Monday 24 Jul 2017

Interview with Robyn Angus, La Trobe University Student Union

Please tell us about your background.

I re-trained as a financial counsellor in 2008, after working in the financial market sector, and studying my Masters in Financial Planning. Prior to this I had worked in banking, and corporate treasury. I also enjoyed overseas development projects in Cambodia and Laos over the last 10 years, traveling and learning about amazing and remote cultures.


What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

I wanted to make a difference to marginalised individuals and families who could not cope with financial difficulties instead of working at an institutional level. While studying as a financial counsellor, I volunteered at a community service, and really enjoyed working with clients. After several years working in Prahran, I was fortunate enough to gain the position at La Trobe Student Union, to start a financial counselling practice solo in a university. It is great to work within the Advocacy team, who are highly qualified, experienced and passionate about assisting students with academic issues.


What are the unique aspects of working within a university?

La Trobe University has a beautiful campus in Bundoora. It is a colourful atmosphere of student debate, politics, music and learning. It gets loud sometimes. I am employed by the Student Union, which serves the student interests via the student representative council. Sometimes, I bring my dog to work, which the students enjoy, and find really calming.

The depth and severity of financial difficulty our students face really surprised me. I thought students were more affluent. But the reality is that they are dependent on Centrelink, work in their spare time, and have multiple issues with debt, rent, budgeting, some coping with physical and mental health issues.

At La Trobe University, it is so important to have a financial counsellor to address issues which, if left unresolved, could result in repossession, eviction, or escalating debt. By managing these problems, students have a better chance of completing their studies.


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

Retention of students who have financial difficulties. At La Trobe University, in over 75% of cases the students have resolved their financial difficulty, and most have been able to continue their studies

Financial literacy program: In an educational institution, improving skills and using resources to become more financially capable is a natural goal. We have found, just because someone has technical skills to enter university, it does not guarantee they have financial literacy levels to budget and manage life away from home, often for the first time. As a supporter of the National Financial Literacy Strategy with ASIC, I will continue facilitating free workshops to improve financial capability.


What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

For our industry: there are not enough financial counsellors to help people in need. 

More than 2.5 million Australians (13% of the population) live in households of high financial stress. There is need for more government funding.

For FCs: It is a challenge to remain positive and optimistic about the possibility for change in all we face, institutionally and for people entrenched in cyclical poverty. Sometimes we face obstacles, which inhibits our progress, we need to remember our advocacy for our clients achieves great results.

Did you know, Australia wide, the latest FCA survey found:

  • 66% resolve their financial difficulties;
  • 74% avoid legal action
  • 53% avoid bankruptcy.
  • 69% are more positive about the future
  • 63% improve their mental wellbeing
  • 45% improve their physical health
  • FCs need to look after their physical and mental health, so they can sustain their work life, and be effective for their clients. Use mentors, professional supervision, PD and ask for help!

    Exploring new sectors of society, industry and organisations to provide financial counselling - schools, universities, TAFE, hospitals, churches, clubs, all with different funding sources. Not just relying on the community sector to employ FCs.


    What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve had?

    When I decided to move from the corporate research sector to financial counselling, studying the diploma online, solo, I attended an FCRC Conference in Ballarat, where I met many FCs and started hearing about issues people face. The resources and mentoring from others has been vital. If you are a new FC, make sure you join your regional group, get on the professional supervision phone meetings, and if client issues start to weigh you down, get some independent help.


    And now the easy questions...

    What TV show are you currently watching?

     I love to watch Wimbledon when Federer and Nadal play. Also the Tour de France is mesmerizing late at night.


    What is your favourite app? 

    Liking my meditation app daily. “Calm”.