Industry super fund HESTA is joining a program with Good Shepherd Microfinance to help members facing hardship avoid payday lenders and get access to finance.
HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said the program, known as the Financial Inclusion Access Plan (FIAP), was designed to help members facing hardship to build greater financial resilience when the mainstream financial system excludes them.
“Three million people in Australia are experiencing some form of financial exclusion, many of these are women, and this puts them at greater risk of poor social, economic and health outcomes.” Ms Blakey said.
The fund believes FIAP will be a useful addition to services for its 820,000 membership, 80 per cent of whom are women. “Through the FIAP we have identified ways to improve our processes, services, and how we partner with organisations to ensure that every one of our members, in particular females, have a secure future,” Ms Blakey said.
The fund plans to direct members who apply for early super withdrawals on the grounds of hardship to Good Shepherd, whether they are granted super withdrawals or not. Good Shepherd, in its turn, can provide loans on much less onerous conditions that those offered by payday lenders.
In the 2014/15 FY HESTA received 3,159 claims, 6 per cent of these were for amounts greater than $5,000. As part of its FIAP commitment, HESTA has implemented a streamlined financial hardship claims process, making it quicker and easier for members to make a claim.
Over the next 12 months the Fund will also introduce a referral service so that members seeking to access their super early due to financial hardship can access additional financial counselling and support.
Adam Mooney, CEO of Good Shepherd Microfinance and Chair of the FIAP Partnership Group, said financial modelling showed that the plans could generate government savings of $583 million and lift household wealth by $11.8 billion. The savings will result from reduced welfare costs and protecting household assets.
The FIAP partnership group consists of 12 organisations including ANZ, NAB, Australian Ethical and HESTA.
Mr Mooney said FIAPs provided organisations with a blue print for how they were going to make a difference to the millions of people in Australia experiencing financial exclusion and hardship. “A Financial Inclusion Action Plan contains specific, measurable actions an organisation will take to advance financial inclusion, with a particular focus on women and girls, Mr Mooney said.
The collective action of the 12 trailblazers was officially launched at the Resilient Women Summit in Sydney on November 25. It was hosted by Good Shepherd Microfinance, which brings together financial resilience experts from Australia and abroad, to improve the financial resilience of women.
The summit also heard from women willing to share their personal stories, including one who used its services to buy herself a car when conventional financiers would not come to the party.