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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.