(Dow Jones) Helping Americans increase their financial literacy can be good for the country-and a financial advisor's business.
This week, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors holds its ninth annual "Jumpstart Your Retirement Plan Days," where advisors answer consumers' financial planning questions by phone or online for free at financial Web site Kiplinger.com. Throughout the year, financial advisors in 25 cities will also dispense advice at no cost to consumers looking for help with debt, saving and retirement through NAPFA's "Your Money Bus Tour."
After last year's wild gyrations in the markets and economy, participating advisors say volunteering pro-bono financial advice this year is more important than ever. Many Americans are struggling with how to afford retirement, pay their student loans and deal with job losses after what economists are calling the Great Recession.
Educating consumers through these programs is also a way to boost business prospects and the image of the financial planning industry.
"With all the problems that came out of the financial industry last year, it's important to get out there and show people that there's a group of planners that are doing the right thing," said Carolyn McClanahan, founder of Life Planning Partners, Inc., a financial planning firm in Jacksonville, Fla.
McClanahan has participated in the financial planning hotline for the past five years and says it's a way to introduce the public to "real planners who issue advice," as opposed to investment professionals who primarily sell products.
By increasing financial literacy, more consumers are aware of the role financial advisers play in helping people manage their money.
"In today's world, anyone with financial in their job description is seen as a bad person," said Jeff Kostis, a fee-only planner in Vernon Hills, Ill., who is answering questions this week on the Web. "Financial advisors need to be out there showing that we are real people and understand what people are going through."
While dispensing advice typically doesn't lead directly to business prospects, it does allow advisors to build trust with potential clients.
"There's always hesitation when we tell people we're going to give advice for free. Sticking to education and information at these events, rather than just selling my business, builds my credibility," said Laura Mattia, a principal at Baron Financial Group in Fair Lawn, N.J., who is answering calls this week for NAPFA and regularly does pro-bono work for NAPFA and the Financial Planning Association.