Early financial counselling services focused their client interaction more on budgeting and debt repayment*. Over time and recognising the role that unfair markets played in perpetuating disadvantage, workers engaged clients in a different manner; not just as victims, to be given material aid, or as incompetents to be lectured about changing their ways. Financial counsellors sought to work with and for their clients, listening and suggesting rather than telling. In the process a clearer picture emerged of the structural challenges that low income consumers face in accessing products and services on safe and fair terms.
It was not long before the pioneers of this emerging service model started to see common threads in their work. Looking backwards then it should be no surprise that there was an attraction to building networks and sharing experiences to better serve individual clients and to pursue systemic advocacy opportunities.
By 1982, the structure of an organised national financial counselling network was in place. That network grew quickly, at least in prominence if not total number.
Betty Weule, a respected financial counsellor from New South Wales, was there at the formation. Betty recalls that the Financial Counsellors' Association of Australia came into existence in 1984 in Melbourne. Records show that the new body, forerunner to the current FCA, held its first national conference at St George's College Perth, from the 17th to the 21st of February 1985.
At some point, FCAA became AFCCRA, the Australian Financial Counselling and Credit Reform Association. The organisation was successful in attracting government funding to perform its peak body role. That funding was withdrawn in 1996 when the Federal Government changed. That AFCCRA continued to exist was testimony to the work of a dedicated group of volunteers, particularly Jan Pentland. (There is more information about Jan at www.janpentlandfoundation.org )
In 1999, Jan opened her home, bringing together the then members of the AFCCRA Council to decide the future of the organisation. AFCCRA was at a turning point and there was a real danger that it would fold. The group however decided to continue, albeit in a different way to the past, reflecting its diminished resources. It was too important to the future of the profession, and to the clients of financial counsellors, to see the peak body fade away. Jan remained on the executive of AFCCRA until her death, including eight years in total as its Chair.
In the 2008 budget, the Treasurer Wayne Swan announced that funding for the Commonwealth Financial Counselling Program would be doubled, from the then $2.5 million per year (unchanged since the program began in 1990) to $5 million. In early 2009, the Federal Government again provided funding for AFCCRA to allow it to perform its peak body role adequately.
In 2009, as part of its response to the Global Financial Crisis, the Government also provided additional funding to the sector as a whole. This funding was for two years only, but was thanfully extended for a further three years in the 2011 budget.
In 2011, AFCCRA changed its name to Financial Counselling Australia (FCA). This is a simpler name to remember and use.