If you’re a financial adviser reading this, you have the power to help people through what might be some of the hardest times of their lives.
We know that the market and the economy are not the same thing. That has never been more clear than it is now: While U.S. indices smash through all-time records, every week brings another sobering jobless claims report as millions struggle to pay their utility bills, buy food and avoid eviction or foreclosure.
Offering your services on a pro bono basis is one of the most powerful things you can do to help. As an industry, we provide financial guidance to millions of Americans who are already doing pretty well. But nearly 40% of Americans don’t have $400 in the bank for an emergency expense. They need our help too.
It has been my experience that pro bono clients defy the tired stereotype that we only need “personal responsibility” to escape financial hardship. You will not find a group of people more motivated to improve their financial lives. They work hard, often juggling some combination of multiple jobs, parenting duties, or college and vocational education. You’d better believe they understand sacrifice in the present for future reward; look no further than the 24% of Americans who have had to borrow against their own retirement funds to finance a family member’s cancer treatment, according to the Foundation for Financial Planning.
What these clients often lack is time. They struggle to clear space in their lives to organize a financial plan on their own. Financial decision fatigue exacts a toll over time, and the indignity of setbacks like overdraft fees makes it all the harder to find steady ground. You can’t imagine what a gift it is, for someone treading rough financial waters, to have a planner with a clear head and time to look at how their money is used.
But when you volunteer your services (and I hope you do), the real eye-opener will come when you see which tools in your planning arsenal make the most difference. For example, pro bono clients are more likely to lose sleep over paying bills on time and managing debt than over how much money they’ll have for retirement in 30 years or which investing vehicles are appropriate for them. These long-term items are still important, but not as immediately relevant to the client’s present needs.
Your work may feel very different than the service you offer to paying clients for one big, not-so-obvious reason. Our industry knows how to monetize and systematize every drop of asset management. But we haven’t quite gotten there with the pure financial planning that underserved clients need. In most cases, they need to manage every single dollar from their paycheck effectively, or their bank account is negative. Personal finance management tools such as Mint.com that report how you overspent yesterday may not be the answer. They need real-time tools to control how much they spend tomorrow, along with financial coaches who will work with them over the long term.
Does that mean you are not a fit to provide pro bono services? Absolutely not. Think about client conversations you’ve had about managing debt, cash flow and building credit. Although this may not be your primary service in your day job, the value a pro bono client receives from this guidance is off the charts. You and all the advisers in the U.S. possess a wealth of planning expertise, and it can change lives.
If you got into this business to help people, as so many of us have, then now’s the time to volunteer some of your time. You can start by signing up and browsing pro bono opportunities through the Foundation for Financial Planning’s new volunteer matching platform, ProBonoPlannerMatch.org. It takes just a few minutes to get started.
I can’t describe how it feels to see a pro bono client’s face light up after someone has finally taken the time to understand their concerns and give them comfort that they, along with their family, will be OK. This is a time when millions of people have never needed our help more. It’s up to us to take the first step forward and offer that help.
As our second lead editor, Cindy Hamilton covers health, fitness and other wellness topics. She is also instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. Cindy received a BA and an MA from NYU.