Alta Financial Planning's Tonina Ciarrocchi

Just a few short weeks after IOOF CEO Renato Mota offered a 3-month amnesty on licensee fees in exchange for 60 hours of pro bono work, the program is extending existing lines of assistance to the community that need it the most and easing the expense burden on overloaded practices.

The program, which Mota called an “experiment”, has seen advisers register for pro bono work that many were already regularly undertaking for reasons of their own.

“We registered the day it was announced,” says Brett Schatto from Pride Advice in Adelaide, which is licensed by IOOF’s RI Advice. “I didn’t even read the fine print, we just thought it was a good thing to do because we’d had existing clients impacted by Covid-19.”

For adviser Tonina Ciarrocchi, who runs the Lonsdale-licensed Alta FP outfit in Melbourne, involvement in the program’s was a no-brainer.

“They say it should be Covid-19 related but look, the pandemic has probably touched everybody that isn’t already retired,” Ciarrocchi says.

Neither adviser says the 3-month fee clemency offer from IOOF changed the quantum of pro bono work they’re doing. Nor do they consider it a motivation. Regardless, during a period of deep tumult for advisers – with shaken clients, regulatory upheaval and a volatile market posing enormous headwinds – a temporary amnesty on licensing fees is a welcome reward.

“If this program encourages other advisers to stick their head out of the bunker and do some pro bono work then that’s a good thing as well,” Schatto says.

Ciarrocchi says her outfit doesn’t advertise the pro bono work they do, but the IOOF program gave them the impetus to reach out to new corners of the community.

“We went out to our clients and on social channels and basically advertised that IOOF had the program and we were participating if people needed assistance,” she says.

Licensees reaching out

IOOF wasn’t the only licensee owner to offer assistance to advisers when the pandemic hit. MLC waived fees outright for three months with a further 50 per cent discount for another three months. Centrepoint Alliance waived scheduled fee increases and instead capped fees for two years, while other licensees offered extra support on the services side.

At a time when licensees were gearing up to increase their fees to counteract reduced reliance on product subsidies, there has been a collective acknowledgement that advisers, their clients and the community need help.

“It’s simply the licensee saying ‘we’re here to help you if you’re helping the community,’ Schatto reckons.

‘It’s in our nature to help’

Schatto’s work in pro bono comes from a deeply personal space. After his former business partner developed breast cancer and passed away in 2010, he developed a direct line of communication with the oncology ward and regularly takes on patients in need of pro bono help.

The adviser says he’s comfortable dealing with clients that have a terminal illness.

“Look, I’ve lost a 9-year old child that was hit by a car,” he reveals. “It changes you for life.”

Schatto takes a light touch with his pro bono clients, who he says sometimes “give up on life” after a diagnosis. “I make fun of death,” he says. “I say to them: ‘Just because you’ve got cancer don’t think you’re special’.”

Ciarrocchi says she gets pro bono clients from “different channels”, including referral partners and existing clients. Her motivation for doing pro bono work is closely tied to the reason she became an adviser in the first place.

“As a financial planner your motto is to help if someone comes knocking on your door,’ she says. “It’s in our nature to help.”

A lot of the pro bono work Ciarrocchi does involves Centrelink, which can be difficult to navigate for the people who qualify for benefits as they generally have lower levels of financial literacy.

“Helping people get around Centrelink is probably one of my biggest passions,” she says. “It can be a nightmare for the people that need it the most.”

The workflow is slightly different for pro bono clients, Ciarrocchi explains, even though the regulatory requirements remain the same.

“There’s not a major difference, we still do all the same disclosures,” she says, before noting that they can usually “cut to the chase” a bit quicker if the issues are less complicated than a typical investment client.

Tahn Sharpe is a Sydney-based financial services journalist with a background in financial planning. He writes on advice, superannuation, investment, banking and insurance issues, is a certified SMSF Adviser and holds an Advanced Diploma of Financial Planning. Contact at tahn.sharpe@conexusfinancial.com.au
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