Access to fair and affordable finance

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By NAB Group Executive, Michaela Healey.

The recent NAB Wellbeing Index found that an astounding 40 per cent of Australians feel highly anxious – with young women the most affected. Young women typically report the highest levels of anxiety of any group surveyed and report wellbeing at levels significantly lower than the general population.

Drilling down into the “why?” the survey provides insight into the reasons for the low levels of wellbeing reported by young women.

General finances, lack of time and events such as physical or emotional abuse feature as key detractors from wellbeing. Disturbingly, on balance only 13 per cent of young women aged between 18 and 29 said that mental wellbeing contributed positively to their overall wellbeing, a rate significantly lower than the 36 per cent reported by the general population. These findings corroborate the experience of support service providers such as Lifeline who report that most of their callers are female and that financial stress is one of the key contributors as to why they feel they are not coping.

Much of the talk around gender parity and International Women’s Day focuses on pay equality. Pay equality is just a start. Yes, we need pay equality. Yes, we need to equip women with the confidence to take control of their finances and develop positive relationships with money. But when we are dealing with women at their most vulnerable, we also need to ensure that they have access to fair and affordable finance which not only can reduce their level of anxiety attributable to finances and money, but also empower them to take action to either address or remove the situation that is the root cause of their anxiety and vulnerability.

Given their inability to access conventional finance products, vulnerable women, many of them young women, are turning in increasing numbers to more expensive offerings of non-bank providers to address short term financial needs. In doing so they risk entering into a spiralling pattern of debt from which they struggle to escape. But there is an alternative

I recently took NAB’s new Chairman Ken Henry on a microfinance immersion which gave us the opportunity to see and hear firsthand about the valuable work being undertaken by Good Shepherd Microfinance and NAB.

Through this partnership we offer fair and affordable finance in the form of no interest and low interest loans. These provide a viable alternative to help people who would otherwise struggle to access fair financial products get “back on their feet” without the stress associated with excessive fees. Seventy per cent of our customers for these products are women.

We then take the next step towards helping customers achieve financial confidence and competence by offering approved customers matched savings accounts to help form positive habits with respect to money. All these things can help address anxiety attributable to financial stress.

As is often said – “people don’t know what they don’t know”. We can all help by getting word out about the availability of fair and affordable finance, and doing so in a way that makes it a compelling proposition particularly for young women.

Whilst there is no “one size fits all” solution to addressing anxiety and improving the wellbeing of young women –there are clear indicators of what we can do to stem the tide. Raising awareness about the availability of fair and affordable finance, and doing so in a way that is attractive and compelling, particularly to young women, has a key role to play.

Michaela Healey is a Group Executive at the National Australia Bank, Council Member of Chief Executive Women and the inaugural President of the International Women’s Forum Australia.

 

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