Thursday 25 May 2017

FCA 2017 Conference highlights

By: James Degenhardt

The FCA Conference, held on the Gold Coast from 14-17 May, brought together nearly 600 delegates from the financial counselling and community sectors, government, industry and ombudsman schemes. The conference theme, "Making Waves," rippled throughout the event as presenters shared the ways in which they have been making meaningful impacts in their areas of work.

Jenny Stanger, National Manager of The Freedom Partnership (Salvation Army), exposed the sobering reality of modern slavery that plagues societies as progressive as our own. Revealing the fact that more people are enslaved today than were ever enslaved during 300 years of 'legal' slavery, Jenny made it clear that the issue is not a relic of the past. Slavery has reinvented itself, and it has been able to survive through lack of knowledge. The Freedom Partnership works to empower survivors of exploitation and slavery, as well as engaging community, business and government to recognise and act to end modern slavery in Australia.

Mary Delahunty, ‎General Manager of Business Development and Policy at HESTA, called for changes to policy settings to improve the situation of superannuation for Australian women. The current structure is predicated on time in workforce and only further perpetuates the gender pay gap experienced by women.

Speaking on a panel discussing family violence, Victorian FC Leonie Cooke shared the ways in which she navigates conversations with clients about family violence without explicitly using the term "economic abuse." Leonie called for collaboration between financial counsellors and other service providers to better address the complex cases presented by clients affected by domestic violence. Carolyn Bond, speaking on behalf of the Economic Abuse Reference Group, further emphasised the importance of casework in informing industry on best practice when dealing with these clients.

There was also cause for celebration with a special announcement from the Commonwealth Bank that they would commit $400K towards training for financial counsellors to assist people affected by family violence. The grant is in addition to the bank's pledge to fund 10 scholarships annually for the next 10 years for people to study financial counselling. CBA's Matt Comyn said that their work with FCA "will make an important contribution to the prevention of, and response to, domestic and family violence."

Also celebrated at the conference was FCA's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Forum, which marked its 10th Anniversary. The achievement was honoured by a video presentation acknowledging the forum's ongoing work in improving financial services for indigenous Australians.

At the Jan Pentland Conference Dinner, FCA staff led the room in a round of singing with their rendition of "In the Jungle" - renamed "I Just Can't Pay." The witty re-write is part of a Sing For a Cause campaign to raise funds for the Jan Pentland Foundation. Donations to the foundation can be made here.

This year the Jan Pentland Foundation awarded 14 scholarships which will assist with funds towards the completion of the Diploma of Financial Counselling. FCRC wishes to congratulate all of the scholarship recipients, in particular those from Victoria: Sarah Bardsley, Leanne Garth, Skye Hawkins and Joe Perera.

The following day, seven speakers took the spotlight in what FCA described as "the new TED" talk. The theme of the SPOT Talks was courage, and among the speakers was Victorian FC, Sandra Blake, who shared the work of Murray Valley Sanctuary Refugee Group in providing interest-free loans to sponsored refugees. Through capital they raised themselves, the group have been able to provide 31 loans towards the cost of airfares and expenses associated with resettlement since March 2006, and the program has a 99.41% repayment rate. 

In another SPOT Talk, Anthony Robinson opened up about the shocking reality of his own gambling addiction, "I could get $5000 credit from any bookmaker in Australia with just one email." His first bet was $5 at the age of 14, but as an adult he was able to access, and lose, $980K in credit through gambling. In his speech, Anthony called for an end to "bonus" bets and betting on credit, as well as advocating for the introduction of betting caps.

Between the various presentations, panels and professional development sessions, delegates were able to network with interstate counterparts and representatives from a variety of organisations. Participants were also invited to write down their three "Learning Gems" from each of the concurrent sessions, which would then be mailed back to them in the weeks after the conference as a refresher of what they learnt.

The hard work of the FCA staff in organising the conference, with such a full program, was nothing short of impressive. We look forward to seeing what's on offer at next year's event.