Meet the team at Rural Support

Norman Michael

Norman Michael

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Name: Norman Michael

From: Holywood

Role: Finance Mentor

Norman was employed by Northern Bank (now Danske Bank) for 32 years. He held various managerial positions culminating in Head of Agriculture for Northern Bank from 1994 to 1998 when he was responsible for Northern Bank’s agricultural lending portfolio together with its future strategic direction.

After retirement from Northern Bank, Norman undertook various part time consultancy roles for leading banks followed by a wide variety of consultancy work on behalf of DARD, Countryside Services Ltd., Countryside Agri-Rural Partnership and more recently Rural Support.

Norman has considerable financial management experience in ‘face to face’ interviews with farmers, analysing their current farm business, assessing financial viability and identifying possible areas for improvement/options for the future.

In his free time he enjoys spending holidays in Europe with his wife in their motorhome. When at home, the eight grandchildren provide much pleasure but also remind him that his energy levels are not what they used to be!

Why did you decide to get involved with Rural

Support and what does your role as a finance mentor entail?

I had been aware of Rural Support and how they offered a listening ear and signposting service for various farm issues, including stress issues surrounding the whole area of farm finance and debt.

I considered I had something to offer as a result of my previous job roles which had provided me with the necessary experience and understanding to analyse a farmer’s current farm business, assess financial viability and identify possible areas of improvement and options for the future.

I see my role as providing ‘one to one’ support to farmers experiencing financial distress, endeavour to help identify a way forward for their farming business thereby improving their overall mental wellbeing.

What sort of situations have you encountered

during your time as a

mentor so far? What are the main issues and

barriers facing your

clients?

I have encountered a wide range of situations and obviously no two are the same. The vast majority of these situations would involve farmers suffering a fall in farm income or alternatively a loss or reduction in their income outside of farming. This subsequently places a greater strain on the farm business to meet its financial obligations and other day to day commitments.

Often the relationship with their bank has already deteriorated to an extent where cheques and Direct Debits have been returned unpaid due to ‘lack of funds’. In such circumstances, banks are naturally most reluctant to consider refinancing of a particular debt.

‘Generally, the earlier the farmer contacts Rural Support and seeks help, the better the eventual outcome.

For anyone considering contacting Rural Support to avail of Finance Mentoring can you tell me about the mentoring process and what is involved?

Initially, the farmer makes contact with Rural Support. If Rural Support decide that one-to-one support in relation to debt or financial management is necessary then they will introduce the Finance Mentor who in turn will contact the farmer to arrange an appointment to call. The farmer is subsequently provided with free, confidential, face to face support.

The Finance Mentor will help to identify the key issues and concerns, and, subject to the agreement of the farmer, can also include other appropriate members of the farm family. The Finance Mentor discusses the possible options as to the way forward and follows this up with an appropriate Action Plan.

Farmers can be assured that confidentially plays a very important part in the overall process.

How do you feel the finance mentoring process is helping individuals?

This ‘one to one’ support gives farmers an opportunity to discuss their issues and concerns with the Finance Mentor in a friendly, relaxed manner and encourages them, through discussion, to identify possible options as to how they might address their particular issues. Overall, the mentoring process usually has a positive impact on the mental wellbeing of the farmer.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO SOMEONE WHO IS EXPERIENCING FARM FINANCE OR DEBT WORRIES?

Seek help! If you are concerned or stressed, talk to someone in confidence at Rural Support who offer a listening and signposting service for farmers and their families. If necessary, Rural Support will refer you to a Finance Mentor who will arrange to call with you to have a confidential discussion as to your possible future options.

What issues do you think farming families will face in the future? What can be done to minimise financial problems?

Many of the current issues are likely to continue including the following:

Retirement, succession planning, CAP reform and changes to the Single Farm Payment, bureaucracy, animal health and welfare, insufficient farm income generated to sustain the farming family and financial stress.

Financial problems are best minimised by keeping your outstanding loans and financing needs to a level that is always within your ability to repay from farm profits.

Should you find difficulty in meeting your present loans, endeavour to renegotiate a longer term loan at a fixed rate with your bank. If you find your bank unwilling to assist beyond present levels and you consider you are under financial stress, then seek outside help at an early stage.

Rural Support offers a listening ear and signposting service for all your issues, including financial related matters.

Sincere thanks to Norman Michael 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 (0845 606 7 607, 8am-11pm daily). All calls are confidential.