Message from Michelle Smerdon, National Pro Bono Manager
Welcome to our first edition of Pro Bono Press for 2018. It is already shaping up to be another very productive year and with your help, we are assisting an ever-increasing number of clients across the country. We are so grateful to our wonderful referrers for keeping us in mind when speaking with clients, and to volunteer professionals nationally who generously donate their time to support and provide advice to people affected by cancer.
In January, the Pro Bono team had the privilege of attending the national AMP Advice Summit at the Sydney International Conference Centre, which allowed us to engage with financial planners involved, or interested in being involved in, the program. In this edition, we chat with Genine Cowell, financial advisor at Kismet Financial Services, who won the AMP Cancer Council Pro Bono Practice of the Year Award. This award recognises the AMP Financial Planning practices that make outstanding contributions to the Pro Bono Program. We are incredibly grateful to all financial planners across the country who provide often life changing advice and support to clients, and to the AMP Foundation for their continued support.
The start of the year has also seen the team continue work to expand the program and register more professionals to assist cancer patients and their families who are unable to afford the cost of advice. We have recruited an additional 34 professional practices including lawyers, financial planners, workplace advisers and small business accountants. The team also travelled to Wagga Wagga and Albury to meet with professionals in the local community. We also welcomed two new paralegals to the team, Daniella Foley and Bradley Johnson.
From the whole team, we are excited to be working with you in 2018 and look forward to what this year has in store. Thank you, as always, for your ongoing support.
Michelle Smerdon, National Pro Bono Manager
Chatting with Genine Cowell, financial advisor at Kismet Financial
In January, the Pro Bono team attended the 2018 AMP Advice Summit in Sydney. The team had the privilege of meeting representatives who participate in the Cancer Council Pro Bono Program. It is always wonderful to spend three days with advisers, hearing incredible stories of their work with people affected by cancer, and speaking with new advisers who are interested in volunteering their time.
It was also fantastic to see so many financial planners across the country who were nominated for the AMP Cancer Council Pro Bono Practice of the Year Award. We spoke with the 2018 winner of the award, Genine Cowell, the practice principal of Kismet Financial Services, about her involvement in the program. Genine has helped more than 50 families affected by cancer, assisting 9 clients in 2017 alone.
What involvement have you had in the Cancer Council Pro Bono Program?
I joined the Cancer Council Pro Bono Program when the program was first started. I believe it is important to give back to the community and the program assists people going through one of the toughest times in their lives. Kismet has always had a community focus and in 2008 we won the Leader Newspaper community award. I advise my clients when we first meet that my job is to take over the financial stress, so they can concentrate on healing. If we can take some of that burden off their shoulders, so they can fight the disease, they are so appreciative.
Why do you think access to financial planning assistance for people affected by cancer is important?
The diagnosis of cancer is devastating, hearing those three words “you have cancer” changes your life forever, at this point your mind is whirling with so much information about treatment and the question that keeps running through your mind is am I going to live? I know these were some of my first thoughts when I heard those 3 words. Clients and their families are not thinking logically at this point and finances are not a high priority, however when the weekly wages stop, the bills start piling up, they are struggling to pay loans, the financial stress adds another layer of worry to an already difficult situation.
When meeting with cancer patients the one comment that stays with me is they often say their lives are on hold, on hold because of the treatment and their financial position. By having access to financial planning assistance clients often discover they have income protection, total and permanent disability and life insurance attached to their superannuation and in some cases have multiple policies as they have multiple super funds. By being able to provide financial planning assistance I am able to provide them with information and assistance to address their financial needs and in some cases will fight on their behalf to ensure they don’t need to be concerned about any financial stresses that may arise.
Can you touch on some highlights of your involvement with the program?
Through the Pro Bono Program, I have had the pleasure of meeting a lot of amazing people and the privilege of being able to assist them at one of the worst moments of their lives.
I had one client who was only given a short time to live, he wanted to settle his wife back with her family overseas before he died. I was able to assist them to tie up their finances in Australia ensuring their move went smoothly. I also assisted in the release of super funds, so they could travel around Australia before leaving.
This program allows me to share my knowledge and experience both financial and as a cancer survivor, I have met so many people and made some great friends and all while doing what I love: helping people with their finances.
Pro Bono Trip to Wagga Wagga and Albury
On 14 and 15 March, Pro Bono Program Coordinator Cindy Berghofer and Pro Bono Case Manager Laura Muir visited the Riverina with a view to increasing the reach of our services and presenting what our program has to offer. Cindy and Laura spoke with referring health professionals at the Wagga Wagga Community Office and Albury Wodonga Health about the services accessible to people affected by cancer through the Pro Bono Program and answered any questions they had.
Cindy and Laura also took the time to meet with lawyers and financial planners in the region who generously volunteer their time and give back to patients and carers in Wagga, Albury and surrounding areas, alleviating the burden of legal and financial issues for clients so they can focus on their health.
Laura explains, “this outreach enables us to build and strengthen relationships, awareness and understanding about the program among referrers and these trips are a fantastic opportunity for the Pro Bono team to meet with and thank our volunteer professionals who generously donate their time and expertise to assist people affected by cancer in their communities.”
The Pro Bono team would like to extend a big thank you to Cancer Council staff, Melissa Dixon and Phillipa Grant, for their assistance in organising the trip.
Summer Volunteer Clerkship Program
This summer the Pro Bono Program welcomed a new cohort of law students as part of our Summer Volunteer Clerkship Program. Volunteer Summer Clerks dedicate two days per week for 8 weeks and are responsible for contacting clients to assess their eligibility for free assistance and unpack their legal, financial and workplace needs. Their contributions are vital to connecting clients with volunteer service providers.
We asked Ben, a law student from the University of Technology Sydney, about his time in the program:
Why did you volunteer with the Pro Bono Program?
I applied for the summer clerkship with the Pro Bono Program because I have long believed that volunteering is a very important social activity; it can provide otherwise unattainable benefits to the recipient of the service, the service provider, and society at large.
Sadly, cancer is still a disease that will impact most Australians – whether directly or through others like family, friends, or colleagues. It was therefore a no-brainer to get involved with the Cancer Council – you just have to take a quick look at its work across cancer advocacy, research, and practical support to understand why it is such an important not-for-profit.
What did you enjoy most about volunteering with the Pro Bono Program?
It was a privilege to contribute to the delivery of the Pro Bono Program at Cancer Council, one of Australia’s leading not-for-profits. While I will be the first to admit that this can be a challenging area to work in given our clients’ situations, the hands-on nature of my role in the assistance process motivated me. I also enjoyed the opportunity to challenge and sharpen some key legal skills in the process of delivering legal and financial services to clients, namely client interviewing and issue identification and analysis.
I appreciated the opportunity to work alongside a consistently passionate, enthusiastic, and supportive team and I am proud and appreciative of the work we do at the Cancer Council Pro Bono Program.
We would like to take this opportunity to recognise the amazing work of all our past and current volunteers, who we cannot thank enough for their hard work and commitment.
Did you know?
One way in which people affected by cancer can access the Pro Bono Program and, in turn, be referred to volunteer professionals in the community is by calling our Information and Support line 13 11 20. Hear a little more about 13 11 20 here:
Pro Bono in the News
4 February 2018 was World Cancer Day. Its tagline “We can. I can”, inspired us to explore how we can all do our part to reduce the burden of cancer and support patients and their families. In the lead up to World Cancer Day, there were a number of news articles which highlighted the need for legal, financial and workplace support for people affected by cancer.
As the Cancer Council released new statistics that highlight the growing effects of cancer, Sanchia Aranda writes about the need to close the gap in cancer outcomes, as survival rates fluctuate depending on cancer type as well as economic, cultural and geographical factors. Recognising these issues, the Pro Bono Program continues to work to help people affected by cancer to access free legal, financial and workplace advice.
AMP recognises the invaluable contributions made by AMP advisors through its partnership with the Cancer Council Financial Planning Referral Service, including 2018 winner of the AMPFP Pro Bono Award, Genine Cowell (featured above).
The Financial Planning Association of Australia (FPA) highlights its support of the Cancer Council Financial Planning Referral Service as part of global efforts to raise awareness of World Cancer Day on 4 February.