Providing a holistic curriculum to develop financial planning skills and instill a spirit of giving back is at the heart of Franklin University’s Financial Planning program. In addition to offering a Bachelor of Science degree in Financial Planning and the opportunity to gain the educational requirements needed to sit for the CFP exam, the department offers a pro bono community project course that gives students the opportunity to practice their skills in a pro bono client engagement, observe a CFP® professional in action, and help their fellow students who are in need of pro bono financial advice.
Each year through the pro bono community project course, 120 financial planning students work alongside 40 CFP® professional volunteers to provide free financial planning sessions to pro bono clients from the Franklin University student body. The engagements begin with the financial planning student speaking with the student client and practicing their intake skills: completing a cash flow statement, identifying financial goals, and specifying the client’s financial questions for the session. The CFP® volunteer then takes over the session, providing pro bono, personalized financial advice and counseling tailored to the client’s financial goals and needs, along with concrete action steps. Following the session, the CFP® volunteer and student planners complete the action plan in writing together, which they then e-mail to the client. The CFP® also provides feedback to the financial planning student to help them sharpen their intake and relational skills when working with clients.
Mark Bowes, CFP®, one of the volunteer financial planners, first got involved with the program in 2020. “I felt a pull to give back,” he said. “For me, it’s a matter of ‘How can I not give back when I’ve been given so much?’ I have this specialized knowledge that can benefit a lot of people but it’s not always accessible to them”. Overall, Mark has found the program to be extremely gratifying, especially working with the clients who are not his typical clients’ demographic. “I’ve found that student clients have very different needs, and that’s actually one of the most challenging parts – I don’t know what they’re going to bring up.”
Mark remembers one student client wanting to discuss the possibility of buying a house. He was currently living with roommates that he didn’t get along with at all, and it was affecting his studies. Constantly seeing investment property content on social media, he had the idea of purchasing a home with his modest savings and then renting rooms out, which would help cover the mortgage and also give him more of a say in who he lived with. As Mark began the financial planning portion of the engagement, “I really helped him see the big picture so he knew what a huge undertaking it would be. I began walking him through every aspect of not just home ownership but becoming a landlord: house repairs that are expected and often legally required of a landlord, insurance, paying for and meeting with an attorney, drafting up a lease agreement, possible situations with renters paying late or refusing to pay rent.” Following the engagement, the student walked away with a much clearer picture of the financial and overall burden he would be taking on if he proceeded.
Other student clients broach issues like making wise financial choices once they graduate and start their careers. Mark recalls, “One student client had recently graduated and started a job, and really wanted to get started on the right foot by saving for retirement, but the internet presented him with so many retirement options. He felt really overwhelmed and wasn’t setting anything aside when we met. We spent an hour going over the basics, and I led him through a few questions to help him figure out what he wanted to do. He came away with a clear idea of what retirement option was best for him.”
The program’s impact goes beyond the student clients; the student planners in the program have found the program to be extremely beneficial, especially for building their communication skills and emotional intelligence. One student planner said, “I learned how much communication and relationships play a role with the client and those soft skills may be one of the most important parts of the client-advisor collaboration. Observing the CFP® professional also solidified what I learned in the classroom about how financial planning engagements work.” Another student shared, “It was great getting first-hand experience with student clients. I realized how difficult it can be for a client to open up about their expenses and how vulnerable it can make them feel. I learned how to interact and be more comfortable with the client, and what additional questions to ask to build trust and a better relationship with them.”
Franklin University’s pro bono community project course enriches their entire community. Students in need are able to receive quality, ethical financial advice from CFP® professional volunteers like Mark, often at a time when they are just embarking on their adult lives and are in need of some financial advice but can’t yet afford it. Student planners in the project come away from the project with both a better understanding of the financial planning profession and enhanced skills that will help them be effective financial planners as they begin their careers.
If you are interested in starting a similar program at your college or university, FFP Grantee Franklin University, in partnership with Columbus State Community College and Ohio State University, created this guidebook for CFP® Program Directors or faculty members at colleges/universities who are interested in providing their financial planning students with an experiential and service-learning opportunity through the implementation of a pro bono financial planning community project with local financial planners. The guidebook also supports CFP® volunteers who provide pro bono financial guidance to underserved student clients and mentorship to financial planning students. We hope this guidebook helps other CFP Board Registered Programs to replicate the program in collaboration with local CFP® professionals.
“I realized how difficult it can be for a client to open up about their expenses and how vulnerable it can make them feel. I learned how to interact and be more comfortable with the client, and what additional questions to ask to build trust and a better relationship with them.”
- Student clients are provided with financial advice and guidance that helps them to think through the financial implications of major decisions like buying a home and saving for retirement.
- Student planners enhance their communication, emotional intelligence, and financial planning skills.
- CFP® volunteers are able to help student clients who typically don’t have access to a financial planner while mentoring student planners.