Organizations that collectively serve 80% of Australia’s population are working together to advance financial resilience 

> Posted by Good Shepherd Microfinance

If financial inclusion is looked at as a problem of access, Australia is doing very well. Over 98 percent of the adult population has access to at least one financial service. By comparison, the average level across high-income countries is 91 percent, and the average across low-income countries is 28 percent, according to the Global Findex. But scratching the surface finds many people who are struggling with financial hardship.

3.3 million Australian adults (almost 18 percent of the population) lack access to financial products and services that are considered safe, affordable and appropriate for their needs, and 2.4 million experience severe financial vulnerability, based on research on financial resilience conducted by the Centre for Social Impact (CSI).

Recognizing that collaborative action is needed to improve financial inclusion and resilience for the millions of Australians who are left behind, 30 organizations have joined forces to co-design the Financial Inclusion Action Plan (FIAP) program. Led by Good Shepherd Microfinance on behalf of the Australian Government in partnership with EY and CSI, this program helps participating organizations (Trailblazers) understand their role in advancing financial inclusion and resilience, and take practical actions to realize this potential, for their own clients, employees, suppliers and community partners.

The Action Plans developed by the 30 Trailblazers together contain more than 580 hands-on actions to support people who are struggling to make ends meet. Demonstrating that financial inclusion is a far-reaching challenge in everyone’s best interests, the FIAP Trailblazers go well beyond financial service providers and government agencies, to also include utilities, not-for-profits, universities, legal firms and many more.

FIAP Advisory Group Chair, Delia Rickard, said the aim of the FIAP program was to improve financial inclusion and resilience for vulnerable Australians, and also contribute to Sustainable Development Goals of reducing inequalities and promoting inclusive growth.

“The organizations involved employ over 250,000 people and service almost 80 percent of the population, so the potential impact of their actions is enormous,” Ms Rickard said.

Some examples of the actions being undertaken as part of the FIAP program include:

  • National Australia Bank, one of the country’s four major banks, has partnered with Good Shepherd Microfinance to develop and launch an innovative, low-cost and convenient online loan (Speckle), priced at around half the cost of similar loans.
  • The State Government of Queensland has allocated $31 million over five years, to fund financial counselling and financial resilience workers, and provide continued emergency relief to support financially vulnerable Queenslanders.
  • AGL, a leading energy provider, has committed to training all of its 3,500 staff, to raise awareness of financial hardship, positively change behaviors and attitudes, proactively identify people who may need support, and highlight the services available.
  • Yarra Valley Water, a regional water provider and Energy Australia are collaborating to pilot a cross-sectoral referral program for shared customers facing financial stress, working across teams to offer easy referral pathways.
  • Commonwealth Bank has supported more than 600 newly-arrived refugees to open bank accounts and participate in orientation sessions.
  • Bank Australia has run budgeting and savings workshops for 27 Big Issue vendors in Adelaide and Brisbane, with plans to run workshops nationally.

In addition to a robust framework which supports Trailblazers in taking action, expert partners provide rigorous evaluation (CSI) and quality assurance (EY) which, as the program grows, will contribute to the global evidence-base on what is needed to ‘shift the dial’ on financial inclusion and resilience, and where to invest scare resources to achieve the most significant impact.

On 21 March 2018, the FIAP program celebrated the successful completion of Phase One of the program, releasing a report, “From Foundations to Actions: Measuring the Achievements of Phase One of the Financial Inclusion Action Plan Program”. This report outlines the actions to date, quality assurance and evaluation methods and outcomes, and maps how lessons learnt from the first phase will be used as part of a “Try, Test and Learn” approach to improve the program and reach a critical mass whereby financial inclusion becomes everybody’s business.

Image credit: Good Shepherd Microfinance

Have you read?

Postcards from Australia: Good Shepherd Microfinance and the Financial Continuum

Financial Exclusion in Australia: Whose Problem Is This to Solve?

Australia’s Flourishing Financial Consumer Protection