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Do your homework to avoid ‘culture tax’, accountants told


To gain the trust of clients from diverse backgrounds it makes sense to educate yourself about them, says a change specialist.

By Malavika Santhebennur 10 minute read

A diversity advocate says the onus is on accountants and others in financial services to build cultural awareness and create a safe environment for clients from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Michelle Lim, the organisational culture and change lead at the RBA speaking in her personal capacity ahead of the inaugural Women in Finance Summit this week, said when clients were expected to educate financial services providers about their background bore a “cultural tax”.

“Some stories and lived experiences could be triggering or very painful for clients to recollect for the benefit of the financial services provider,” Ms Lim told Accountants Daily.

“So I think it’s important for those who might not necessarily belong to their client’s minority group to do their homework and actively seek out information and resources. Read stories and listen to podcasts. Attend cultural events. There is plenty available out there.”

At the summit, Ms Lim and a panel of speakers will unpack how financial services providers can support clients from diverse backgrounds while being sensitive to their unique expectations and practices.

Joining diversity groups could also prove useful to build cultural awareness and contribute to conversations around cultural diversity, Ms Lim said, because “we need more allies”.

“On the other hand, if you identify with a minority group, then join in and use your voice. Your voice is your dollar and using it makes a difference. The more people talk about these things, the sooner we can move the dial.”

The next step for financial services providers is to ask their clients questions and be curious, Ms Lim said.

However, she underscored that they should ask questions from a place of empathy and compassion, and be prepared to be “humbled and challenged”.

“Try and view the process from the lens of the client or their community, especially if you don’t belong to that minority group. Some people tend to ask questions in an entitled way and that could backfire. But remember, clients don’t owe you their story.”

“I’d also avoid making assumptions. We all make assumptions. We’ve all got blind spots and unconscious biases. People shouldn’t feel bad for having them. But it’s important to catch yourself and question why you had this internal thought and bias. We have been conditioned culturally and societally to think this way but we can challenge that process.”

“That’s how you build cultural literacy. You’re opening yourself up to learn more and think in new ways.”

Having self-awareness and carving time out for self-reflection was vital to the process of building cultural literacy, Ms Lim said.

Accountants could benefit from evaluating how they conducted themselves in meetings, and ensure they foster inclusivity with their clients, she added.

“I don’t think we do self-reflection enough. But it’s really important to ask yourself how you would have done things differently, whether that’s a client meeting or a decision you’ve made today,” Ms Lim concluded.

Michelle Lim will speak this week at the Women in Finance Summit 2023 about how financial services providers can support clients from diverse cultural backgrounds.

The summit will be held on Friday, 10 November at The Star, Sydney.

For more information, including agenda and speakers, click here.

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Malavika Santhebennur


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