Could 394,000 microfinance projects change the Australian market?

Corinne Proske CPA, head of community finance and development, NAB. Photo: Jarrod Barnes

Determined to make a meaningful impact, Corinne Proske discovered commercial and ethical interests can work in harmony.

A uniquely caring, fair and inclusive view of society is most often the product of a recipe that includes powerful life lessons, positive cultural understanding and thoughtful reflection.

These influences have turned Corinne Proske CPA into the person she is today. What is perhaps most surprising is that she fell so comfortably into accounting.

Proske grew up in Melbourne, but spent time in the US, France and Germany when she was young. Her German father came to Australia as a child after World War II. Her mother is French but spent much of her life in Morocco. Why did they choose to stay in Australia?

“My parents fell in love with the Australian bush,” she says.

That respect for nature was passed on to Proske who, as a teenager, once considered chaining herself to a tree during an anti-logging protest. Instead, a philosophical discussion with her father led her in an unexpected direction.

“We had a talk about whether it is more effective to strap yourself to the tree and wait for the bulldozer or to drive the bulldozer yourself,” she says.

“I began to realise the power of blending two worlds together.”

Proske originally dreamed of becoming a park ranger but instead studied commerce, specialising in environmental economics. After starting work with EY (and later with PwC), she chose to complete the CPA Program, as it was flexible and had “a commercial edge”.

“I was practising to get my bulldozer licence ... learning to change the system from within,” smiles Proske.

“There is a role for people to be outraged but, using the skills of accounting and economics, I have been able to make the most impactful influences and decisions.”

“We had a talk about whether it is more effective to strap yourself to the tree ... or to drive the bulldozer yourself.”

Since 2003, Proske has been working with NAB as head of community finance and development. From “behind the wheel of the bulldozer”, she has developed, managed and launched NAB’s microfinance program, offering assistance to individuals and businesses that have difficulty accessing mainstream finance.

“There are two key commercial drivers,” says Proske. “One is that, economically, it makes sense to include everybody; it is good for GDP. Second, we will be regulated if we don't get this right. It is also simply about doing the right thing.”

Research from the Centre for Social Impact, conducted on behalf of NAB, shows that three million adult Australians are fully or severely financially excluded. 

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“More than 394,000 people have accessed our microfinance products so far through a partnership with Good Shepherd Microfinance, but my aim is to reach one million people by 2018,” says Proske.

She is also leading NAB’s impact investment business, an emerging field of investment activities that aims to generate a measurable and beneficial social or environmental impact along with a financial return. The Australian market for impact investment is estimated to reach A$32 billion by 2022, so it makes economic sense for the bank to be involved.

“I would never have got here without my accounting knowledge and experience,” says Proske. “It has allowed me some real clarity. 

“The tools that accounting offered me have been absolutely essential.”

One piece of advice

“Doing the right thing and achieving commercial outcomes need to, and can, align. Business is only successful when society succeeds. Accountants need to look beyond the numbers.”

 

NAB is one of CPA Australia’s recognised employer partners. The Recognised Employer Program acknowledges organisations that have met world-class professional development standards for finance and accounting employees.


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June 2016
June 2016

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