Throughout his career as a CFP® professional, Hussain Zaidi has always felt a strong desire to bring financial planning to the everyday American– the majority of whom have very little savings and are overlooked by the industry. In late 2019, when he was looking for volunteer opportunities in New York, Hussain learned about the Foundation for Financial Planning (FFP), as well as FFP grantee, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (BSRC). BSRC aspires to close gaps in family and community wealth to ensure all families in Central Brooklyn are prosperous and healthy – a mission that is facing more headwinds than ever amid the COVID-19 crisis. He reached out to learn more and soon began volunteering as a pro bono financial planner.
Over the course of several engagements, Hussain has found that his pro bono clients seek help addressing similar financial topics: paying down and managing debt, budgeting, student loans, emergency funds, and sometimes, basic investment education. In order to dive into these subjects, Hussain finds it useful to first educate his clients on the planning process, building a foundation to help them understand their finances. Then, he asks them to list their financial goals so he knows where to start the discussion. “[They] want to talk about investments but don’t have a cash reserve, so I want to make sure that [developing a reserve] is part of our discussion,” he explains.
As most of his engagements have occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hussain has seen firsthand the economic fallout experienced by some of his pro bono clients. Half of his clients have lost their full-time jobs, are now working part-time and live on very limited monthly gross incomes. He works with them to figure out where that money should go and how to prioritize their financial goals. “A common theme has been wanting to pay down debt. With less cash reserves and with much more uncertainty with COVID-19, [I suggest that] this is maybe not the time to get aggressive about paying down debt. This is a time to keep your cash reserve and grow it… [I am] educating them but leaving it ultimately up to them. [I remind them that it is important to] have a reserve in case there is NO job for you and there is a second wave.”
Hussain’s advice to other planners? “One: You already have the knowledge. Sixty to seventy million households need help and you have the knowledge and power to make a difference. Two: If you’re the type of advisor who has passion to help, pro bono financial planning is an easy way to do so.”
He also encourages fellow planners to leave behind any preconceptions they may have about pro bono clients. “My experience [with pro bono clients] was exceptional. The folks I spoke with didn’t have a ton of money. They were living off $1,000 paychecks every two weeks, but they were really engaged, responsible, highly motivated individuals who were really wanting to take care of their finances. They were making do and figuring it out, paying down debt, and even limiting groceries to $80 a month,” Hussain said. “It wasn’t a ‘poor-me’ type of situation for them. They had things under control. They had a direction they were already moving in. They were dignified and respectful. I loved it. These are people who need real help. The industry is not moving fast enough to help really good people with their finances.” For entrepreneurs in the financial services industry, “this is a problem that has to be solved.”
“The folks I spoke with didn’t have a ton of money… but they were really engaged, responsible, highly motivated individuals who were really wanting to take care of their finances.”
Helps client to:
- Create a budget and pay down debt
- Learn to manage limited household cash flow/income to meet bill obligations
- See how little steps, like creating a cash reserve, can help them reach bigger financial goals, like investing