The United States has a long history of connecting the financial planning community to people in need. For 22 years now, we've helped fund vital programs that connect volunteer financial planners to underserved people who need no-strings-attached, objective advice. But what about other countries?
I was able to explore this question when the Dutch association of financial planners, Federatie Financieel Planners, invited me to come speak to them about the evolution of pro bono planning in the United States. (Both a membership organization and a certification body, the Federatie would equate to a combined Financial Planning Association and CFP Board in the U.S.).
The Federatie is the largest association of financial planners in Europe, with 4,000 members, and they are just beginning to think about harnessing the professional skills of their members to help the most vulnerable in Dutch society. Helping them along is Egbert Ludwig, a planner who recently started Pro Deo Planner (the Dutch say “pro deo” instead of “pro bono”), a group devoted to promoting pro bono planning in the Netherlands. Mr. Egbert noted that he was able to point to the success of the Foundation for Financial Planning in the U.S. to secure his first significant corporate grant, from Rabobank, one of the big three Dutch financial services companies.
The Dutch financial planning association underwrote my trip to deliver a keynote speech at their annual conference. During my remarks, I asked for a show of hands from the audience about ways they use their talents to help vulnerable people who can't pay for services, and about half indicated they provide advice for free to needy friends, neighbors and community members. Clearly, there's an appetite to help, but as of yet no long-term, sustainable pathway to channel it.
After my speech, Mr. Egbert presented on his new group. A short time later, he was approached by a Dutch corporate leader interested in providing funds to the effort. Mr. Egbert noted that this leader said hearing me talk about the Foundation's corporate support in the U.S. helped persuade him that supporting “pro deo” in the Netherlands could both drive a great mission and provide visibility for a company commitment to helping all Dutch citizens.
The Dutch are currently experiencing a societal shift similar to one we have undergone in the U.S., as government and companies transfer economic risks onto the shoulders of the individual. Dutch people, especially those aged 45 and under, are becoming more responsible for their financial futures as the “social contract” in their society changes. As in the U.S., levels of financial literacy are low, and the need for pro bono advice is large and growing. While the different health care and social support systems in the Netherlands help some vulnerable groups — such as people with serious illness — in a way that reduces their financial risks compared to U.S. counterparts, other potential target groups for pro bono planning are the same in both nations. These include unemployed people over 50 who need a job, divorced people and sole-proprietor small business owners.
Mr. Egbert's group is positioned for success. They have a close relationship to the Federatie and plan to become part of the Dutch “financial planning” professional ecosystem, as we have done with our strategic partners here to grow and nourish pro bono.
With a small team and with a domestic focus, the Foundation isn't able to do much on the international stage. However, when we have the opportunity to be a catalyst to help unleash the power of pro bono financial planning to benefit many thousands of people, we are eager to share what we have learned. And because learning is a two-way street, we plan to stay in touch with leaders in other countries who are implementing pro bono programs of their own — or who are just starting them — to share lessons and best practices that may apply. How exciting to think about the many lives that would be changed if pro bono financial planning could be brought to vulnerable people around the globe.
Jon Dauphiné is executive director at the Foundation for Financial Planning.