Imagine this. Every day you help people in financial difficulty get back on top of their financial problems. You might help clients prioritise their debts, negotiate affordable payment plans, find ways to save money on household expenses or explain what debt collectors can and can’t do. Sometimes you might lodge a dispute with an ombudsman scheme like FOS. Your work keeps families together, the electricity connected and the rent paid. You are a financial counsellor.
Fiona Guthrie is the CEO of Financial Counselling Australia (FCA), the peak body. FCA is the national voice for the financial counselling profession, providing resources and support for financial counsellors and advocating for people who are financially vulnerable.
Fiona has recently relocated to Melbourne from Brisbane, and is enjoying all that Melbourne offers, including the footy, the food and the new FCA office.
FCA is part of a community hub with two organisations that share similar values and aims: the Consumer Action Law Centre and the Financial and Consumer Rights Council.
"It’s like living in a really productive share house – we’re still three separate entities, but there are lots of synergies in being under the same roof," Fiona said. "By pooling our resources we save money, share ideas and of course we also take it in turns to do the dishes. We welcome visitors, so let us know if you’d like to come and say hello."
Following the successful launch of their report last year on the impact of uncontrolled sports betting in Australia, FCA is turning its attention to the ongoing question of funding for financial counsellors. In the past few years, many financial counsellors have lost their jobs as a result of funding cuts by either State or Federal Governments.
FCA spends a great deal of time advocating to government for the retention of funding for financial counsellors. It is a time-consuming but necessary part of their role. If there is one thing that would make a difference to financial counselling, Fiona says, it is having stable and sustainable funding. "A better model would be to adopt the approach in the United Kingdom, which involves a small levy on financial services providers."
Some of FCA’s other priorities for 2016 include the launch of a new website targeted to people in financial difficulty, new online training modules for financial counsellors and research into the best way to assist people who have recently entered prison to address the financial issues that occur because of their incarceration.
For more information about Financial Counselling Australia, or to locate a financial counsellor in your area, visit www.financialcounsellingaustralia.org.au.