A community in need: building capability in Whakatane

There is a couple the team at Financial Mentoring Service (Budget Advisory Service Whakatane Inc) (pictured above) have been supporting for a few years – but they are still to be seen at the service in 2022.

While this may often be a cause for concern, manager Tui Edwards is stoked they are no longer requiring the in-depth support the service has given them historically.

This is because of the help coordinator/financial mentor Piri McConnell has been giving them.

The couple, who have disabilities, were part of their total money management programme – a system which gives the service full control over somebody’s finances.

Now, they are doing their online banking themselves, more in control of their spending, paying their own bills and popping into the service ‘here and there’ to check they are still on track, instead of weekly.

“We’re building their capability instead of holding their hand,” says co-ordinator Piri McConnell.

That is the philosophy the small team of dedicated staff and volunteers hold dear.

The service has been established since 1966, and they value their connection to their clients and community (which has a high proportion of Māori clients).

They work with communities including Whakatane township, Ohope, Edgecumbe, Matatā, Tāneatua, Ruatoki and Waimana.

“I’m just blessed to have good staff,” says Tui.

“Pane is our awhi. Her clients absolutely love her – they come in to visit her when she’s not here.

“Every staff member has their own really awesome way, and we seem to be able to connect with the clients.

“We’ve got a mix of different characters and different skills.”

While the COVID-19 red traffic light setting has meant a different style of support for some of their regulars, they are as busy as ever.

Some clients have reportedly lost work because they are not vaccinated.

“They still get the same depth of care and attention – it’s just not face-to-face,” says Tui.

Tui has been with the service for about four years, after she was encouraged to apply for the role.

During that time, the clients’ needs have increased from basic budgeting to more in-depth support – particularly with a noticeable increase in social and mental issues.

“The staff themselves have learned what financial mentoring is and why it matters. We make sure we build that financial capability.”

Tui says these are always hand in hand with any financial issues. And those are increasing too.

“People are getting themselves in more debt because access to funds is easier,” she says.

And it’s not just the Buy Now Pay Later services which have been making headlines in the news.

Bank loans, mortgages, personal and vehicle finances are the types of unmanageable debt people are facing. Their clients have a total of more than $6 million worth of debt in the last six months.

“It’s pretty worrying,” says Tui.

Increasing inflation and the rising cost of living are not helping either. And housing is as stretched as any other community in Aotearoa.

The service has also seen many people move back to the region from the city to live in whānau land – in reverse to what was happening in the 1950s.

The challenges have continued to increase for the community with COVID-19, and they’re still feeling the effects of the Whakaari (White Island) eruption in 2019.

“It’s not looking bright,” says financial mentor Pane van Kampen.

Thankfully, the team has been working hard to build their relationships with local community services like The Salvation Army and iwi, including Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tūhoe, Whakatohea and Ngāti Rangitihi (Te Arawa).

This means they can offer more wrap-around support alongside financial mentoring, and other services are able to fill gaps as needed like food parcels.

There have been clients who have trouble with power bills, which other organisations have been able to pay to help get them back on their feet.

With 78 percent of their clients being Māori, the service has taken a kaupapa Māori approach for the people they work with (including non-Māori).

Kaupapa Māori is a set of values, principles and plans which people have agreed on as a foundation for their action.

The feedback from their clients shows this is working well – particularly this client who has been working with volunteer Theo Duyvestyn.

“Theo helped me realistically understand my financial situation as well as specific achievable steps to support my goals… even researching and connecting me with other processes and agencies to help address my diverse immediate financial needs,” they said.

“I left the office after my visit feeling empowered with new knowledge, understanding and achievable steps to carry out and make progress from there.”

“Everyone benefits from kaupapa Māori,” says Pane.

The bigger picture

Tui recently presented at FinCap’s stakeholder webinar on behalf of financial mentors.

The webinar was to share more about the day-to-day struggles and systems issues vulnerable whānau are facing, to help inform stakeholders’ everyday work.

It was part of the National Strategy for Financial Capability plan outlined by Te Ara Ahunga Ora Retirement Commission.

This was a great opportunity to demonstrate the important mahi financial mentors do, and to promote the need for ongoing, sustainable support for all services.

Currently, Financial Mentoring Service (Budget Advisory Service Whakatane Inc) is also supported by funders like Whakatāne District Council, ACORN, Lotteries and Community Organisations Grants Schemes.

“If we don’t continue to receive the funding at the current rate, we’ll be like our clients – poor and homeless, we won’t be able to pay our rent. We’ll go through stress and trauma and strife again,” says Tui.

“We may not survive this time but our community needs this service.”

If you or anybody you know needs support with personal finance, contact Financial Mentoring Service (Budget Advisory Service Whakatane Inc) on 07 307 1390 or the national MoneyTalks helpline on 0800 345 123 for free, confidential support.