Non-profit outfit the Pro Bono Financial Advice Network (PFAN) has taken on a new, more broad-based approach to its operations in an effort to enlist a greater swathe of advisers to join its cause in helping more Australians in crisis gain access to financial advice.

Along the way PFAN picked up a new chair – FMD Financial adviser Nicola Beswick.

Nicola, who detailed her journey to advice with Professional Planner in April, explains the strategic shift the network has undertaken, which involves broadening the network of referrals beyond support partners the Associations of Financial Advisers to encourage a wider range of advisers to get involved.

The AFA are still very much involved in supporting and driving the efforts of PFAN in facilitating advice to those in need, she says, but a helping hand offered by insurer TAL has given the group an opportunity to create a larger footprint.

“Until recently the AFA was the central body for clients to come in and connect with advisers, that’s where it all began,” she says. “And we still have a great relationship with the AFA, but over the last year we have started working to build out a standalone presence within the marketplace to really encourage advisers regardless of their association alliance.”

The AFA website remains a hub for PFAN connections, but the network is on the cusp of launching a new website to mark the broader directive and a push to build its adviser base. “That’s the main thing,” she says. “We want to get more advisers on board.”

What PFAN does is primarily facilitate the connection of willing advisers with people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) that are in need of financial advice but cannot afford it.

To join the PFAN network, advisers fill out an application with PFAN and, once approved, go onto a master list of willing advisers that TAL maintains to be matched up with clients as required.

The group currently has 130 advisers on its books.

MS is a degenerative neurological condition that affects the central nervous system including the spine, brain and the optic nerves. It is the most common neurological disease that affects young adults.

It’s a disease Beswick is painfully familiar with – her father was diagnosed with MS at the age of 55, a diagnoses that proved to be a catalyst for her own entry into the profession.

“That’s essentially the reason I got into financial advice,” she said in April. “Fortunately Dad had an income protection policy, so when everything happened it made me realise the importance financial planners have in peoples’ lives.”

Beswick wants to make it clear to advisers that she understands how hard the decision to take on pro bono work can be for advisers, especially given the multitude of internal and external pressures they face. The group wants willing advisers to take on at least one case per year, she says, but the length and depth of that engagement is wholly up to the adviser.

“Advisers don’t need to think of the clients as an anchor on their book,” she says. “It’s often not a long term engagement, we’re not asking advisers to take on a case and expect that they have to enter an ongoing relationship.”