A fundamental commitment to providing the community with access to pro bono services is a hallmark of every trusted and respected profession, and the newly formed Pro Bono Financial Advice Network (PFAN) aims to both give back to the community and raise the standing of the fledgling financial planning profession.

The PFAN is designed to compliment other pro bono initiatives, such as the Financial Planning Association of Australia (FPA) pro bono program which is widely lauded for its capacity to mobilise FPA member to serve local communities during times of natural disasters.

The concept of the PFAN grew from a presentation to Professional Planner’s Dealer Group Summit in June 2012 by AMP’s executive director of financial planning, Steve Helmich. Helmich’s description of AMP’s own pro-bono activities struck a chord with the heads of other licensees at the Summit, and a working party – which has subsequently evolved into a formal committee – was set up to investigate the feasibility and the logistics of replicating a program that would be available to a wider range of licensees.

It was thought likely to be particularly relevant to smaller licensees that lack the scale to go it alone, but in fact has attracted the support of some of the largest advice networks in the country. The PFAN also enjoys considerable support from the Association of Financial Advisers (AFA).

Read the PFAN’s purpose, values, mission and vision statement

Something all professions do

Pro bono work is “something that all professions do”, says Paul Harding-Davis, chief executive officer of Premium Wealth Management and president of the PFAN (pictured, above).

“I’ve seen no better demonstration of the value of advice. Most of the mainstream media portray ‘financial planning’ as investment advice, and miss the majority of the value that financial planning can bring. It’s a wonderful way to demonstrate the value of advice.

“And almost every Australian I know wants, in one way or another, wants to make a difference.”

Harding-Davis says the network will only thrive if it attracts widespread support from licensees.

“They have the capacity to make sure things are done to the proper standard,” he says.

“Licensees have been an inadvertent inhibitor of professionalism, because we do not necessarily have the same agenda as professionalism. We need to get inserted, and to help make financial planning a profession. We can work with professionals in this standard activity of a profession. But we can’t do it without licensees.”

Respect and appreciate

Harding-Davis says that if a licensee supports the aims and the objectives of the PFAN then its authorised representatives will “respect and appreciate what they are doing”.

The PFAN is finalising a referral partnership with a high-profile charity that works with individuals who could benefit from pro bono financial advice. The partner will assess potential candidates – including whether they can afford to pay for financial advice.

“We won’t be expecting the dealer group or the adviser to decide whether this person should get pro bono [services] or whether they can afford to pay fees,” Harding-Davis says.