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Wealth Management Leaders Urge CFP Board to Better Promote Pro Bono Financial Planning

"We believe such a recommendation could serve as an important cue to the profession and encourage more practitioners and firms to engage in pro bono service."

A notable group of leaders from wealth and asset management firms sent a formal letter to the CFP Board on Thursday, asking the organization to do more to encourage financial advisors to donate their time and skills to those in need.

The corporate advisory council of the Foundation for Financial Planning, a nonprofit that promotes pro bono financial planning, sent the letter recommending the CFP Board begin asking its over 87,000 designation holders to dedicate at least 25 hours to pro bono planning each year. Other professions do the same; the letter notes that the American Bar Association recommends that all attorneys dedicate at least 50 hours to pro bono service each year.

"While we suggest that this should be voluntary and not mandatory for CFP professionals, we believe such a recommendation could serve as an important cue to the profession and encourage more practitioners and firms to engage in pro bono service," the letter says.

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The foundation’s 10-person corporate advisory council includes some of the most high-profile people and companies in wealth and asset management, including Bernard Clark, the head of Schwab Advisor Services, David Canter, the head of the RIA and Family Office Segments at Fidelity Institutional, and the leaders of other RIA custodians. 

Anthony Svach, a managing director and the head of the dedicated RIA sales team at BlackRock, and Mark Gochnour, head of the Global Client Services Group at Dimensional Fund Advisors, are also members of the counsel. Others include Eric Clarke, CEO of Orion Advisor Solutions, and Rachel Schnoll, head of FinLife Partners at Goldman Sachs.

“We believe that expert financial planning and advice is a critical asset for all families, and the pandemic crisis has made this truth plainer than ever. Although our companies may compete fiercely in the marketplace, we have all come together to support pro bono financial planning programs for underserved groups who otherwise would lack access. Especially during this national crisis, this service can be a life raft for so many struggling families,” the letter says.

Those council members, who have also promised to better promote pro bono work in their own organizations, give the letter heft, Jon Dauphiné, CEO at Foundation for Financial Planning, told RIA Intel.

“I think these leaders felt it was a good time since we're really thinking about the future and setting the table for the next 10 years,” Dauphiné said. “It’s not like they’ve been trying to convince the CFP Board and have been ignored…It was a good time to give a joint message.”

The chief executive gave credit to the CFP Board for its recent foresight and effort to advance financial planning as a profession, and specifically steps toward offering the service free of charge to groups of people most advisors wouldn’t take on as clients. In 2019, a CFP Board survey showed about two-thirds of its designation holders perform on average 31 hours of pro bono planning annually. It also grants continuing education credit for CFP holders who complete the FFP’s pro bono financial planning volunteer training program.

“CFP Board supports a service commitment among its more than 87,000 CFP® professionals and encourages their participation in the pro bono program of the Foundation for Financial Planning. In fact, CFP Board directs all certificants to the Foundation’s ProBonoPlannerMatch.org when renewing their certification to facilitate access to pro bono opportunities,” the CFP Board said in an email to RIA Intel.

“While CFP Board appreciates the enthusiasm of the Foundation’s Council, there are many factors related to a pro bono service requirement or recommendation that CFP Board has not yet had the opportunity to explore. However, pro bono service is one of the areas for discussion and consideration as part of its current strategic planning process; the plan of which the Board of Directors will consider in 2021.”

In September and October, the CFP Board met with designation holders, companies, consumer representatives, and educators to consider the strategic objectives for the financial planning profession in the coming five years. The approach to encouraging pro bono planning is part of that ongoing discussion but Kevin Keller, the chief executive of the CFP Board, said it’s too soon to know what changes might be made and didn’t want his opinion to front run a decision by his organization.

“Jeanne and I, and the staff here, we work for planners, they expect us to have a plan,” he told RIA Intel in reference to Jeanne Hamrick, the director of External Communications at the CFP Board.

Dauphiné is hopeful the letter will move the CFP Board to adopt the council’s recommendation.

“I have been observing them being more and more active in advancing pro bono [financial planning], so I’m optimistic they will give this a serious look. Whether they decide to do it right now, I don't know. But I believe they have a very serious and growing commitment to encourage pro bono.” 

Michael Thrasher (@Mike_Thrasher) is a reporter at RIA Intel based in New York City.

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