Sharon was employed by a local bank for over 35 years before taking early retirement in 2013. She had responsibility for a variety of client relationships across a wide sector which included retail, manufacturing, construction and many other services. Her main area of responsibilities was credit management.
Since retiring Sharon has established her own finance and business consultancy firm. More recently she has been appointed as a Mentor for Rural Support.
Her other interests include raising awareness of Human Trafficking in NI, travelling and also missionary activities. In a recent interview with Sharon she gave the following responses.
Why did you decide to get involved with Rural Support and what does your role as a mentor entail?
‘During my work in the banking industry I dealt with farmers and I understand the pressures they are facing. It is a lonely position to be in. I feel I have the skill set to help them explore their options objectively’.
‘My role is to support the farmer and his family and help them come to a satisfactory outcome or resolution to their financial problems’.
What sort of situations have you encountered through your work with Rural Support? What are the main issues and barriers facing your clients?
‘I have encountered a wide range of issues. The main issues are cash-flow, and in some cases a lack of understanding of the true financial position. Finance and accessing support can seem like a maze to some and clients don’t know who to turn to’.
‘The main barriers which I have encountered in getting clients to make difficult decisions in relation to their finances has been a reluctance to change, pride or a “what will the neighbours say?” attitude. Often this stigma stops clients from contacting Rural Support in the first place’.
For anyone considering contacting Rural Support to avail of mentoring can you tell me about the mentoring process and what is involved?
‘The process starts with me introducing myself and outlining my background and skillset. It is important to put the client at ease with the person they are going to trust with their confidential financial information’.
‘Then we begin to identify what the issues are by having an open and honest conversation. In order for the process to work I need to know the full picture. Then we take a realistic look at the options, the client will then take time to reflect on these options with the rest of the family and professional advisers such as their accountant/ solicitor or bank.’
‘It is up to the family to make the decisions and take action. My role is not to advise the client but help them to objectively look at the options’.
How is the mentoring process helping individuals?
‘Clients are really benefitting from this process. Recently a client said to me, “I was on the ceiling before you came”.’
‘I feel the process is helping by supporting the farmer to look rationally at the situation and dissect the problem into manageable pieces. The action plan allows the issues to be clearly defined and options to be recorded in black and white and can be referred back to and used as a working document’.
‘The process helps the client explore options and solutions which allow them to retain control of the situation, in some cases working with the lender to come to a mutual solution to the problem’.
What would you say to people experiencing farm finance or debt worries?
‘I’d say that they need to recognise there is a problem. When you are sick you go to a doctor, if you are financially unwell you need support too’.
‘It is important that clients do not feel ashamed about financial matters and remember that it’s not all their fault. In most cases there have been external factors outside of their control which have impacted on their situation. I recognise that it takes courage to lift the phone and seek support’.
‘Through this process an objective, non- judgemental mentor will help you to explore options so that you can look forward and not backwards’.
What issues do you think farming families will face in the future and what can be done to minimise financial problems?
‘There are huge issues facing farming families currently and in the future. CAP reform is going to have a substantial impact on income for many farms. Poor weather and the volatility of farmgate prices will continue to affect finances and in addition imminent welfare reform’.
‘In order to minimise financial problems getting out of control it is important to address the issues early on and see that there is support available. Communication is vital to resolving problems. Lift the phone and be assured that the help available from Rural Support is confidential and non- judgemental’.
Sincere thanks to Sharon Smyth for this interview.
If you or someone you know could benefit from talking with someone from Rural Support or if you would like to avail of the financial mentoring currently being offered please contact Rural Support’s helpline (0800 138 1678, 9am-9pm, Monday to Friday). All calls are confidential.