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Financial services stalwart Kate McCallum on fighting the bush fires

by Lewis Panther | 10 Dec 2019
Christmas and the summer holidays might be a time to sit back. Relax at the beach. Maybe go away with the family.

But for Kate McCallum, who founded Multiforte Financial Services more than a decade ago, it looks like being busier than ever.

Not least because her latest role - which she readily admits has taken her way outside her comfort zone - is as a volunteer bush firefighter with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.

With the bush fires that are threatening to engulf large swathes of the country showing no signs of receding, she is simply pragmatic when she says she expecting to be in the thick of the dense smoke battling to save people and property over the coming months.

Kate, who has been FINSIA’s NSW chair since the beginning of 2018, volunteered for the service with her husband when she moved out of Sydney two years ago. That the couple are in the midst of 40 acres of rainforest means knowing what to do is at the very least practical.

She said: “My husband was keen to make sure we understand what we need to do in the event of a bushfire. 

“Volunteering was also about connecting in with this new community that we have moved into. 

“We thought we could join some like minded people while doing something very purposeful for our community.”

Like the other 75,000 volunteers, intensive training included two to five hours of training a week, learning how to use the pumps on the trucks, set up fire hoses, refill the water on the trucks, accessing water from sources like a dam and back-burning techniques. Getting to grips with radio communications is also crucial in fighting blazes.

“I've learned an enormous amount,” she said. 

“I have never done anything that has pushed me so far outside my comfort zone as this.

“I'm not naturally a practical person. I don't tinker with machinery, things like that. 

“Understanding how to start a pump, or a generator was a bit mind bending. What was really good was being part of a group of people, truly working as a team.”

Getting started was also instructive, Kate said.

“I think that sense of feeling incompetent is a good reminder, particularly for our young finance professionals,” she said.

“It's a reminder to be kind to people who are learning and to do the mentoring work and do the supportive work and help them be the best that they can be. 

“It reminds you of what it feels like to be a rookie and not have a high level of competence. Most other things that I do, I have a lot of experience and I'm bringing competence to them that I've developed over the years. Bush fire fighting is something where I had no prior competence and so it was really challenging.”

The skillset Kate brought to the service has seen her become community engagement officer, organising education sessions to help ensure people have a bushfire plan to have the best chance of keeping family, pets and property safe. 

“That has just been amazing,” she said. 

“I went into this thinking, I'll get out there with a hose, manning the pump and doing stuff on the fire ground, and that is a key part of my role.

“However the community engagement is just as important. We’ve prepared more than 100 households which can save lives because they now have a very, very clear idea on what they need to do.”

The parallels with the day job in financial services are clear, she says, adding: “There's a lot of information from the professionals in an industry who know how to do things well and efficiently to keep you safe, whether it's financially safe so that you're not contravening law or in our case, it's personal safety.

“The thing that I like about both organisations is that there's a leverage effect. 

“I put my uniform on as part of our RFS crew, go out with the fire truck and people listen. They want to know how to make sure they’re safe.

“If I think about things here and some of the communities that exist within FINSIA, like the Industry Councils and the New South Wales Council, there are parallels. 

“What we're doing is we're taking these messages back into our organisations and our communities.

“The trick with education, whether it's FINSIA or our rural fire service, is it has to be delivered in a context where it's meaningful to people. 

“We're in an environment in financial services at the moment where I think people are far more aware. 

“It's a little bit like the bushfire threat. People are far more aware of the ethical and integrity risks and the noncompliance risks in the marketplace post the Royal Commission. And I think it's a little bit like having the smoke in the air.

“Many people in our community are feeling quite unsettled with the bushfires nearby. I suspect I’ll be busy using the skills I’ve picked up in the next couple of months on the fire ground.”

But Kate seems to thrive on being busy.

She’s sat the FASEA exam last week and has just finished writing a book (which will be published in April 2020), called “The Joy of Money”.


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