Don’t assume anything: the rewarding career of a financial mentor

What’s the difference between a quantity surveyor and a financial mentor?

“In commercial construction, a calculation error can be the end of your career,” says former senior financial mentor Iain Davies (pictured above).

Iain clocked up 10 years working for his West Auckland community at CARE Waitakere, before he left the service last December to pursue his other passions.

He was volunteering one day a week while he was finishing his quantity surveyor qualification. He decided to become a financial mentor full-time when the opportunity came up.

He says quantity surveying is “budgeting for construction” so when he became a financial mentor, he was able to use many of the analytical and negotiating skills he learned in construction to get better results for clients.

Although the choice between the different industries came down to what was best for his young whānau at the time, Iain subsequently discovered a real passion for helping people to become more confident and competent with money.

The dynamic nature of the role and the amazing team at CARE Waitakere has kept him in the sector for so long.

In his experience, financial capability is key to a strong, resilient whānau – financial mentors are a critical support role in our communities.

“I think it’s important because it offers a safe place to talk about money in a really pragmatic format. It’s something that’s not taught in schools, and often not taught at home,” says Iain.

He points out the increased complexity of financial issues over the last decade as peoples’ budgets have become tighter and new financial products, such as Buy Now Pay Later, have made it easier for people to buy things whether they can afford it or not.

This also means financial mentoring has moved on from purely “figures on paper” to a far more holistic service encompassing mental health and wellbeing.

“If the only thing you’re doing is giving someone a bit of paper, you’re missing an opportunity to really bless them.  At CARE we want people to walk out the door in a better place than when they came in,” says Iain.

“This might be financially better off but often they just need someone to hear their story.”

While the team he worked with was small 10 years ago, they have grown to fill the needs within the local community; with counselling, food bank, social workers and the annual CARE Christmas hamper campaign.

With a more holistic service, clients can easily be cross referred to one of the other teams.

“People will come in and see me for a budget, and it’s pretty clear they could do with sitting down with a counsellor.  We can easily organise that to happen irrespective of their financial situation,” says Iain.

The team at CARE Waitakere are lucky to have a dedicated team of volunteers to support their everyday mahi.  They believe it is important to identify the skills and passions of the volunteer and get them doing what they love.

“If they are amazing at small business planning or IRD advocacy then it makes that they serve in the area they are best at. So, we would often ‘call-in’ our volunteers to work on a client’s specific issues,” explains Iain.

Advocating for a cause

As Iain reflects on his time as a financial mentor, there are a few cases which stand out.

When he was a “super fresh” financial mentor, a client came in for help with a benefit fraud charge. Iain thought something “wasn’t right” and did some investigating.

They were subsequently able to get a lawyer involved and the case went all the way to the High Court.  As a result of having legal representation, the $50,000 debt was wiped, and all charges were dropped.

More recently, he’s spent the last six months investigating a personal loan that was approved without the appropriate affordability assessment.

At the end of the investigation, and in light of the evidence at hand, the lender agreed that they had got it wrong and reversed the loan which resulted in a $15,000 interest write off for the client.

Iain says that a focus of advocacy can have hugely beneficial impacts for clients and their whānau and he encourages others in the sector to continue with their advocacy mahi.

There are many reasons people may not speak up when they see something wrong – they may be scared or there may be some cultural limitations to consider.

There are often cases, such as with the Tenancy Tribunal, where they’ll prepare a client for what to expect on the day. While they won’t speak on their behalf, they’ll attend the hearing in a support role.

“Helping somebody understand their finance situation is one thing but helping then to understand their rights then encouraging them to speak-up has long term impacts,” he says.

For those looking to become a financial mentor or may still be fresh-faced themselves, he has some insights to share.

Iain says being empathetic can be the single most important attribute a financial mentor can have. The technical and financial skills are important but these can be learned.

He says it’s also important to understand the whole situation and ask questions – try not to assume anything.

Iain had a recent case where a landlord said the tenant owed them more than $3000 in missed rent however when a full rent breakdown was carried out, it turned out the landlord actually owed the tenant $500.

And for those who are part of a Christian faith, Iain says “be salt in your communities and partner with the Holy Spirit and He will provide the most amazing breakthroughs”.

While Iain is moving on to explore some of his other passions like building and cabinet making, he says financial mentoring is an incredibly rewarding job.

“It’s so much more then filling out a budget, you have the opportunity to help someone transform their life” says Iain.