In May, several leaders of the financial planning profession took part in a first-of-its-kind summit. The Foundation for Financial Planning convened the meeting, attended by its CEO Jon Dauphiné, as well as Kevin Keller from the CFP Board of Standards, Lauren Schadle of the Financial Planning Association and Geoffrey Brown of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

These executives have collaborated before, but this meeting was different—it was about advancing and expanding pro bono services within the financial planning profession.

Most professions, including the legal, medical and dental fields, have practitioners willing to donate their time and skills to underserved people, and as the financial planning profession grows, pro bono work will become more important to it as well.

Why Pro Bono?
Since most financial planners spend a considerable amount of time, effort and money trying to acquire new clients, it is easy to ask why one would give away their expertise. Doctors, lawyers and dentists spend a lot of time, effort and money building their practices too, yet they still have an ethos of community service firmly ingrained in their cultures.

Pro bono is short for “pro bono publico”—for the public good. In the legal world, the moral argument for this type of work rests on the idea that, first, the law touches every citizen and, second, not everyone can practice it.

We don’t often say it, but such work is important to the financial planning profession for similar reasons. Personal finances affect virtually everyone, yet not everyone can practice financial planning. The field doesn’t currently work under a regulatory structure as clear as that of the law, which doesn’t allow unauthorized practice. The public finds financial planning, by contrast, to be a more confusing space with looser legal structures and definitions for those holding various titles and licensing, even though the practice requires special skills not everyone has.

To foster pro bono work in the legal profession, the American Bar Association created Model Rule 6.1 which says:

“Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year.”

One of the ways the lawyer should fulfill this responsibility is to “provide a substantial majority of the (50) hours of legal services without fee or expectation of fee to: (1) persons of limited means or (2) charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters that are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means.”

Lawyers should also offer services without charge or at a substantially reduced fee to people and organizations protecting civil rights, civil liberties or public rights—or to charities and religious organizations—if the charges would otherwise drain those groups’ economic ability.

A few things stand out in the model. Note that it does not mandate pro bono work, but frames it as a professional responsibility lawyers should aspire to. It quantifies that responsibility at 50 hours a year. And it explicitly targets persons and organizations of limited means. (Giving favors to a well-to-do neighbor doesn’t count). Furthermore, one of the model’s aims is to improve the law, legal system or legal profession, and it encourages financial support to organizations that provide pro bono services.

Financial planning isn’t quite there on all these items, but the CEO summit is a significant step in a good direction.

Outcomes Of The CEO Summit
A number of themes emerged from the summit. One is that there should be a consistent definition of “pro bono” and that the major professional organizations should promote the importance of pro bono work among their practitioners. The organizations should also encourage practitioners to volunteer, to develop more opportunities to serve, and to engage CFP emeritus members and the rising generation of new planners. Advisors should also start dialogue to spur growth of pro bono activity.

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