Partnering with Australian Farmers. My RIC Story.
Growing up in regional Australia, Amanda Lukies has always felt a connection to the local farming communities with an understanding of the unique challenges and rewards country life offers.
I recently sat down with Amanda, now a Credit Officer with the Regional Investment Corporation (RIC) to find out what it’s been like to join a federally funded government organisation administering the delivery of loans to encourage growth, investment and resilience in Australia’s regional communities.
What can you tell me about the purpose behind the RIC?
The RIC was established in 2018 to provide low-interest finance to farm businesses in need. Our loans offer farmers financial relief and the chance to improve their farm business situation into the future.
We are a country with agriculture providing the backbone for many of our rural, regional and remote communities. We are also a country of extreme weather. Therefore one of our founding loans is our Drought Loan. This loan is open to farmers affected by a weather event outside their control which has, or will have, a significant financial impact on their business. This helps our customers prepare for drought as well as manage or recover from the effects of drought.
Another of our founding products is the Farm Investment loan. This loan is designed to help farmers improve the strength, resilience and profitability of their businesses. We help our customers to future-proof their business, to expand their export capacity and to implement innovative technologies.
And how does your role as a Credit Officer fit within the organisation?
Our credit team works closely with our customers and lending providers to facilitate uptake of our range of loan products. My position differs slightly from many traditional lending roles because at the RIC we are really looking for ways we can help a customer. It is much less black and white than more typical loan requirements and every day we have to be flexible and creatively solve problems as they arise. We are often dealing with heartbreaking situations and the RIC lending guidelines have been specifically designed to allow us to work with applicants who we believe can repay the loan, to find a positive solution rather than exclude them.
As we look to introduce new products to the market and provide additional financial and business support, we are building our team of Credit Officers to support the ongoing growth. The Credit and Risk team is so important to the organisation, and it is very rewarding to be at the heart of the services the RIC provides.
Given your financial background, what attracted to you to the opportunities with the RIC?
My background was in the agribusiness banking space already. I worked for a commercial organisation delivering financial services to regional NSW clients. The area that was under my management was huge, over 800km2 and every client had to be visited face to face, on-site. This meant that I was travelling, a lot!
I was still really passionate about the agri-finance sector and wanted to stay within it, I just was looking for a role that allowed me to be a bit more settled. When the opportunities came up with RIC, it meant I could still work in the industry I loved, but also meant I could be home in Orange, much to my husband’s happiness!
What have you found the most challenging about moving from a commercial business to a government organisation?
There certainly has been a bit of an adjustment. The machinery of government works quite differently to what I am used to. There are new policies and processes to consider, and we need to be mindful that we are accountable to Australian taxpayers.
What I love is being able to see the bigger picture of what we are doing here. Although we are in Orange, we have national reach. This means I am getting more exposure to different kinds of farms not typically seen in NSW. For example, I recently had a customer with a trout farm, something I had never worked on before! It was really interesting learning more about the specific challenges they were facing and helping them work toward the goal of future proofing their business.
What has been the most rewarding?
I have really enjoyed developing new skills and being exposed to the whole loan process. As we are launching new products, that means we are building everything from scratch. It’s a great opportunity to learn and influence things outside my normal sphere of responsibility. For example, we recently worked on developing new loan application forms. In the past, I would not have had access to this part of the process, one team would build the form and my team would use them. Now I have been able to help the design team understand exactly how we use them and why certain things need to be in place. It’s a great feeling being involved in the whole process and to be able to have an impact on a team-wide successful outcome.