7 Awkward questions you might have wanted to ask a financial counsellor…

Meet Jonathan Turk. Jonathan is a Service Development Coordinator with Anglicare’s Financial Counselling team.

Q: First up Jonathan, what is a financial counsellor?

Not a financial adviser! Seriously – people get us confused all the time. Financial advisers provide advice to people who have money to invest. Whereas a financial counsellor works with people who are in debt or are not able to meet their ongoing expenses.

Q: So, what do financial counsellors actually do then?

In short – we can explain which debts are priorities and help you to develop budgets and money plans. And we can let you know about any relevant grants or concessions you might be able to access. Plus, we can negotiate with creditors on your behalf – including banks.

Financial counsellors have specific knowledge about credit, bankruptcy and debt collection laws, concession frameworks and industry hardship practices. We can help you understand your rights and how to access legal help.

We’re also trained in negotiation and counselling, and can offer you emotional support and a listening ear when you really need it in regards to your financial issues.

Our services are non-judgmental, free, independent and confidential. You can find us working in community organisations throughout Australia, including of course Anglicare.

Q: Tell me, do you need qualifications to be a financial counsellor?

Yes. To be a financial counsellor, you need to hold a Diploma of Financial Counselling or be studying for this qualification. But financial counsellors tend to have diverse backgrounds. I certainly do.

Straight from high school I went to the University of Adelaide and graduated with a Bachelor of Finance. Afterwards, my first job was in Community Services – but in support roles for people with disabilities and mental health issues. So I wasn’t actually using my finance knowledge at all.

Then I did transition into the financial services sector, working in Superannuation and Financial Services. But it didn’t take me long to realize I’d rather be actively interacting with people and helping them. So I moved back into working in Community Services, but this time using my professional skills.

I’m passionate about ongoing learning and thrive on acquiring knowledge. There’s always more to know. I hold a Masters in Counselling. I’ll complete my Masters in Social Work this year and anticipate finishing my Masters in Business Administration next year.

Actually – despite all my university studies – what I’ve really come to appreciate through practical experience is that knowledge alone doesn’t create change. Rather real wisdom comes from knowing how to apply knowledge. I’ve learnt a lot of this through helping people. I’m constantly researching how to find solutions and to work out how the system works, particularly what is most effective.

Q: If you’re so good with money, why are you a financial counsellor and not chasing the big bucks?

I just pointed out I’m not a financial advisor! But moving on – I’m more interested in helping others to lead fulfilling lives than making people more money. I’d say most financial counsellors share this motivation.

What drives me is my mission in life to help people achieve their potential. But also, along the way to achieve my own potential. I’d like to get to the end of my life knowing I’ve applied my skills and pursued opportunities to the best of my abilities. And feeling this has made a difference in our community, our society and the world we live in.

Originally I’m from Adelaide.  My parents divorced when I was a young teenager. My sister and I lived with my mum. I guess I witnessed how difficult things were for her and this has influenced my direction in life. I’m also motivated by my faith.

I was actually living in Darwin when I saw a financial counselling job with Anglicare Tasmania advertised. That was just over two years ago. It’s been a bit of a shock with the temperature difference but I’m glad I made the move. I’m just so grateful for having a fulfilling job and being able to live in such a beautiful place.

Q: “I don’t think I’m bad with money, it’s just that I don’t have enough.” What difference can a financial counsellor make?

Firstly, you’re not alone. What I’ve noticed is that a lot of people, including those with low household incomes, do know how to manage money. In fact, contrary to public perception, those with less money often do really well at budgeting. But they simply don’t have enough money to cover basic living costs. This is not because they’re doing something wrong. Rather, their financial struggles are the result of systemic failings.

But don’t despair. Financial counsellors can make a positive difference. If you let us know what you are experiencing then we can, with your consent, act.

For example, if we see a credit institution doing the wrong thing we can talk to the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) or Financial Counselling Australia (FCA). When these organisations become involved they really do have the ability to make institutions change both individual decisions and the wider way they operate.

Also, of course, Anglicare has strong values and strives to achieve social justice for all Tasmanians through advocacy.  A part of my role is to listen to the experiences of people seeking financial counselling and identify trends in why people are struggling.  Then, as an organisation Anglicare can work towards influencing public awareness and government policy by highlighting these observed trends.

At the moment Anglicare is involved with the Raise the Rate Campaign. This is all about influencing public perception and government policy to increase the rate of Newstart. We believe $40 per day is not enough for people to live on, to be in any kind of position to focus on looking for meaningful employment.

Q: Next, can I trust what I tell you stays between you and me?

Absolutely. Total confidentiality is a part of the service we provide as financial counsellors.

Although we might take note of general trends – as part of our advocacy role – the only time we’ll tell others about your identity or personal circumstances is when you have asked us to. For example, if you’ve requested we contact your bank to ask them to review your mortgage payments.

Trust is a really important part of our services. There is a lot of social stigma about people struggling financially. I do assure people their finances do not determine their self-worth or social standing. And I encourage people to hold their head high, the more so through making the decision to seek help.

Unfortunately, financial circumstances can be linked with complicated personal relationships, marriage breakdowns and domestic violence. This is why as financial counsellors we are also qualified to provide general counselling support and of course, trust here is a big thing. People need to feel safe to tell their story. When abuse is an issue my approach is to concentrate on safety first and then financial matters after this.

Q: And finally Jonathan, If I spot you in the supermarket – what should I do?

As said, my services are confidential. So it’s entirely up to you. I’m not going to approach you – out of respect for your privacy. If you say hello – then of course – I’ll say hi back. But if you look the other way, that’s also okay. I understand.

If you want to chat with me though – for more advice – the best thing to do is make another appointment. It’s free. Plus I’ll have more time to focus on supporting you better.

Call 1800 007 007 to can make an appointment with a financial counsellor at Anglicare. To find out more visit Anglicare’s Financial Counselling Services

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