Advisers’ pro bono work mixes new skills with empathy

(The writer is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

By Constance Gustke

(Reuters) – Financial advisers who donate their services to needy clients find rewards that extend beyond feeling good: fielding the challenging turf helps to sharpen their skills.

    That is one of the upshots for Matt Murphy, a financial planner in Goodyear, Arizona who is helping an injured soldier and his family to regain their financial footing. Murphy, who has advised many clients for free, or “pro bono,” for eight years, holds the soldier’s mission close to his heart.

    Murphy dishes out financial know-how that military veterans need when buying a home, donating some 40 hours a year. It is continuing education for Murphy, whose pro bono clients have far less than the $1 million in assets he manages for a typical client.

    The work helps Murphy brainstorm atypical financial solutions, such as finding extra military benefits to stretch budgets. Those experiences help him tackle challenges of more affluent clients, such as instructing their children how to budget and save.

    Financial planners collectively donate thousands of hours to clients in need each year. Murphy, for example, takes pro bono cases from a partnership between the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors Consumer Education Foundation (NCEF) and Building Homes for Heroes, a group that gives mortgage-free homes to disabled veterans. The organization works with 25 to 30 advisers who volunteer for two-year cycles.

    The work can help advisers enhance their own practices while also doing good, said Dick Power, national chairman of pro bono programs for the Financial Planning Association.

    Advisers typically do not use their pro bono work as a marketing tool. Still, it can quietly help them become known in their communities and burnish their reputations as compassionate, skilled professionals, Power said.

    Power’s pro bono work with veterans, for example, was featured in a local newspaper. “People want to affiliate,” he said.



    Some advisers seek pro bono work that aligns with a personal interest. For example, San Asato, in Bloomington, Minnesota, has a soft spot for families with special needs children because his own son has autism.

    Asato provides free financial planning to several families each year. That includes helping them to save for college without sacrificing government financial assistance. Asato finds some of those families through his local Rotary Club. The work helps him become more compassionate, he said.

    The empathy that surfaces from pro bono work helps when advising all types of people in financial distress, said Ara Oghoorian, an Encino, California adviser whose pro bono work has involved helping people manage credit card or student debt while trying to save.

    One case involved an 80-year-old widow who could not afford her everyday bills. Oghoorian made dozens of calls to get a discount from the client’s cellphone provider and slash other utility bills.

    Building empathy was another payoff. “[It] is the biggest skill set I’ve acquired,” Oghoorian said. “And it makes me feel good.”

(Reporting by Constance Gustke; Editing by Suzanne Barlyn and Nick Zieminski)

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