Pro Bono Advisory Network Takes New Presidency, New Direction

The nonprofit Pro Bono Financial Advice Network (PFAN) has taken a new, broader approach to its operations with the aim of enlisting more advisers to join its cause and help more Australians by crisis to access financial advice.

Along the way, PFAN chose a new chairman – FMD financial adviser Nicola Beswick.

Nicola, who detailed her counseling journey with Professional planner in April, explains the strategic shift undertaken by the network, which implies a gradual transition from the support of the Association of Financial Advisors to the benefit of the administrative services of the insurer TAL.

AFA is still very much involved in supporting and leading PFAN’s efforts to facilitate counseling to those in need, she said, but the helping hand offered by TAL has given the group the opportunity to create a more large footprint by being less uniquely aligned with the association.

“Previously, the AFA was the central body for clients to connect with advisers, that’s where it all started,” she says. “And we still have a great relationship with AFA, but over the last couple of years we wanted to establish a stand-alone presence in the market to really encourage advisors regardless of their alliance with the association.”

The AFA website remains a hub for PFAN connections, but the network is set to launch a new website to mark the broader directive and a push to build its advisor base. “That’s the main thing,” she said. “We want to have more advisers on board. “

What PFAN does is primarily to facilitate the connection of VAs with people with multiple sclerosis (MS) who need financial counseling but cannot afford it.

Under the updated template, counselors complete an application with PFAN and join a master list of VAs that TAL maintains. Clients go through the group’s existing channels with various MS associations across the country and are matched with counselors from there.

The group currently has 130 advisers on its books.

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

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

“That’s basically why I turned to financial advice,” she said in April. “Luckily dad had an income protection policy so when it all happened it made me realize how important financial planners are in people’s lives.”

Beswick wants to convey to counselors that she understands how difficult the decision to take pro bono work can be for counselors, especially given the multitude of internal and external pressures they face. The group wants VAs to take on at least one case per year, she says, but the length and depth of that engagement is entirely up to the counselor.

“Advisors don’t need to see clients as an anchor in their book,” she says. “It’s often not a long-term commitment, we don’t ask advisors to take on a case and expect them to enter into an ongoing relationship.”

Ultimately, according to Beswick, giving back to the community will be a key channel for the consulting industry to regain some of the trust lost in the wake of the Hayne Royal Commission.

“It shows the community that counselors are caring, trustworthy people who are determined to make a difference,” she says. “It’s a way of promoting advisors and the way we help people… the general public doesn’t always see it.

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