From UNSW Business School to leader for social change – how Lali Wiratunga is building financial resilience

By Victoria Tichá  Wednesday, 19 August 2020  @Business School

UNSW Business School alumnus Lali Wiratunga says financial literacy should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their level of experience – and this is precisely what he is working to achieve.

As National Manager of Westpac’s financial education experts, the Davidson Institute, Mr Wiratunga is committed to engaging, educating and encouraging positive financial behaviours to boost people’s financial confidence. He also advocates for the role of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship in helping people and organisations deliver social impact and financial sustainability.

Mr Wiratunga is a AGSM @ UNSW Business School MBA (Executive) graduate and alumnus. In 2016, Mr Wiratunga was recognised for creating a positive impact through Pro Bono Australia’s Impact 25 awards. But his career path wasn’t always clear to him. Following a career as a corporate lawyer and management consultant, he explored roles with strategy, growth and people leadership responsibilities, spanning sourcing, operations, digital channels and marketing, until he found a role in which he could thrive.

Today, he is a mentor for emerging leaders. He holds voluntary positions in several organisations, including a seat on the Board of TAD Disability Services and has been a member of the AGSM Alumni Advisory Board at UNSW Business School since 2017, where he mentors students and advocates for the value of business education.

Mr Wiratunga is also helping inspire a generation of young change-makers, through the Westpac Youth Impact Challenge, a nationwide initiative which helps students solve problems in their local communities.

Building financial confidence during COVID-19

Following his passion for social change through innovation and entrepreneurship, Mr Wiratunga’s role involves connecting the community and business sectors to benefit both. He is driven to help people adapt, collaborate and excel across industries, building people’s financial confidence and resilience, and improving customer experiences with empowered, agile and multidisciplinary teams for businesses across all sectors.

Such endeavours are perhaps more critical now than ever before as many individuals and small businesses struggle under the adverse economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. “COVID-19 is challenging Australia in ways never seen before, and the organisational impact of the pandemic is significant,” says Mr Wiratunga.

Since the crisis began, businesses have had to respond quickly with continuity plans, while employees have had to adapt to remote working, he explains.

“Vulnerabilities in this COVID-19 environment are from the amplified and emerging risks arising from income shocks, increased demand for essential services, barriers to consumer engagement, and the challenges of complex and volatile markets,” says Mr Wiratunga.

As the situation evolves, businesses should be considering ways to maintain stability for customers, suppliers and staff. Companies need to survive COVID-19 and mapping out potential scenarios can help companies identify what might happen in the future.

“This way, management teams can make informed decisions and, crucially, reduce potential risks. Scenario planning helps to identify what might happen in the future for an organisation, such as predicting cash flow in the short, medium, or long term,” he adds.

By modelling each scenario, leaders can create contingency plans to prepare them for any situation better. To help, Westpac’s Davidson Institute has created several resources, including a template to help businesses with scenario planning to map the impact of COVID-19, adds Mr Wiratunga.

Connecting people to in-depth resources

Consumers are also increasingly reporting concerns about their ability to meet essential household expenses. For example, more than one in four Australians are saying they are concerned about their ability to meet rental payments or mortgage repayments, according to a recent report by the Consumer Policy Research Centre.

“In such an uncertain environment, it will be important – especially for people with reduced incomes and ongoing financial difficulty due to COVID-19 – to contact their bank as soon as concerns arise to discuss how they may be able to help you through this difficult time,” adds Mr Wiratunga.

He says it is essential to offer people free resources in a range of learning formats, including articles, films, and live events – and this is precisely the mission of Westpac’s financial education experts at the Davidson Institute. “By educating people in a way that is relevant for their needs and circumstances, we’re helping them to gain the knowledge and confidence to make informed financial decisions.

“Whether you’re a budding entrepreneur, dedicated community group, or a curious individual, you can select the topics you are interested in learning more about, like the fundamentals of budgeting, borrowing money, steps to buying your first home, through to business cash flow management and financial governance for community board directors,” he says.

Navigating the link between financial wellbeing and mental health 

Many people find it hard to plan and manage their finances. In periods of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to show care for each other. Indeed, many leading organisations are already implementing financial literacy strategies to help their employees to build their financial confidence.

But there is also an often-under-reported link between financial wellbeing and mental health. While financial confidence can provide a sense of security and peace of mind, concerns about money can have an impact on people’s health, relationships, and impact other areas of their lives.

“I understand that life has its tough moments, and vulnerability is something that can affect anyone at any time. Financial stress can sometimes be a result of unplanned life events such as change of income, illness, a relationship breakdown, reduction in your business cash flow or emergency events like natural disasters,” says Mr Wiratunga.

To tackle this, he suggests people comprehensively approach their finances – this means looking beyond the transactions of just receiving and spending money also to consider how money matters are connected with other parts of your life, including achieving your goals.

He says it is also essential to recognise (and remember) that there are four pillars needed to achieve financial confidence:

  • Financial awareness;
  • Financial literacy;
  • Financial behaviour;
  • Financial satisfaction.

While each of these pillars is important in their own right, each one also needs “the active support of the other three pillars to develop a strong base for your overall financial confidence”, he says.

“Whatever the cause, there are practical ways your bank can assist people experiencing financial difficulty. For people experiencing hardship, they should contact their bank as soon as they can,” he concludes.

Powered by Westpac, the Davidson Institute is here to help you work towards the financial future you want. Visit the Davidson Institute here.

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