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.

An adviser participating in the network probably wouldn’t receive more than two or three pro bono cases a year. On the assumption that a typical adviser might look after about 100 active clients, this puts it in line with other professions. Harding-Davis says the legal fraternity has an aspirational target of conducting pro bono work to the equivalent value of about 3 per cent of billable hours.

Sit comfortably

Harding-Davis says the service standards developed by PFAN are designed to sit comfortable alongside a licensee’s existing compliance systems and processes.

“The key things will be things like once you get a [referral] you must respond within 48 hours,” he says.

“Every statement of advice [SoA] must be vetted by compliance. Normally compliance only vets certain SoAs – but this must be done at a high standard, and every SoA must be vetted. And when you’ve finished working with [the client], there must be a close-off. There has to be communication back to the charity.”

Pro Bono Financial Advice Network

Pro bono Financial Advice Network committee (pictured, above) – from left to right:

Rick di Cristoforo – national manager, licensee strategy; Colonial First State
Tom Reddacliff – general manager, member growth and Marketing; Financial Planning Association of Australia
James Meade – general manager; Garvan and MLC Financial Planning
Catherine Mulholland – strategic alliances manager; MLC
Georgia Nides – former NSW state manager; IOOF retail platform distribution (secretary, PFAN)
Paul Harding-Davis – chief executive officer; Premium wealth Management (president, PFAN)
Justin Viney – head of network development; Premium Wealth Management
Rob McCann – general manager; Patron Financial Advice (treasurer, PFAN)
Brad Fox – chief executive officer; Association of Financial Advisers
Tim Meggitt – head of key accounts and research, life and investments; Zurich
Not pictured:
Kate Humphries – chief executive officer; Ingoso Consulting
Paul Derham – partner; Holley Nethercote Commercial & Financial Services Lawyers

Simon Hoyle is head of market insight for CoreData Research.
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