Jon O’Mally is the Executive Officer for Financial Counsellors’ Association of Queensland (FCAQ), the peak body for financial counsellors and financial capability workers in Queensland.
Jon, who has been an accredited financial counsellor for the past 26 years and worked voluntarily as President of FCAQ on several occasions, has recently been employed as the Executive Officer for FCAQ, a newly created role within the organisation thanks to funding from the Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors. Under the funding, FCAQ now has a strong emphasis on strengthening the referral pathways for Queensland Community Support Scheme (QCSS) providers, providing education to QCSS providers, and QCSS providers having access to the FCAQ resource portal. For more information, download the the FCAQ brochure here.
Part of his role is to ensure Queenslanders are aware they can access a fee-free financial counselling service to assist them in getting solutions.
Jon will be a guest speaker in QCOSS’ Managing debt: Keeping the vultures at bay webinar on 9 June. In this free webinar, which is part of QCOSS’ six-part webinar series on financial wellbeing, he will share more detail around what areas financial counsellors work in, and how they are able to assist people in financial stress.
Financial counsellors help people in debt, especially problem debt, get back on their feet financially. There are many reasons people may fall into a debt-trap, including COVID-19. The pandemic and other disasters, including natural disasters and the global financial crisis, cause economic downturns, which can mean people’s incomes drastically change. Financial counsellors can help people navigate through these changes.
“COVID-19 is a social disaster – it breaks down our social and economic structures which impedes on people’s incomes. People get into a pattern of how much they can spend and how they conduct their financial obligations and suddenly these disasters cause an abrupt change to that,” Jon says.
People struggle to respond to reductions in income, particularly those living week to week.
“If people don’t have a savings background, the impact is far greater,” he says.
“When disasters happen, the government and essential services, like banks, provide short-term relief. Relief systems and mechanisms are put in place for consumers, such as six-month automatic hardship programs. This is the stage we are currently in. However, we are starting to creep into the next stage.
“Once the government and essential services support mechanisms end, the pressure will be on people. People will then access financial counselling services. However, people who do not know about financial counselling services will access fee-for-service credit repairers, who may not have the qualifications that financial counsellors do. The other concern is people will access payday loans, which are credit loans with high interest and credit charges.”
Financial counsellors can assist people during these tough times by providing options, such as applying for financial hardship, reducing payments and limiting debt.
“If we feel certain debts are administered incorrectly, we investigate contracts and make complaints about the contract. We start internally with the credit provider and then, if need be, move externally to ombudsman services,” Jon says.
Financial counsellors also provide education to consumers in the financial space about how to better prepare for potential changes.
For people struggling to pay a bill, Jon’s advice is to always talk to the credit or utility provider and let them know your situation, as they may be able to help you create a plan to get back on your feet. If you are not satisfied after speaking with the provider, you can contact a financial counsellor to get extra support. The financial counsellor will mediate with the creditor and the debtor and create a plan to get you back on track.
Financial counsellors understand everyone’s situations are different and will provide an individualised service to their clients.
“We listen to the client and what the client is needing – it may not be just financial. We will gather all information that has impacted on their financial situation – loss of income might just be one of the contributing factors.”
“Good financial counsellors will provide good options and great outcomes for clients and empower them to make the right decision.”