Thirteen financial services organisations have combined forces to form the Indigenous Financial Services Network, a group aimed at implementing the recommendations of an 18-month study which concluded that Australia’s indigenous people were the most financially, as well as socially, excluded community in the nation. CATHERINE JAMES reports.

IFSN was launched at the end of February off the back of a study by the National Indigenous Money Management Agenda (NIMMA) Project which made recommendations on how financial services institutions can contribute to the cause of reconciliation.

The Big Four banks are funding the project and represent four of IFSN’s 13 organisations. IFSN has been charged with putting NIMMA’s Banking for the Future report into action, focusing on providing better financial services and education to indigenous Australians. Other organisations taking part are all drawn from NIMMA, which started six years ago under the direction of the independent, not-for-profit organisation Reconciliation Australia.

Reconciliation Australia seconded Australian and New Zealand Bank head of compliance and risk in personal banking, Vinita Godinho, to head IFSN for the next twelve months. Still working out of her old office location – albeit on a different floor – at the ANZ Bank building off Melbourne’s Collins Street, Godinho is thrilled to be part of the project. She was inspired to devote the next 12 months to IFSN after her experience as a volunteer in developing and ultimately launching a financial literacy program in Shepparton, Victoria.

“It was launched so successfully, and the response has been so great. It really does make such a big difference to so many people’s lives,” Godinho said. “Seeing that made me realise, if I could do that as a volunteer, imagine if I could devote a whole 12 months full time?” Godinho will coordinate between the 13 organisations and other broader members (those who were part of the original NIMMA) to action – “not just discuss”, she said – the concerns around access to and understanding of financial services among indigenous Australians and lobbying for change where necessary.

She said the network was also bearing fruit in other aspects, with partnerships being set up among some of the big players in financial services and the smaller providers which are part of the network. “There is a ripple effect in having such a networking opportunity,” Godinho said. “The smaller organisations have an equal voice in this network, and so whereas before they would never have dared approach the big groups, now they’re discussing projects they can do together.”