FFP Releases First-Ever Research Report on How Technology Can Enhance Pro Bono Advisor-Client Engagements
New research will enhance tech solutions offered through the Foundation’s pro bono programs and encourage innovation in financial planning software for low-to-moderate income clients
WASHINGTON, D.C., October 26, 2021: The Foundation for Financial Planning (FFP), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding access to pro bono financial planning for people in crisis or need, today announced key findings from the most extensive research ever undertaken to assess the role of technology in pro bono financial planning. The research included the first-ever national survey of CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®) professionals regarding their current usage, needs, and preferences in applying tech solutions to pro bono engagements with low-to-moderate income (LMI) clients.
“At FFP, we know that the power of data drives the financial planning profession, and that technological innovation can benefit both paid and pro bono clients, even though their needs can be quite different,” said FFP CEO Jon Dauphiné. “To that end, we are excited to have conducted this research as part of our continuing efforts to share knowledge and insights with the advice industry. The research is designed to foster increased innovation, and to build upon the tech solutions already in place that are fostering increased scale and impact in FFP programs.” Dauphiné noted that FFP milestones in applying tech to pro bono engagements include:
- 2018: Funding and co-developing the Pro Bono for Cancer effort, the first-ever national, tech-driven, virtual pro bono financial planning program for cancer patients, in partnership with grantee Family Reach;
- 2019: Co-developing the Retirement Resilience Program with partner AARP, which offers LMI seniors free access to financial education webinars and consultations with CFP® professionals; and
- 2020: Launching ProBonoPlannerMatch.org to connect CFP® professionals to volunteer opportunities. The platform now has more than 1,275 registered CFP® professional volunteers.
The national survey results cover four key areas:
Pro Bono Engagement Frequency and Types
- The preponderance of survey respondents (42 percent) reported providing between 11 and 50 hours of pro bono service over the last five years.
- About one-third of advisors reported doing exclusively one-time (single session) pro bono engagements; 40 percent engaged with their clients over 2 to 5 sessions; and about one-quarter of survey respondents provided a combination of both single and multi-session engagements with clients, depending on the client’s needs. Advisors who conduct only single-session engagements were less likely to say they need additional tech solutions or supports.
Client Characteristics and Volunteer Needs
- Approximately half of volunteers have engaged with underserved clients who are experiencing a financial emergency; and more than one-third have assisted clients who are dealing with a health condition.
- Most engagements focus on helping clients with basic financial needs. The top three goals advisors discuss with clients are:
- Creating a budget & managing cash flow (70 percent reporting)
- Building an emergency fund (63 percent)
- Credit card debt management (51 percent)
- Less common but still prevalent goals include retirement planning (43 percent), estate planning (19 percent) and home purchasing (14 percent).
- Pro bono financial planners indicate that the biggest pain points in pro bono engagements pertain to resources – having access to public benefits information and helping clients find service providers that can help them in the longer term – as well as securing information about the client before the meeting. Other pain points can include meeting scheduling and managing no-shows.
Tools Used During Pro Bono Engagements
- Top tools used during pro bono financial planning engagements are pen and paper (86 percent); phone calls (79 percent); and email (72 percent). Also used: Financial planning software (55 percent); spreadsheets (48 percent); and online conferencing (47 percent).
- Survey respondents who don’t use financial planning software report a variety of reasons for not using it, primarily that:
- “Software doesn’t adequately address client’s needs (e.g., emergency fund, debt management, budgeting etc.)” and;
- “Planning capabilities of the software are too complex for their client’s needs.”
- 72 percent of respondents would be more likely to use financial planning software if it were simple, free, and relevant to pro bono clients’ key needs.
Pro Bono Tech Needs and Preferences
- Survey and focus group research support the need for a pro bono technology solution that is very easy to use and segregated from an advisor’s paid clients.
- Highly rated features to consider include information on public benefits, widgets/calculators, the ability for clients to input information, and content on basic financial issues.
- Also deemed important is a way for clients to enter information before first or subsequent appointments; content on basic financial issues that can be shared with clients; and secure document exchange capability.
“The research findings point the way for more innovation not just in pro bono engagements but in how fintechs and other service providers can enhance their offerings for advisors serving low- and moderate-income Americans,” said FFP Board Chair Kate Healy. “FFP intends to work with our current fintech partners and other stakeholders as we lead in sharing knowledge and fostering solutions to make pro bono financial planning more scalable and effective.”
FFP CEO Dauphiné added that about 80 percent of all advisors surveyed said they would have a more positive view of a fintech company that took a leading role in providing solutions to help expand pro bono service. “There’s so much opportunity here,” he said, “not just to solve pain points but to build a corporate profile of giving back by supporting truly free advice for those in desperate need.”
- In Phase I of the research process (June and July 2021), FFP conducted five, one-hour focus groups with stakeholders, including pro bono financial planner volunteers and nonprofit leaders, as well as targeted interviews with pro bono financial planning clients.
- In Phase II of the research (July and August 2021), FFP fielded a survey to collect more data on the need for technology to support pro bono financial planning engagements. Approximately 400 CFP® professionals who had volunteered to do pro bono service within the last 5 years completed the survey.
About the Foundation for Financial Planning
The Foundation for Financial Planning is a Washington, DC-based 501(c)(3) charitable organization, solely devoted to supporting the delivery of pro bono financial planning and advice to at-risk populations, including active military members and wounded veterans, people with cancer and other serious medical diagnoses, seniors and family caregivers, low-income workers and their families, domestic violence survivors, and many more. Dedicated to powering pro bono financial planning, FFP has provided more than $8.3 million in grants to national and community-based pro bono programs; worked with partners to activate more than 24,000 financial planners to volunteer their time and talents; helped bring pro bono advice to more than 500,000 underserved people; and acted as a leader and catalyst to embed a rich tradition of pro bono service across the financial planning profession. Visit FFPprobono.org to learn more.