Otto Rivera, CFP® is driven by a deep desire to help others that stems from his own lived experience. “I lost both of my parents by age 20, and later my brother to drug addiction. Having gone through my own share of trials and tribulations, it’s given me perspective and an ethos to help others.” As a young adult, Otto became a minister to help others through the church, but eventually had to step away to take care of his daughter who has disabilities; however, his desire to help others in need never went away, and he eventually became a financial planner. “I see financial planning as another way of ministering to people. You’re teaching, you’re helping people find their way, you’re helping them identify their problems and find solutions.”
As a CFP® professional, Otto knew he wanted to give back to the community outside of his paid practice. After learning about FFP’s volunteer matching platform, ProBonoPlannerMatch.org, he visited the website to review the available volunteer opportunities, and saw several opportunities that interested him, including one with FFP grantee After Innocence, an organization that provides holistic services to exonerees (people who have been released after being wrongly imprisoned), including financial counseling. “I was very excited to work with After Innocence and their clients. These people have gone through such a tough traumatic time, having decades essentially removed from their lives. It’s very tragic.” Since starting to volunteer with After Innocence, Otto has worked with 6 clients, one of whom was Faye. (Read about Faye’s experience here.)
Faye and Otto began meeting together over Zoom twice a month, working first on personal finance issues like budgeting, credit, and debt management. “Faye came into the engagement with a lot of positivity and an openness to be helped. At the beginning, I wanted to get to know her, who she was, what her financial goals were, the basics. And that’s where we started with her finances – how to budget, repay debt, and repair her credit score. We spent a lot of time on her credit report; a lot of people had opened lines of credit in her name, so I recommended that she file disputes which helped her credit score a lot. Since she was starting her own business, I knew that credit was essential to her venture succeeding.” As Faye’s business began to take off, they also started discussing different tax issues, like setting money aside for tax payments, tracking business expenses, and how to file taxes correctly as a self-employed person.
Working with other After Innocence clients, Otto has found that starting with financial basics and helping clients take small steps first can be building blocks for both the exonerees’ financial stability and their own sense of confidence. “When they tackle one simple step and realize that they can handle it, they feel empowered. That gives them the confidence to take bigger, more complex steps. Some of my pro bono clients do receive large settlements, and it can be so overwhelming for them to suddenly receive all this money that they don’t necessarily know what to do with. By starting with the financial basics, I can ease that sense of being overwhelmed, help them compartmentalize things, and develop a path moving forward whether that means starting their own business, finding a job, or using an annuity.”
Otto feels so blessed for the opportunity to work with exonerees to help them reach financial stability and to witness their strength of spirit. “I’ve learned so much about the resiliency of human beings. Our justice system has been so unfair to these people, I’m amazed by their resiliency and positivity even though years have been stolen from them. It’s been such a blessing knowing them and it’s given me a brand-new perspective on things. I’ve learned that we all can overcome great challenges and sometimes to do that, we just need someone to help us a little bit along the way and then we’ll be fine.”
Otto’s advice for other financial planners looking to get involved? “Absolutely get involved and stay involved. Sometimes when we volunteer, we think that we’re just going to be giving of ourselves to another person, but I’ve found that we actually receive so much from the client as well – their human experience and knowledge – and that can change us. It can make us better, more empathetic people and better advisors.”
“Our justice system has been so unfair to these people, I’m amazed by their resiliency and positivity even though years have been stolen from them.”
Planner helped clients to:
- Learn about personal finance topics like budgeting, debt repayment, and credit.
- Figure out and start planning for their long-term financial goals.
- Increase their confidence in their financial decision-making skills.