Heading up FOS's financial difficulty Case Management team takes intellectual horsepower but also requires compassion, a calm approach and a genuine interest in people's lives. Anna Mandoki, FOS's Manager – Financial Difficulty, has all of these things, as well as a fascinating past which includes giving a voice to Hungary’s 1956 revolution freedom fighters, studying psychology, and volunteer work in India.
Anna started with FOS’s financial difficulty team as a case manager in 2009. The role appealed as it allowed her to use her expertise in finance and was also an opportunity to indulge her love of writing and to draw on her knowledge of psychology. Anna became the team’s manager in 2012.
In her first 12 months with FOS, the aftershocks of the global financial crisis caused financial difficulty disputes to increase by 130%. Since then, financial difficulty disputes continued to climb before dipping 22% last financial year. Dispute numbers have stabilised in recent months, and Anna hopes this trend will carry through into 2014, which will give her team some breathing space and allow it to continue to focus on streamlining processes. However, she said financial difficulty is a volatile space.
“Interest rates are low but if interest rates rise and unemployment rises, we could see another spike,’’ Anna said.
She said that successfully engaging with consumers remains a key challenge.
“Financial difficulty is most often a symptom of something else, something bigger, that’s going on in someone’s life,’’ Anna said. “A lot of consumers we see are suffering from mental health issues. Many are going through separations and divorces.
“We have a good team in financial difficulty and they are aware of the issues people are facing and they try very hard to work with people in the best, most helpful way they can.”
Anna completed a psychology degree after finishing high school but decided not to pursue a career in the field as it would have required years of further academic toil and at the time she was tired of study. She opted to train in accounting instead, and landed a role in London with the company now known as EY (Ernst & Young). When the opportunity came up for an overseas posting in Budapest she seized it. Anna’s Dad is Hungarian and fled as a refugee after the 1956 revolution – escaping possible death at the hands of the government as he had defected from the military.
“Working in Budapest was a fantastic experience. I got to understand Dad’s culture as well as where he had come from,’’ Anna said.
Anna’s four-year posting came just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Hungary was sourcing international accountants to assess companies for foreign investors.
“It was a fascinating time to see the transition from state-run to privatised industry. There was a lot of resentment. They were glad to see the Russians leave but on the other hand they were not so happy with capitalism and the inequality it brought. They never had unemployment before. Suddenly there was both poverty and extreme wealth.”
Although rationalisation meant many people lost their jobs, Anna said a positive was that previously shocking working conditions improved.
“I audited a glass factory and the women were covered in bandages. I asked ‘do you get a lot of cuts?’ One of the women said ‘no, only when you start’. People at the factory had been blinded by looking directly at the furnace.’’
Anna said Budapest was fantastic from a professional sense as she was given much more responsibility than she ever had before.
She also loved life outside of work.
“Hungarians are amazing musicians. I could live a wonderful cultural life that I wouldn’t have been able to afford back home.”
Anna said that when she arrived in Hungary, manual labour was viewed more highly than intellectual work and a lot of the senior jobs in banking were occupied by women. But this situation changed as banking grew in status and suddenly it was men in those high-paying roles.
After four years in Hungary Anna was tiring of the challenge of living somewhere where the language was not her first. She was ready for her next adventure and challenge and so she moved to Melbourne in 1995. She worked as a financial controller for Motorola before moving to the not-for-profit sector.
“I was really enjoying the not-for-profit sector but I wasn’t enjoying accounting by that stage and that’s when I heard about financial counselling as a career. I did a financial counselling course and became a financial counsellor for six years, which I loved.”
Life outside work
Anna wrote a book about people who were freedom fighters in Hungary during the 1956 revolution.
‘Molotov Cocktails’ was published in 2006 and tells the stories of people, including her father, who were courageous enough to stand up against the Government and its Soviet-imposed policies. Although the uprising ultimately failed, it was highly influential and came to play a role in the downfall of the Soviet Union decades later.
“For a few of the people, the interview was the first time they were able to talk about it. It was such a defining moment in their lives and it has taken them years and years to come to terms with it, reflect on it and be able to talk about it. I just felt they were really important stories to tell,’’ Anna said.
Anna is also interested in theatre and after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, she travelled to India to work with a theatre group that used a play to educate people about what caused the tsunami, and the importance of hygiene and sanitation in its aftermath. “There are high levels of illiteracy in India so theatre was a good alternative way to educate people,’’ Anna explained.
Anna was the recipient of a FOS Service Excellence Award in 2012.