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How to avoid the ‘cultural tax’

by Malavika Santhebennur11 minute read

Expanding cultural literacy through research can help financial service providers gain the trust of clients from diverse backgrounds, says diversity advocate Michelle Lim.

Ahead of the inaugural Women in Finance Summit this week, the organisational culture and change lead at the Reserve Bank Australia (RBA), Michelle Lim, said the onus is on financial services providers to build their cultural awareness and consciously create psychological safety for clients from diverse cultural backgrounds.

At the Women in Finance Summit, run in partnership with Mortgage Choice, Ms Lim and a panel of speakers will unpack how financial services providers can better support clients from diverse backgrounds while being sensitive to their unique expectations and practices.

Speaking in a personal capacity before the event, Ms Lim highlighted that clients who are expected to continually educate financial services providers about their culture and practices bear 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 The Adviser.

“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.”

Joining diversity groups could also prove useful to build cultural awareness and contribute to conversations around cultural diversity, with Ms Lim insisting “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 brokers and other financial services providers is to ask their clients questions and be curious, Ms Lim said.

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

“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,” she advised.

“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 is vital to the process of building cultural literacy, according to Ms Lim.

Financial service providers, including brokers, could benefit from evaluating how they conduct themselves in meetings, and ensure they foster inclusivity with their clients, she added.

Ms Lim concluded: “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.”

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.

[Related: ‘Do it sooner rather than later’: Louisa Sanghera talks succession planning]

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Malavika Santhebennur


Malavika Santhebennur is a content specialist at Momentum Media, focusing on mortgages and finance writing.

Before joining Momentum Media in 2019, Malavika held roles with Money Management and Benchmark Media, where she was writing about financial services.


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