What drives advisors to pro bono work? Their wiring

What drives advisors to pro bono work? Their wiring

Ellen Uzelac | January 7, 2019

When Laura Tarbox first started her advisory business, she also cleaned houses, delivered The Wall Street Journal in the dark before dawn, and did bookkeeping for a record store.

Tarbox knows firsthand about financial struggle. As a leader in the financial planning profession's pro bono movement, she also knows about giving back. It's part of her wiring.

"I couldn't not do it," says Tarbox, who heads Tarbox Family Office in Newport Beach, Calif., a firm with $630 million in assets under management. "A lot of people aren't as lucky as I am or my clients are. I just feel we have an obligation to give back. We all have to live in the world. I live 100 percent in the future. I'm always thinking about what's happening in the world and how it plays out." And how she can help.

Tarbox sits on the board of the Foundation for Financial Planning, whose ambitious Pro Bono for Cancer Campaign aims to provide free financial advice to 500 cancer patients and their families by the end of 2019. In just the last year, the organization has raised $1.5 million to underwrite programming, partnered with 18 cancer centers, and, in past months, recruited over 70 financial planner volunteers in 26 states. More than a quarter of those advisors custody assets with TD Ameritrade Institutional, a chief sponsor of the initiative, and long-time supporter of the Foundation.

The financial planning engagement isn't a one-off. As Tarbox puts it: "We're not doing financial triage. It's financial planning, an ongoing relationship." Family Reach, a national nonprofit that specializes in helping people with cancer, and the Financial Planning Association are partners in the project.

The stakes are high: Research from the nonprofit Cancer Support Community suggests that one-third of patients routinely deplete their savings due to the medical costs associated with the disease while one-quarter raid their retirement funds.

The campaign has developed a digital platform that connects planner to patient, which automates a lot of steps like filing reports and sending appointment reminders. It also means planner and patient aren't locked in a geographic domain; they can meet virtually through tools like Skype. Planners are expected to devote at least six hours to the meetings.

The foundation also offers an online volunteer training program designed to introduce Certified Financial Planners™ to basic skills and techniques related to serving modest- and low-income people. Upon successful completion, the planner will receive continuing education credit.

"A lot of advisors work with high net worth, very affluent folks. They may not be used to doing counseling around major consumer debt or cash flow analysis that looks heavily into debt and public benefits," says Jon Dauphine, CEO of Foundation for Financial Planning. "These topics can seem alien but with a little bit of training, they begin to realize they have the skillset to do this. They have a nose for this."

Pro bono work also has benefits that might not be obvious at first blush. As an example, it can be a powerful employee development and recruiting and retention tool.

Kate Healy, managing director at TD Ameritrade and an advocate for next generation talent, iterates how important serving your community is for younger generations. "Millennials and the upcoming Generation Z have a social belief system that draws them to work with, and for, firms that provide opportunities to help make communities, and the world, a better place. While pro bono is good for society, it will also help firms stand out to prospects and clients, and attract the best talent."

Tracy Beckes, a business coach for advisors in La Conner, Wash., believes philanthropy and community outreach are hallmarks of a vibrant and successful advisory firm. "It's in their DNA," she says. Beckes has counseled advisors who, among other things, raised $3 million for a high school educational initiative, developed an earthquake preparedness training program, and founded a prison ministry.

"I don't see it as just giving the opportunity for people to serve other humans in a broader and more meaningful way, I also see it as one of the finest ways to develop talent. To get an up-and-coming advisor in the community in leadership positions — leading — creates great value: for the employee, for the firm, for the community," says Beckes. "I think a lot of people get into pro bono work from a marketing perspective but it delivers so many other gifts that advisors weren't expecting."

Beckes' advice? Build an operation that incorporates pro bono work in your firm's structure and culture. How? By allowing employees to direct a firm's donations to nonprofits of their choosing, by giving them paid time off to serve on boards and committees, and by creating a consciousness about community service that is intentional.

Advisor Joni Rametta, of Wealth Planning and Design LLC in Sarasota, Fla., has an abundance of titles: owner, chief compliance officer, advisor, and Certified Financial Planner.

She grew up in the area and raised her two sons there. Rametta, whose firm has $112 million in assets under management, helped create a football team at a local high school and has served as a court-appointed guardian to represent children living in abusive households.

"I'm always looking for something that touches me somewhere," says Rametta. "I don't do it just to do it. I must believe in the cause or the organization."

Rametta has another title: breast cancer survivor.

She was diagnosed in late 2017, and since then she has undergone two surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation. She still tires easily.

But when she saw that TD Ameritrade Institutional was looking for volunteer planners for the Pro Bono for Cancer Campaign, Rametta thought: "I can do this. I must do this."

She completed the online training and is waiting to connect with her family: a mom with a child who has cancer.

"There are so many things out there you can do. A lot of people who have wealth write a check. I am more of a people person. I'd rather work with feet on the ground," Rametta adds. "When I heard about the campaign, it connected. It's something I can do to make a difference that doesn't require a lot of physical energy. I can also share my experience and give people hope that you will get through this. I want to help make their journey a little better."

[To learn more about the Foundation for Financial Planning, which also helps military families, veterans, natural disaster victims, and the homeless, please visit FoundationforFinancialPlanning.org.]

TD Ameritrade and the above named firm are separate and unaffiliated firms, that are not responsible for each other's services or policies.

Find your freedom
Let’s talk about how you can become an independent RIA.

Complete this form

And we'll reach out to start the conversation.

Please correct the information above to submit.

The information you provide is completely confidential.

Find your freedom
Let’s talk about how you can become an independent RIA.

Complete this form

And we'll reach out to start the conversation.

Please correct the information above to submit.

The information you provide is completely confidential.

Find your freedom
Let’s talk about how you can become an independent RIA.

Complete this form

And we'll reach out to start the conversation.

Please correct the information above to submit.

The information you provide is completely confidential.