching The Stranger (British thriller) not sure I should be watching these shows in bed just before falling asleep though!

Interview with Joy Mason, Centrecare (WA)

Interview with Joy Mason, Centrecare (WA)

Please tell us about your background:

I grew up in country NSW and went to Sydney and Melbourne to attend university and nurse training. I returned to the country, then ended up in the wonderful Bendigo where I have bought a home. I came to financial counselling from a background in Nursing, Community Development and Mental Health. I stumbled across financial counselling when I saw an advertisement in the local paper and was lucky enough to gain the position and train as an FC at RMIT. Before that, I didn’t know there was such a thing as financial counsellors.

What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

It’s an area of work where you can genuinely make a difference. To be truthful, I found working in mental health draining and sometimes unsatisfying. I was also a programme manager and started seeking work where I could just work with clients and not manage people.

I have had a background in being part of a low income family, have been a poverty stricken single parent, have worked and studied while children were young and have been in post marriage debt. So I feel I bring some life experiences to this role that are beyond my training and career skillset and I understand the stress of poverty and debt.

What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?

My current role is unique in that I work remotely, work mainly with Aboriginal clients as well as with miners who are earning money that the rest of us only dream of!

The area I work in is economically subject to the changes in the gold economy and is therefore financially volatile. The outreach I provide is to remote communities, usually about 800kms per round trip and 4.5 hours to get there, I stay overnight in miners camps. Other staff who work in the organisation might travel to the lands, about a 12 hour trip on dirt roads. My role doesn’t travel so remotely but I get to see amazing scenery and incredible wild life – its been an adventure and a half. Aboriginal clients that I work with have English sometimes as their third language and live on Country.

What has been your proudest achievement to date?

To have the courage and the vision to travel to another state, to immerse myself into a remote community and to learn and learn and learn. It’s scary to leave your comfort zone, but it’s been so incredibly worthwhile and what I am coming home with cannot be priced.

I encourage anyone who has the ability to be flexible enough, to work in another state, to work remotely and to take up opportunities that the city or regional life will never offer you. Get amongst the red dirt and blue skys of WA – it is an experience that you wont regret. I am happy to be contacted to discuss possibilities and experiences, would love to chat about my experiences and possible opportunities you might have for employment in WA.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

Funding, funding, funding! Always a challenge in the sector, but people need to have better job security and some certainty.

We are also an aging group – let’s encourage the younger folk. And proper training that allows new FCs to be an asset to an organisation – FCs training FCs.

What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?

The most valuable resource has been other FCs who are willing to share expertise and knowledge and who are a source of encouragement.

Advice: “Go west and give it a go – work remotely”, I am forever grateful to the person who offered that.

Oh, another piece of advice “be where your feet are” – it always grounds me.

What book are you reading at the moment?

I am reading “Dark Emu” by Bruce Pascoe. Read it and be amazed that White Australia didn’t know this stuff and it wasn’t taught/still not taught in schools.

What is your favourite podcast?

On my travels I listen to podcasts – I love Brene Brown and find her truly inspiring, enjoy her Ted Talks around shame and vulnerability.

For a laugh I listen to “The Guilty Feminist” – a reminder that we try but don’t always get it right.

Interview with Linda Burnett, knowmore legal service

Interview with Linda Burnett, knowmore legal service

Please tell us about your background.

Prior to deciding to go back to uni in 2017 to study to become a FC, I worked in a variety of accounting roles. My career started at Mobil Oil, where I worked for 13 years. Our family relocated overseas to both New Zealand and Singapore for a couple of years at a time and, on our return, I decided that I would like to move away from corporate work to work in small and medium sized businesses. Over the years, I have worked in a variety of businesses including a sound and post production facility, a real estate agency, a charity and also with Sammy J’s (and other comedians) producer and promoter.


What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

We moved from the suburbs to live in Docklands almost five years ago. This was a huge change for our family, as we moved from quite a large suburban home to a city lifestyle. At the time my sons were in the senior years of high school and were becoming more independent. I had become disillusioned working for the ‘rich’ man and with the frequent requests for ‘creative accounting’. At the same time, I was being faced with the awful number of homeless people living on the streets of Melbourne. I started thinking that there had to be some way I could use my skills to help these people – there had to be a more sustainable way to offer assistance than just to drop some money in their buckets as I walked past. I can remember hearing an interview on ABC radio with a financial counsellor. I had never heard of financial counselling before, but this sounded like the perfect job for me. I can’t remember the name of the FC being interviewed, but that interview changed my life.


What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?

My current role is with knowmore legal service, working with survivors of childhood sexual abuse who are applying for a National Redress payment. I have been involved in setting up a financial counselling service within this multidisciplinary service. knowmore offers clients access to a wrap-around service when applying for redress, including access to lawyers, social workers, Aboriginal engagement advisors and financial counsellors.

In this role, I work in three distinct areas with my clients:

  1. Assist them with hardship and debt issues – ideally before they receive a redress payment
  2. Discuss the implications of receiving a payment on their individual situation, particularly in relation to Centrelink payments and their housing situation
  3. Work with them around managing their lump sum, especially around protecting the money from elder and other economic abuse.

As this is a national role, my clients are spread all over the country. I have been on a steep learning curve, needing to learn about the applicable laws and hardship policies in the different states. I have also been involved in a lot of outreach interstate where I have been training people who are also working with clients applying for redress payments. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this role has been working at a high level with banks and other organisations to assist clients at a systemic level with protecting their payments. Finally, 26% of knowmore clients are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. I have been learning a lot about our First Nations peoples.


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

Moving from what was quite a comfortable role as an accountant and going back to uni after raising my children has been quite extraordinary for me. I have made many new friends with similar values, have learnt such a lot and have the privilege of making a real difference in people’s lives. I have been stretched and challenged and have found an amazing new career path. My proudest achievement is that I actually made a decision to become a financial counsellor.


What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

Professionalising the financial counselling sector is really challenging. Ensuring that FCs are appropriately skilled while still retaining their passion and creativity is really important. Offering a meaningful career path and longevity in the sector without burnout is imperative. FCs need support from their employers, FCRC, Financial Counselling Australia (FCA) and each other. There is also the challenge of moving into multidisciplinary organisations, where the FCs work with others in different disciplines to assist the clients. This model makes a lot of sense, and I am working in this environment now, but it is not without its challenges.


What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?

The most valuable advice I have learned is how to stop hearing the stories that I don’t need to. The first time that a client downloaded extensive information about her experience of family abuse I did not have the skills or knowledge to direct her conversation. I had been working with this lady on her $10,000 power bill – the fact that she had been abused by both her father and husband was completely unexpected. It affected me quite badly. I needed to attend some EAP sessions. And it was there that I received some of my most valuable training. I learnt how to stop the flow of information, make sure my client was safe and had appropriate support, and then direct the conversation to what I could help her with. This training stays with me today and I use it daily in my current role. I know that every client that I work with has been sexually abused as a child. I don’t need to know the details. I do need to work with them in the areas that I can help.


And now the easy questions…

Who is your favourite musician?

Anyone who knows me would know the answer to this question… I am a huge supporter of live Australian music and frequently go to see bands. My absolute favourite (and has been since I was in high school) is Mick Thomas. I listen to heaps of Aussie music, but always come back to Mick’s music. I’ve even got my name as a sound recorder on one of his CDs…


What is your favourite app?

My favourite app would have to be messenger. When travelling recently, I was easily able to contact my sons without the exorbitant costs associated with making overseas phone calls that we used to experience in the ‘olden days’. I love it that I can easily keep in contact with friends both in Australia and around the world. I am unlikely to send a long letter, but I have lots of conversations over messenger which allows me to keep in contact with friends that I don’t get to see very often.

Interview with Leanne Khan, SSRV

Interview with Leanne Khan, SSRV

Please tell us about your background:

I began my career in the community sector as a youth housing support worker at 25. At the time, I was a single parent with two children and I was a community development student.

Given the position was in regional Victoria and I was the only direct service youth worker in the 874 sq km area, with my life circumstances, my learning curve was steep and fast.

Before beginning in financial counselling,  I had a varied background including mental health, program coordination, case management and community development project roles.


What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

I was working as a mental health support worker and Peter Gartlan and I shared a client. Peter told me that there was an opening for a financial counsellor and it just happened that the timing was right, as I was looking for a new challenge. However,  Peter did not really paint a fair picture of the role or indicate that the role could be quite challenging. I was particularly attracted to the position because it was solution focused and a role where case work and systemic advocacy meet, as well as being underpinned by community development principles and social justice, two of my very favourite things.


Please tell us a bit about your work within the Integrated Services Project with SSRV.

I have learned so much about Centrelink and the underpinning legislation, it has provided so much insight into Centrelink decisions and why they are made. It has been a really enjoyable experience- working so closely with lawyers on cases and seeing the advantages for clients that come out of integrated practice. The project to date has seen so many great outcomes for clients and now we have secured a second year of funding, I am excited to see what comes next.


What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?

Like most financial counselling work, each case is very individual. However, I am enjoying working with the asylum seekers and refugees as this is not an area that I have had a lot of exposure to.


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

I don’t think that I can pick one thing, however I am always impressed to see how debt waivers can change clients’ lives. I am always really amazed by how clients trust us with their lives and I always like to remember that it is a privilege to work with vulnerable people.

Essentially I am always proud of the awesome work that the sector does with the wider community.


What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

I can’t pick one, so my top two are:

Resources – there is just not enough funding or financial counsellors to meet demand for service.

The need for specialised financial counsellors to be available to provide service to people in hospitals and aged care facilities.


What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?

Being non-judgemental is not about not having judgement, as without judgement we are unable to moderate our own behaviour. Being non-judgemental is being able to identify our own biases and treat people with the same unconditional positive regard, regardless of their values or behaviour. This allows others to make their own decisions and choices without fear of being judged; this is best practice and not just with our clients but also our colleagues, family, friends and the rest of the world.


What book are you reading at the moment?

I am currently listening an audio book called The Mabinogion, this is a collection of Celtic myths and ancient Welsh tales, some were written as early as the 11th Century.


What is your favourite podcast?

I usually listen to the podcast called Talking Health on 3AW hosted by Dr Sally Cockburn. She has a variety of different guests and the show is about demystifying medical issues.

Interview with Kylie McLoughlin, Anglicare

Interview with Kylie McLoughlin, Anglicare

Please tell us about your background:

I have been a Victorian FC for 2 years with Anglicare Victoria, prior to that I was with Anglicare in South Australia. I have 3 grown children, and a super cute 18 month old grandson. When I am not at work I am at home crafting.


What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

Most of my career has been in financial planning, and I also have a Social Science (Counselling) degree but neither of these met my desires in helping people. When I read about financial counselling I knew that was the path I should be taking.


Please share with us about your recent trip to Canberra regarding payday lending.

I have a client that I spoke to Consumer Action Law Centre about, and it came to the attention of their advocacy team who invited us to attend some meetings at Parliament House on 16 September in regards to ‘Stop the Debt Trap’. We had a number of meetings with a variety of politicians or their staffers, as well as a press conference & other media interviews. It was an amazing experience to see the hustle and bustle of Parliament House. This has given me a greater appreciation and understanding of the effort required to put forward changes that you want to have with legislation.


What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?

I think every client is unique as they come with their own bag of debts, emotions, and expectations that we have to work with.


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

I feel proud with every client that I am able to give some hope to, whether it be providing a budget that helps them to meet everyday expenses through to getting them a debt waiver.


What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

Keeping clients in housing they can comfortably afford, with adequate heating & cooling.


What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?

Not to get emotionally involved with clients, and to ensure regular self-care.


What book are you reading at the moment?

I am currently reading 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam, but I jump between personal growth books, podcasts, romance novels, or Harry Potter on audio.


What TV show are you currently watching?

I spend most of my time scrapbooking or cardmaking so I have something easy-watching on in the background, ranging from The Good Place to The Flash to Hallmark rom-com movies. I also watch the V8 Supercars when they have events.

Interview with Jo Parkin, Uniting ReGen

Interview with Jo Parkin, Uniting ReGen

Please tell us about your background.

I worked as an accountancy assistant in local government after leaving school at 18 in the UK, but after 4 years of this I decided the community sector was for me as it fitted with my values. After 3 years of uni and a year backpacking around Australia I returned to the UK and started work in the homelessness sector in 1995. Then in 2001 I moved to Melbourne and started working at the St Kilda Crisis Service in their homelessness refuge. This was an interesting experience at the crisis end of the homelessness service sector.

Since then I have worked in transitional housing as a Tenancy Manager for VincentCare and Housing Outreach Worker in the Social Housing Advocacy and Support Service of HomeGround Services. Working in homelessness is a very tough gig as there are so few affordable housing options for the most vulnerable people and public housing estates can be a very challenging place to live.

Around 2010 I decided it was time to move away from homelessness and enrolled at Victoria University in the Financial Counselling Diploma.


What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

The opportunity to advocate for vulnerable people at an individual and systemic level. A mix of systemic advocacy and individual case work.


What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?

I work with a wonderful team of AoD clinicians at Uniting ReGen in the day rehabilitation programs. The majority of my clients are engaged in some form of AoD treatment, but the nature of addiction is that it is rarely a smooth transition to abstinence. Indeed, abstinence may not be an achievable goal. I provide financial education sessions to the clients in the day rehabilitation programs and offer face-to-face financial counselling as well.


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

I am in the privileged position to be flexible with clients, being able to ‘hang in there’ with people experiencing very challenging times, especially when they are in the chaos of addiction which can lead to poor physical health, homelessness and entanglement in the criminal justice system.

ReGen recently received this email from a client we have not seen since 2014, “Hi I’m writing to see how I could contact Jo Parkin. I would like to thank her for her financial advice that turned my life around. I’m eternally grateful for all she did and would love to be able to let her know.” This is what makes it all worthwhile.


What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

Financial counsellors are just seeing he tip of the iceberg. We need more financial counsellors as the level of poverty and indebtedness in Australia is extreme for such a rich country. I feel financial counsellors have the experience and passion to be great advocates for systemic change to alleviate the extreme poverty facing people on Centrelink incomes, the working poor, refugees, asylum seekers, to name a few.

The challenge I face as a financial counsellor is balancing time-hungry complex caseloads with the need to collaborate for systemic change.


What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?

My most valuable resource is the wisdom, support and knowledge of a great group of financial counsellors. As a new FC in 2012, I was employed at Uniting ReGen and was lucky enough to be mentored by Garry Rothman. He continues to be my supervisor. It is sometimes hard being a sole financial counsellor but the ability to call on the ‘brains trust’ of experienced FCs at other agencies makes it all possible.


And now the easy questions…

What is your favourite book?

Wuthering Heights


What TV show are you currently watching?

The Handmaids Tale and Big Little Lies are my current favorites but 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown is good for a laugh.


What artist are you listening to at the moment?

Difficult to narrow down a favourite, but 90s Brit Pop is the genre! with Manic Street Preachers, Blur, Suede, Pulp, Oasis with a sprinkling of Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, The Killers and of course Queen and the Foo Fighters.


What is your favourite podcast?

I love the BBC Radio 4 Friday Night News Quiz, I listen as soon as it is available. Makes me laugh every week.

Interview with Troy West, Anglicare

Interview with Troy West, Anglicare

Please tell us about your background.

Grew up as the eldest of 5 siblings and spent my youth as a ward of the state and shifted in and out of foster care until my late teens.

I finished school, went to Uni, but didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I thought about doing a trade and got an apprenticeship as a sheet metal worker, but working at the base of Mount Dandenong in the middle of winter in a cold shed and cold steel was where I decided it was not me and I wanted to do something different. In 1996, I went back to my studies in Finance, where I secure a position with Westpac bank as a securities officer, preparing the mortgages and guarantees. I then moved across into the team that were responsible for the negotiations and implementation of the merger between Bank of Melbourne & Westpac, and negotiations with the Union for the formulation and implementation of the new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA), after the merger I took up a role in the HR team, assisting with the transition across to the new EBA and then worked in the Olympic Team, where Westpac was a key sponsor and organised for athletes to work in various branches as part of the promotion of the Games. After the Olympic games, the team was disbursed and I secured a role in the Business Banking Team at 360 Collin Street, Melbourne and then into Asset management, dealing with clients who were under hardship.

Late in 2001, I secured a role as Business Development Manager at ANZ, within the superannuation and insurance team based at level 15 of the Stock exchange building, I travelled around Regional Victoria meeting with the branches and Financial Planners and assisting with guidelines, policy and procedures around the various products and promotion of the products. In 2002 I moved back to Bendigo (my home town), to secure a role as a Financial Adviser. I did volunteer work with St Lukes, with the Foster care team, with presentations to potential applications and also sat on the panel for review and selection of applications and continued to do this for many years.

In 2004 I was approached by a friend for a Financial Adviser role at Bendigo Bank, where I stayed till 2013. I was then offered a position in a private practice, where I quickly took on a Director position, thinking I could have more flexibility around how we helped clients, but for me, it still wasn’t ticking all the boxes around what I was wanting to achieve. In September 2016 I discussed with my business partners my desire for a change, but what that change looked like, I didn’t know. So I was jobless with a wife, 3 children and a mortgage and not sure of what I wanted to do…. But I wanted to do something with meaning not just a fancy title.


What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

I remember this day, I was at the coffee shop, reading the paper after our regular morning cycle (some would call it a race to the coffee shop) and I read the job ad for a Financial Counsellor with St.Lukes and I thought, this is a position where I can make a meaningful difference to clients’ lives with my wealth of knowledge and a role that is more in tune with my moral compass. I applied for the role and hadn’t heard back for a while and thought to myself, well I tried, but again another unsuccessful application, but to my surprise I received a phone call from the program Manager – Tracey Grinter, informing me that I had made it to the interview stage and booked an appt.

Well obviously, I got the job, where I started as Financial Counsellor on the 19th December, 2016 with the commitment of completing my Diploma Studies for Financial Counselling. I feel honoured to work within such a great team, under great leadership and to do such meaningful work with clients, where such minor things can have such a profound impact on a client.


What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?

As Team Leader, I focus on assisting the team to do the best they can with the resources available given the large geographic area, from Kyneton, Maryborough, Echuca, Swan Hill and Mildura and encourage them to be the best they can be.


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

As a team, my proudest achievement how as a team, we come together to establish sound relationships with clients, respectful relationships with creditors and have been able to achieve in excess of $1,000,000 in debt waivers for clients in the 2018-2019 financial year.


What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

The inconsistent funding mechanism and the multiple funding streams and duration of funding.


What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?

Self care, if you don’t take the time to care for yourself, you’ll burn out. Treat yourself as you would a client, value your own time and the need to reflect and debrief.


And now the easy questions…

What TV show are you currently watching?

United States of Tara


What is your favourite podcast?

Currently listening to Fast Track Podcast by Margie Hartley – Executive Coach

Elyse Hoskins, Good Shepherd

Elyse Hoskins, Good Shepherd

What motivated you to pursue Financial Counselling?

I usually answer this question ironically with, I was once a great and wonderful skip tracer for the Probe Group before I began disconnecting people’s electricity in rapid succession at Australian Power and Gas until eventually, I found the light.

Although to answer truthfully, my path to becoming a Financial Counsellor was paved long before I began employment in Australia.

I grew up in poverty stricken Flaxmere, New Zealand. This is a place, where if you’re open to noticing the content of shopping trolleys and bare feet passing you by, a trip to the local supermarket will quite literally break your heart. In short, my upbringing like many in the sector would tick all of Consumer Affairs vulnerability categories. From family violence, to family members in gangs and prison, financial abuse and poverty to the loss of immediate family members; you name it and I’ll have the T shirt. So like others, I’m here in the Financial Counselling role because I’ve lived it, in all its shame and glory.


Please tell us about your background

I left school when I was 15 years of age and since then life has been a series of curves, bumps, inclines and the occasional “top of the hill” moment.

My Financial Counselling journey has involved understanding that to build the capacity to harness a client’s strength, I have to work through my own weaknesses.

Nowhere more so did I learn that lesson than during my time at the National Debt Helpline.

Delivering information to clients in quick succession, reframed for each individual case is a challenge that’s guaranteed to see no stone left unturned within oneself.


What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?

I would have to say my colleague’s passion. Christian and Noelene, our Financial Capability workers, quite literally serve as the valuable link between existing budgeting and debt resolution work. Playing to each other’s strengths, they’ve managed to master the art of framing financial wellbeing information to the point their clients then go out and educate others in their communities.

I also work with Peter, Natalie, Cindy, Martin, Sally, Antony and Rene who all raise the standard of practice in their vastly different approaches to resolving issues seen in our catchment area, including being willing to push back on industries.

Each member of our team asks more of the role in seeking to achieve client engagement to the point our services are no longer required by that person.


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

I would have to say in short, thriving instead of surviving.

I’ve most certainly gone the journey and am continuing to grow as a person by being willing to acknowledge and work on me.


What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the Financial Counselling sector?

Ourselves, I feel as though we have largely allowed conversations to move away from where they should be.

That, and burnout.

I have worked factory floors from sunrise to sunset, six days a week and been so tired that I’ve fallen asleep standing up! However, those previous roles do not compare to what in my experience the Financial Counselling role demands of a person. Especially given the true extent of that strain is often not acknowledged or understood.


What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?

Whilst I don’t share details with clients, without a doubt the most valuable resource I have is my life experience, well that, and google.

The greatest advice I’ve had………..it’s a jungle out there, be open to the adventure. Unknown


What book are you reading at the moment?

Re-Reading: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High – Thanks PH


What artist are you listening to at the moment?

Metallica and Fleetwood Mac.