Role: Consumer Affairs Officer
Company: Consumer Council
Track Record: Worked with a number of public sector bodies before joining the Consumer Council as a researcher in the energy team.
What does your role involve?
My role is to increase consumer skills and confidence in relation to managing money. For me, this means helping people take control of their money by increasing people’s focus on maximising their income, budgeting, shopping around, saving for a rainy day and knowing where to get help if in financial difficulty.
I also work on behalf of consumers to drive change in the financial markets and to ensure that consumers are able to access and use a range of financial products and services such as a bank account or car insurance.
A key part of my work is managing the Financial Capability Partnership NI which was set up by the Consumer Council. This partnership brings together Government, banks, building societies, credit unions, education, community and voluntary sectors.
This week has marked our third Money Week in Craigavon and has aimed to provide practical help, information and innovative solutions for consumers to help make their money work for them.
How did you get into the position in the first place?
After gaining some experience working in public sector bodies I joined the Consumer Council working as a researcher in the energy team. This role was directly relevant to my master’s degree and I knew the experience would be invaluable to me. I enjoyed working on consumer issues and wanted to gain more policy experience so I applied for my current post and have been there ever since.
Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity?
I always wanted to work on issues that really matter to people. Helping consumers acquire the skills to manage their money seems to come naturally to me as I’ve always been very careful with my money. I also think my first experiences of managing the money I earned made me appreciate its value and this never went away.
What training or previous experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?
I worked in the hospitality sector for many years and for a large telecoms company.
As well as my BSc in Management, I have a Masters degree in Leadership for Sustainable Development from Queen’s University in Belfast. My third level education has given me the skills such as research, economics and statistics that have been invaluable to my current and previous jobs.
What is your organisation’s role in the local community?
The Consumer Council works to increase the knowledge and skills of consumers across Northern Ireland and we lobby for change where we see consumer detriment. We work with consumers of all ages by delivering resources, information, presentations, and training sessions across all communities. We engage with consumers to hear and represent their views to policy and decision-makers.
And how does your role fit in as part of this?
I engage directly with consumers across Northern Ireland. This can be through talks, giving workshops, running intensive campaigns like Money Week with one particular community, or undertaking research about managing your money.
I am also working with LINK, the cash machine network provider, to make sure that consumers in deprived communities of Northern Ireland have convenient access to free-to-use cash machines. Last year seven new machines were installed in low income areas across Northern Ireland, giving consumers free access to their cash.
What sort of personality and qualities do you need to do your job successfully?
Running initiatives like Money Week involves juggling various objectives, working with community and political representatives and managing the needs of over 30 organisations that make up the Financial Capability Partnership NI. Therefore, you need to have good communication and organisational skills and be a people person.
What are the biggest rewards of the job? And the biggest challenges?
Knowing that the work we do really helps people; whether it’s working on an educational resource or lobbying Government to highlight an important issue for consumers, it’s a challenging but very rewarding job.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Surround yourself with good people. I think this is true whether that be in our working life or private life.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the same job?
Working on money issues can be very challenging; it means keeping up to date at all times with what can be a changing and complex environment.
You learn that money issues affect all consumers, young and old, whether that be finding affordable car insurance or planning for your retirement.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I am fortunate enough to live in rural County Down and take advantage of the beautiful scenery, mountains and coastline on my doorstep with my husband and our two West Highland Terriers.
I have a very close family and a great circle of friends so I love to catch up with them all regularly.