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Leading financial planning organizations agree to promote pro bono work

CFP Board, FPA, Foundation for Financial Planning and NAPFA agree on steps that will establish pro bono financial planning as a critical element of the profession

Sep 19, 2019 @ 11:45 am

By Geoffrey Brown, Jon Dauphiné, Kevin Keller and Lauren Schadle

In May, the Foundation for Financial Planning, the nation's only nonprofit charity devoted to providing pro bono financial planning to people in need, convened the first-of-its-kind Nonprofit CEO Summit on Pro Bono Financial Planning to advance and expand pro bono service within the financial planning profession. Summit participants agreed to collaborate as outlined below in a joint statement from the heads of the FFP, the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc., the Financial Planning Association and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

One hallmark of a true profession is the willingness of its practitioners to donate their skills to underserved people who otherwise would not be able to access and benefit from them. Consider the legal, medical and dental professions, which have robust traditions of pro bono service that have helped millions of vulnerable people access justice, health and dental care.

We believe that nourishing and growing a pro bono tradition for the financial planning profession is an important part of elevating and enriching the profession while at the same time helping extend critical services to at-risk Americans in need of quality, objective financial guidance.

While each of our organizations has supported individual activities that advance our constituents' ability to deliver pro bono services, we have recently come together to agree on a common set of themes and actions that will further establish pro bono financial planning as a critical element of an emerging profession.

Together, we pledge to advance pro bono financial planning by:

Defining "pro bono" consistently. A shared definition helps the profession track and measure efforts. We believe an impactful definition of pro bono financial planning will differentiate it from broader financial literacy efforts. Collectively, we define pro bono financial planning as: Free, no-strings-attached financial advice and planning for underserved people, including low-income individuals and families,military personnel and veterans, domestic violence survivors, and people affected by natural disasters, serious medical crises and bankruptcy, that's provided by or in conjunction with a volunteer CFP professional.

These services are to be delivered through one-on-one engagements or through interactive group sessions on topics specific to an at-risk audience, with the option for personalized engagement to follow.

Gathering and sharing relevant data. To help inform the profession about the prevalence of pro bono work, the CFP Board now asks CFP professionals to voluntarily track their pro bono hours as they renew their certification.

FPA requests members to report their pro bono hours and number of pro bono clients served on their membership renewal forms and also conducts an annual request for pro bono data from FPA chapters. And this year, the CFP Board added questions related to pro bono to its biannual survey of CFP professionals.

FFP is also planning a more detailed survey that will be promoted by our organizations next year to better understand trends, needs and preferences related to pro bono work. We'll share data with each other and the profession to increase our knowledge base and refine our efforts.

Encouraging CFP professionals to volunteer their time and talents. Last year, FFP and FPA launched an all-new, free, online pro bono volunteer training to provide the necessary skills for new volunteers; the CFP Board awards one CE credit for successful completion.

NAPFA plans to incorporate pro bono service into its CE program beginning January 2020. And FPA offers members free pro bono errors and omissions insurance coverage as an additional benefit. We want to make it easy and rewarding for all CFP professionals to help underserved people.

Developing more opportunities for volunteer CFP professionals to serve others. Building on the success of its Pro Bono for Cancer Initiative, which enables CFP professional volunteers to meet virtually with cancer patients from across the country, FFP is developing an online volunteer-matching function that will help connect more volunteers to pro bono programs.

At the same time, FPA, a partner in recruiting volunteers for the Pro Bono for Cancer Campaign, continues to expand its pro bono programs, with many of its 88 chapters and state councils working with FFP-funded community-based nonprofits.

Engaging both CFP Board Emeritus members (retired former CFP professionals) and the rising generation of new CFP professionals. Pro bono financial planning can attract and engage new planners to the profession while at the same time offering retired planners a way to keep using their skills to help others. To encourage students to embrace pro bono, FFP offers resources on how colleges and universities can engage students to help underserved members of the community, while FFP and CFP Board jointly present an award each year to a CFP Board-registered program doing exemplary work in this area.

For retiring CFP professionals, both the CFP Board and FPA have agreed to more actively promote pro bono opportunities to their CFP Board Emeritus members and retired members, respectively. (Importantly, CFP Board's new CFP Board Emeritus collective membership program, launched last year, allows retired former CFP professionals to provide pro bono advice even though they are no longer in compensated practice.)

Recognizing pro bono work is important to the profession. We're committed to spotlighting the important pro bono work led by the profession, and FFP frequently works with its media partners to place donated ads and feature stories that showcase volunteer service.

This year, FPA and FFP will debut the new Power of Financial Planning Award to recognize the outstanding pro bono contributions of an FPA chapter the preceding year, and through its foundation, NAPFA will continue recognizing a member's extraordinary pro bono achievement. Curious about the impact pro bono planners are having? Check out foundationforfinancialplanning.org/our-impact.

Fostering ongoing dialogue to spur pro bono growth. Our organizations pledge to use our own mechanisms to secure feedback from our constituents on how to improve and grow pro bono. We'll use this feedback, including the feedback from other key stakeholders, in all ongoing conversations as we continue to meet and coordinate pro bono financial planning activities.

We are excited to build on the momentum of our first summit as we meet again later this year. If you have input for us, send it to mail@FoundationforFinancialPlanning to inform our efforts.

We thank the dedicated pro bono volunteers who have given so much of themselves to financially struggling people and who inspire us to advance pro bono work across the profession.

[Recommended video: Genius Series: Sheryl Garrett points to just-in-time education as the key to financial literacy]

Geoffrey Brown is CEO of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors. Jon Dauphiné is CEO of the Foundation for Financial Planning. Kevin Keller is CEO of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. Lauren Schadle is CEO of the Financial Planning Association.

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