Saving $100 would be a drop in the bucket, or maybe in the ocean, for most clients of investment advisers.
But when Tammy Wener helped a domestic violence survivor put $100 in her bank account, it was the most money she’d ever had. The woman participated in a financial literacy class Wener taught in a shelter, an example of the pro bono financial planning Wener provides outside of her advisory practice as a volunteer for Working in Support of Education.
“It’s some of the most rewarding work I’ve done,” said Wener, principal at RW Financial Planning. “It’s really amazing.”
Wener is the former director of pro bono initiatives for the Financial Planning Association of Illinois. She’s remained deeply involved in such work and encourages other planners to get involved.
“We’ve got to give back,” Wener said.
It looks as if many of her FPA colleagues have taken up the call. The FPA announced Wednesday that more than 5,700 underserved and at-risk individuals received pro bono services from 960 financial planners who volunteered 17,407 hours in 2021. That was an 18% increase over the previous year. Much of the work shifted to virtual delivery because of the pandemic.
The FPA defines “underserved” as people who don’t have access to or can’t afford financial planning, FPA spokesperson Ben Lewis said. “At risk” encompasses low-income individuals and families, military personnel and veterans, domestic violence victims and those affected by natural disasters and other life setbacks.
Kevin Gahagan, an investment adviser in Northern California, has helped survivors of his state’s wildfires whose homes have been destroyed. An organization called United Policy Holders connects financial professionals with fire victims.
When Gahagan meets with them, they’re grappling with tough choices, such as whether they should rebuild where their home now lies in ashes or relocate to another area.
“Those aren’t easy questions to answer,” said Gahagan, a principal at Private Ocean. “It can be pretty overwhelming.”
But there’s an internal payoff from working with people who are trying to put back together a life that has been turned upside down. That’s an abrupt change of pace from regular advisory clients, most of whom are quite comfortable.
“You’re helping somebody who really needs help, who wants help and for whom you can make a difference,” Gahagan said.
Another group whose lives have suddenly been roiled is those who have lost a spouse. Melissa Brennan, a financial planner at ARS Private Wealth, volunteers with Wings for Widows.
Many widows are adrift when it comes to finances after their husband dies. Brennan provides free guidance to help them regain their footing.
“It’s so rewarding to help someone who’s experiencing one of the greatest tragedies in their life — losing a spouse,” Brennan said.
Wings for Widows has 12 financial planners volunteering for the organization across the country, and 10 more are in training, Brennan said.
There’s a big pro bono opportunity because so many people don’t have access to financial planning, Gahagan said.
“There is a tremendous community need for objective third-party advice,” he said.
The people who would be helped most by financial planning can’t afford it because of account minimums and the high price of most one-off plans, said Vida Jatulis, a financial planner at Main Street Financial Planning.
“By giving an hour or two of time to pro bono planning, our industry has the power to improve lives,” Jatulis said. “It elevates our profession.”
Jatulis serves on the board of FPA in Ventura County, California, and coordinates pro bono activities for the organization. She said it’s relatively simple for planners to find a volunteer outlet for a couple of hours here and there because FPA “has made it so easy to do.”
Planners boost pro bono efforts amid pandemic
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Andrew is half-human, half-gamer. He’s also a science fiction author writing for BleeBot.