As Kevin Lam, CFP® entered retirement, he finally had the opportunity to do what he always wanted to do: give back to others in need. “While I was working, I felt like I didn’t do enough to give back simply because I didn’t have the time, so I committed to making it a part of my retirement plan,” said Kevin. In 2021, after hearing about the Foundation for Financial Planning (FFP) while attending the Financial Planner Association’s Externship program, Kevin realized that pro bono financial planning could be his path to helping others most effectively. “It was exactly what I was looking for: a way to use my knowledge and expertise from a 40-year career in institutional finance to help individuals and families in need.”
Following the Externship, Kevin went to FFP’s volunteer matching platform, ProBonoPlannerMatch.Org, to look for volunteer opportunities. He was immediately drawn to volunteer roles at three different FFP grantees: Family Reach, which serves individuals and families facing a cancer diagnosis; Wings for Widows, which serves widows and widowers; and After Innocence, which serves exonerees (people wrongly imprisoned who are eventually freed). “Pro Bono Planner Match helped me find organizations that really spoke to my heart, connecting me to volunteer opportunities at three different nonprofit organizations, each serving different client populations. I am so grateful to FFP for giving me the opportunity to have these experiences.”
Working with Family Reach clients filled Kevin with admiration for both the organization and the families themselves. “I had a brother pass away from cancer and saw firsthand the financial hardship that his family went through, so helping these families really motivated me. These Family Reach clients have so much going on, and often times the most important thing I can bring to the table is understanding and empathy. Sometimes they forget about our scheduled meeting times because they have medical appointments, and while helping patients in crisis can make the engagements a bit more challenging for me as a planner, I understand that these families are facing an even more challenging situation and are doing the best that they can.”
Thinking back on his volunteer experiences with Wings for Widows, Kevin remembers a really moving engagement that he had with a client who had lost her husband about 2.5 years prior. Her husband had handled everything financially, so she had a lot to learn in order to take care of her finances. It was overall extremely challenging for her, but the biggest challenge was that she was still in deep grief, had become estranged from her family and was very isolated. Throughout the engagement, Kevin found that the most impactful tool that he could offer her was a listening ear and empathy. “Three quarters of the sessions were me just listening to her describe her story, her life, and her concerns. She was in deep grief, and so we didn’t end up doing a whole lot of financial planning because that wasn’t the most important thing. Finance is just one part of our lives, and the other parts can be just as or more important to deal with at times.” By the end of the engagement, the impact on the client was clear. “She said to me, ‘In these two and half years, you’re the only person who really listened to me and made me feel like I was going to be okay.’ That was such a meaningful experience for me, and I’m so grateful to Wings for Widows and FFP for creating the opportunity to have such an impact on someone.”
Working with After Innocence’s clients, Kevin was struck by the optimism and passion of the organization’s constituents, all people who had been wrongfully convicted and incarcerated, then set free to pick up their lives from the ashes. He worked with one client who had lost over 15 years of her life to prison; however, when Kevin first met with her, he was blown away by her great attitude and motivation to get started. “Despite all her hardships, she was enthusiastic, positive and strong, and had a clear vision of what she wanted to do with her life, including starting her own landscaping business, getting a more sensible vehicle for her future business and purchasing a home. She was very aware of her financial weaknesses, not knowing how to budget and save money, and that she needed to work on those issues in order to reach her financial goals.” Kevin assisted her with learning how to budget, including finding the right budgeting app, and reviewing and reducing her expenses so she could begin saving more. Kevin shares, “During our last session, I got the biggest thrill from seeing her progress. She was following her budget, and her savings account was growing. On top of that, she had recently gone to the bank to resolve an issue with her checking account, and the banker, so impressed by her story and the goals she had set for herself, helped her apply for a business license for her landscaping business that very day.”
Kevin is grateful for these opportunities to finally give back to people in need. “Volunteering has inspired, energized, and fulfilled me. I’m so grateful to FFP for the opportunity to meet the clients I work with and to have a meaningful impact on their lives.” His advice for other planners?
- “For young people and career changers who are just now entering the financial planning profession: Get involved! Do pro bono financial planning. You will learn so much, it will help you develop your financial planning and relationship skills, and it will help you grow as a person. Don’t be afraid that you’re new to the industry and may not know every single answer; a lot of times you can have deep impact on a client by just being there, listening, and saying to them, “You’ll be okay”.”
- “For established financial planners: Please find some time, even if it’s just a little bit, to do pro bono financial planning! Pro bono gives you such a different perspective. When the client knows that you’re serving them on a pro bono basis, they’re much more appreciative and respectful of the advice you’re giving and are much more open to sharing their lives with you. That makes it so much easier for you as the planner to help them.”
- “For financial planners who are about to retire or already have retired: Stay involved! You have tremendous talent, expertise, experience, and wisdom. Please continue to share that with people. Pro bono service can be a gratifying and fulfilling part of retirement!”
“Volunteering has inspired, energized, and fulfilled me. I’m so grateful to FFP for the opportunity to meet the clients I work with and to have a meaningful impact on their lives.”
Planner helps clients to:
- Learn how to budget, reduce expenses, and grow their savings.
- Become more confident in their financial decision-making.
- Feel heard, seen, and cared for in their current circumstances.