Financial advice ‘cleaned up so much mess’ after Jacqueline’s life was devastated by unexpected trauma

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Widowed with two babies at 25, Jacqueline Goodwin can attest to how quickly life can change.

Aside from her grief and personal trauma, the financial strain left her equally devastated.

“When you get to this fork where you don’t have money to eat — we’ve got to get rid of the stigma — from the point of view, something like this can really happen to anyone,” she said.

“When I was starting to get on my emotional feet, my finances were completely falling apart because I had borrowed money.

People in financial need may think that an accountant does the same thing as a financial planner or a financial advisor – but their services are completely different.

Like specialists in medicine, those working in finance also have different areas of expertise.

Financial advisers should not charge for their services and through referrals from the National Debt Helpline (NDH) people struggling to get out of debt can use their services.

Mrs Goodwin faced an uncertain future when her husband, Queensland Police Constable Mark Goodwin, was killed while on duty in 1991.

“I got married to a wonderful police officer who kind of started saving me,” she said.

“He was the first person to ever give me unconditional love and every time I say that I start to cry.

“Pandora’s box was opened. I already had postnatal depression – my eldest child was 14 months and my youngest was just three months old when Mark was killed.

Jacqueline Goodwin sits outside at Manly with Moreton Bay behind her
After the trauma of losing her husband, Jacqueline Goodwin had other relationships involving domestic violence.(ABC News: Alice Pavlovic)

“I’m trying to get out of this and I’m trying to get some kind of footing.

“I would get jobs that I couldn’t stay in and then I was about to lose my children.

“So self-esteem – what is it? You don’t even understand where the line for you starts and ends.”

Domestic violence contributed to the dire economic situation

After the trauma of losing her husband, Mrs Goodwin had other relationships involving domestic violence.

Mrs Goodwin said friends provided her with food because she could not afford to pay for groceries and her mortgage.

“I had two credit cards and they were born out of domestic violence [situation],” she said.

“I’m in absolute need. The most important thing for me is paying my mortgage and paying my health insurance.”

She said she kept her bank informed of her financial situation and got a two-month reprieve on her mortgage and referred her to a free financial adviser.

“I’m like ‘oh my God, thank you so much’ and I’m crying, seriously crying,” she said.

“[But] I thought when they told me to go to the community center I was like “a community center – what are they going to do?”

It was here that Mrs Goodwin met Jeffrey Chong – Redland Community Centre’s financial adviser.

Jacqueline Goodwin in her house having a cup of coffee with her partner.
Jacqueline Goodwin says no one should feel shame or stigma about getting financial advice.(ABC News: Alice Pavlovic)

“Jeff always makes it like I can always call him and he just makes it very easy for me.

“He’s helped me get over a lot of fear – he puts everything in a nice black and white way.”

She said the expertise of a financial adviser like Mr Chong helped immensely when dealing with banks and credit providers.

“I’ve seen him try people who lend money to people who have almost no ability to keep their dog fed, let alone keep gas in a car,” she said.

Jacqueline Goodwin walks along a path looking out onto the water of Moreton Bay near Manly.
For Jacqueline Goodwin, her financial journey is now on a stronger path thanks to her financial advisor(ABC News: Alice Pavlovic)

“He’s definitely there to help remind the lender [of their responsibilities].”

Ms Goodwin said there needed to be more promotion about the availability of financial advice as a free service.

“I also think our society will have higher suicide rates if we don’t make this a more overt service,” she said.

Ms Goodwin said her financial journey was now on a stronger path thanks to Mr Chong and she had a renewed purpose in life.

Brisbane woman Jacqueline Goodwin smiles at her partner Jamie in a park
Jacqueline Goodwin with her partner Jamie.(ABC News: Alice Pavlovic)

“I’m not afraid of anything … Jeff used his pen and his heart and lassoed [my financial situation]. He’s the most amazing guy,” Ms Goodwin said.

Tens of thousands seek financial advice every year

Financial Counseling Australia (FCA) – the not-for-profit association that oversees the profession – said there were about 800 financial advisers working across the country for tens of thousands of people seeking financial advice each year.

However, FCA chief executive Fiona Guthrie said there were “many for-profit companies trying to undermine our good name”.

“A lot of people do Google searches and so on and unfortunately the paid ads come first so people think they might be doing the right thing and they can easily be misled – it’s very, very frustrating.

“The type of calls we get are very cost of living related – people not being able to pay for essentials, so not just debt – the debt would be on top of that.”

Fiona Guthrie speaks while standing at a lectern addressing a conference.
Fiona Guthrie says no one should pay for financial advice as those who do have their own interests centered on getting paid.(Provided by: Financial Counseling Australia)

Allison Wicks, chief executive of Redland Community Centre, east of Brisbane, said for-profit organizations offering similar services should not call it financial advice and could use other terms.

“You don’t have to pay for budgeting and financial advice that you might have to sort through the bills you have, [and] lawyer to debt collection agencies.”

Ms Wicks said any financial adviser who was a member of the FCA should not charge a fee.

“Financial advice – it’s free, it’s independent – it’s the equivalent of being a JP,” Ms Wicks said.

“I think people perceive that when a service is free, it doesn’t have the same level of skill, credibility.

“It’s completely and utterly wrong when it comes to financial advice – because it’s quite a qualification to achieve.”

Allison Wicks smiles as she helps a client at the center.
Allison Wicks, chief executive at Redland Community Centre, says any financial adviser who is a member of the FCA should not charge a fee.(Provided by: Redland Community Centre)

Referral to the National Debt Helpline

Ms Wicks said people could access financial advice via the National Debt Helpline and from there they were referred to agencies for more help.

When the COVID pandemic hit, Ms. Wicks said 25 percent of her center’s clients were new.

“In most cases, one or the other of these — high gas costs, rising interest rates, rising energy, a housing crisis — any one of them will be enough to cause big ripples, like a butterfly effect, through society — we” I have the whole box and the dice,” said Mrs. Wicks.

She said her center was seeing more people becoming very stressed amid Australia’s economic situation.

Ms Wicks said the main role of financial advisers was to advocate and negotiate.

“They are the world’s best negotiators for schemes for people in financial difficulty and it is very much dependent on that particular person’s set of individual circumstances,” she said.

“When it comes to a debt collection agency, everyone fears that it has gone too far and will end up in court.

“The letters that they’re doing as part of that advocacy to banks – it’s all very well managed and producing some outstanding results – literally millions of dollars have been lifted from people as a financial burden – and you can imagine the stress , which also promises.”

Financial advisers ‘completely unbiased’

FCA financial adviser Deb Shroot said her clients were given different options rather than being told what to do.

“What financial advisers do is present all the pros and cons of each of these options so the client can make an informed decision,” Ms Shroot said.

“I think it’s really, really important to know and we’re completely unbiased.

“The way I explain the difference is that financial planners help people who have money to invest. Financial advisors help people who are struggling with debt.”

Deb Shroot smiles as she stands with another person.
Deb Shroot says financial advisors always work in the person’s best interest.(Provided by: Financial Counseling Australia)

Many people are now ‘self-help’

The National Debt Helpline service was extended to offer a national chat service on its website from 1 July and a small business debt helpline was also available.

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