Cover Story: Amanda Young
Deep impact
Big Super Day Out traverses vast terrain to reunite Indigenous people and the disenfranchised with their lost superannuation one postcode at a time. This year it returned $14.5m in less than two weeks. Karren Vergara writes.

A retiree walks into the inaugural Big Super Day Out event wondering if he is entitled to superannuation after working as a postie most of his life. Exactly how much, he didn't know.

After volunteers identified him as a public servant under an old defined benefit scheme, they traced $750,000 to his name and an outpouring of emotions erupts.

$17.5 billion - the amount of superannuation lost.
Seeing lives change, Amanda Young says, is the most rewarding aspect of her role as chief executive of First Nations Foundation (FNF), the only Aboriginal charity in financial services.

Since 2014, Melbourne-based FNF has been running Big Super Day Out, a one-stop shop that reunites Indigenous people with their super.

With the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Department of Human Services in tow, the outreach travels to cities and remote regions stretching from Perth and Cairns to central Australia's Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY Lands). It provides identification checks, and uses myGov and SuperStream to track missing super.

About 32 super funds take part to connect with members. This year, Big Super Day Out found $14.5 million of Indigenous super in 13 days. "What takes one to two years is done in one day," Young says.

"We flew to Cairns in July, which had $63 million in lost super sitting in its post codes. Darwin had $21 million and Kununurra had $19 million."

Young says the program is strategic about which areas it tackles, guided by the ATO's lost super figures. Latest estimates show $17.5 billion remains unaccounted for.

Identification issues

The Hayne Royal Commission exposed serious identification issues Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face when accessing financial services that's significantly held back by the providers' lack of proactive engagement.

ASIC noted in its submission that financial institutions are generally aware of issues associated with identifying Indigenous consumers in remote areas, but processes and procedures are either failing to overcome the gaps or inconsistently applied.

If financial counselling organisations and Indigenous advocates spent less time on identification, ASIC said that effort could be used to improve budgeting skills, and financial literacy and capability.

Young says identification is the top issue impeding Aboriginal people from accessing their super.

"People forget that in cities and towns it's easy to get a birth certificate and proof of ID. [This makes it] not possible for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to access superannuation services."

Young says the Royal Commission provided an opportunity to put the spotlight on these issues, along with gaps in financial literacy.

Until the 1967 referendum, Aboriginal people were not allowed to own property or participate in the economy. Wages were paid to the government on their behalf - so they didn't learn money skills, she explains.

The majority don't realise super is deducted from their pay, Young says, adding some Aboriginal people in Townsville don't understand why charging 48% interest on a credit card is too high.

University of New South Wales research shows the financial system is fully or severely excluding 43% of Aboriginal people, Young says. She's determined to change this figure.

Raising awareness

In 2019, Young hopes to expand Big Super Day Out to Northern Territory and Western Australia, but aspires to visit more several, remote regions.

Precisely how many depends on sponsorship from super funds and group insurers.

Most of the volunteer spots go to paid sponsors, while supporters such as the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees, will at times help with call outs for volunteers.

Volunteers are typically trained to become culturally competent; they don't realise how hard it is to use the system for the average Joe let alone how impossible it is for Aboriginal people, Young says. What keeps Young awake at night is how much more needs to be done.

"I have to find ways to keep these doors open at this charity because we receive no government money.

"I'd like to be past that. I think we've demonstrated we do good job that we are a great investment and we can achieve amazing outcomes."

Super funds collect $31 billion in fees per year, she says, while FNF has to fundraise the minimum $60,000 to hold the events.

"Aboriginal people are paying fees to funds for services they aren't receiving. We are taking the services to them in the heart of the hardest places in the country."

The superannuation industry has almost $18 billion of wages, she adds. "It's not a good report card."

What Young would like to see is more support and investment from the super industry and to consider FNF as a branch of their business models.

FNF was spun off from the First Nations Credit Union in 2006 to offer financial literacy training programs to members.

It became highly in demand with employers of Indigenous people and later evolved to My Moola, a one to two-day money management training course.

Young says those who attend oftentimes don't know the difference between a debit and credit card, afterward feel more empowered. "If you teach one person, the wonderful thing is he or she tends to teach six other people."

The aim, she notes, is to get the 320,000 or so working Indigenous people across the fundamental basics of financial literacy.

In November, FNF began offering My Moola digitally. Young hopes banks and financial services companies will jump on board and take it to the marketplace.

"We can't let another generation of people go by not understanding the basics of financial literacy."

Across the seas

The foundation's success is resonating on the world stage. Global organisations are reaching out to collaborate in the future.

In 2017, Young presented at the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association (AFOA) National Conference, Canada's annual event that hosts thought leadership on Indigenous finance and management.

"I am pleased to say that First Nations Foundation is a global leader in Indigenous financial literacy," she says.

The AFOA was so inspired by Young's talk on Indigenous human capital that they themed the 2019 conference around it.

She returned to this year's conference as a guest of honour.

This time, Young spoke about the affect of artificial intelligence and blockchain on the workforce.

What algorithms cannot ultimately do is replicate innate skills, she said, and pointed out that Indigenous people around the world look very attractive because they think in an ecosystem way.

"They possess community skills and understand how everything interrelates."

Back home, Young says financial services must brace for a brand-new economy on the horizon, given 40% of Australia's land mass has been returned to Indigenous people.

"There is an economy waiting to happen and financial services need First Nations Foundation to prepare their clients for the future because they are the ones we are going to be investing in."

Hard work meets opportunity

Young sees herself as a bridge between Aboriginal people and financial services. "I love that moment when they come together [and] a life is changed."

Leading FNF is a "consuming passion" that doesn't leave a lot of latitude for down time (she works an 80-hour week).

At an early age Young wanted to become a doctor, but it turned out physics wasn't her strength. Her next option was law.

After university, Young worked as a criminal law solicitor and advocate at Legal Aid Queensland for more than five years. She then became a strategic adviser at the Queensland Government for stolen wages litigation. In 2004, she moved to Melbourne to work for the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to manage its legal unit.

Young has since worked in the areas of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy and advocacy, spanning the political, economic and social fields.

Her passion for helping people underscores a career trajectory she describes as one that unfolded organically. "My career path has been fascinating because it's been at the forefront of a lot of innovation around the social agenda."

What tended to happen was people - particularly Aboriginal leaders - became aware of Young's work and approached her with, 'I have this groundbreaking project I want to get off the ground, would you be able to help?'

"They knew I was trusted and produce results, but the main thing is I'm a doer," she says. Three years ago, Victorian Aboriginal leaders tapped her on the shoulder to lead FNF.

"Now that I am working in the economic space for the Aboriginal people, I have every intention of making a big change to the financial prosperity of Aboriginal people in this country." fs

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