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Skills-based volunteering is the next step toward professionalism

10 December 2012 Gareth Stokes
Gareth Stokes, FAnews Online Editor

Gareth Stokes, FAnews Online Editor

The Financial Planning Institute of Southern Africa’s (FPI) vision is stated as: Professional financial planning for all. An important part of realising this vision is that financial planners are recognised as professionals and the value of advice they gi

“Regulation introduces a minimum competence,” says Nti. “Before you can consider yourself a professional – or part of a profession – a number of additional characteristics must exhibit”. He believes that minimum competence by way of regulatory examinations or approved qualifications is merely a starting point. It reflects government or regulatory ‘approval’ but little else… More important aspects of a profession are notions such as self-assessment, peer review and volunteerism.

Getting to grips with the financial planning profession

Expanding on the first of these concepts, Nti observes that a profession is a community of experts that largely self-regulates by way of a peer review process. There must be broad consensus on common ethical standards and the profession must police said standards. The ‘self-assessment’ component is fulfilled by virtue of the fact that true professionals view themselves as such. “A good indication that you are dealing with a profession is when the individuals in the profession genuinely view themselves as professionals,” he says. “This professionalism exhibits in how professionals conduct themselves, how their businesses are run and how they interact with consumers as well as with each other”.

Public recognition is an important part of gaining the status of a profession or of being a professional – not even legislative recognition will mean much unless the public actually perceives it as such and perceives practitioners as genuine professionals. Volunteerism is one of the final hurdles the financial planning community must ‘clear’ before being recognised by the public as a true profession. “We need to make a concerted effort to include public service in our repertoire,” says Nti. “Professional financial planners and other stakeholders in the industry must do something for the public that goes beyond the profit motive”. The FPI is at the forefront of championing volunteerism in the financial planning space as outlined in their recent document titled Skills-based Volunteering: The Mark of True Professionalism. Why should financial planners consider volunteering as a critical component in the ‘professional’ debate? And what does volunteering entail? Answers to both questions are contained in the FPI document, which is publicly available on the FPI website.

Over the past decade the FPI has focussed on setting academic and practise standards and a Code of Ethics for financial planners, modelled on the professional standards embraced by the legal, accounting, medical and engineering professions. Quoting from the document: “These elements of professionalism are now well entrenched through the FPI, and the stage is set for the next element…” What is the next element? All that now remains to establish financial planning as a true profession is to introduce and champion “community service and the attendant provision of ‘pro bono’ services”. This requires that professional financial planners must give freely of their time and expertise in the same way doctors, medical specialists and lawyers currently do.

Giving of your time and talent

According to the FPI the phrase ‘pro bono’ is from the Latin ‘pro bono publico’ which can be directly translated as ‘for the public good’. They say: “For the purposes of this paper, we have borrowed the term pro bono and applied it to any form of skills-based volunteering offered by a professional financial planner. In other words, pro bono service is taken to mean community service that allows you to use you financial and financial planning knowledge and skills set to voluntarily assist needy individuals, groups or communities – including serving the Institute”.

How does the financial services sector measure up on the pro bono front? The FPI – based on its network of 400-plus active volunteers – estimates that financial planners donated approximately 7000 hours in 2011… But the bulk of these hours were ‘gobbled up’ by the institute through time spent on its board and technical committees. Although the 800 hours dedicated to financial education are commendable the industry falls way short of the approximately 60000 hours per annum of pro bono work offered up by South Africa’s lawyers over the same timeframe.

Nti believes there are a number of areas where CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professionals and other financial services stakeholders can get involved. Planners can, for example, volunteer time to give basic financial education training. This training could include household budgets, debt management, saving and putting together proper financial plans. “Our challenge is to uplift individuals and communities to the point where they may one day need our services,” he says. “The people who benefit from this volunteering may become our future clients”. Skill-based volunteerism also offers a framework through which the industry can help regain lost public trust, whilst at the same time putting itself out to be a credible profession.

Measuring the industry’s contribution

“As a financial planning professional, the level of professionalism you display is, to a large extent, a direct consequence of the attitude you demonstrate and action you take,” concludes Nti. He has urged all FPI members – and other interested stakeholders – to get involved with pro bono work. And he urges all parties to “close the gap between professional rhetoric and professional practice by showing absolute commitment to excellence and being absolutely and unequivocally committed to the best interest of their clients and their communities they operate in”. (If you are interested in volunteering in the financial services space, or have ideas you wish to share with the FPI, please forward same to volunteer@fpimail.co.za)

Editor’s thoughts: Professionalism is about more than continuous learning, independent certification and professional membership. To earn the ‘professional’ title you need to roll up your sleeves and make meaningful contributions to less advantaged members of society. The true professional appreciates that giving of his / her skills for free is to the ultimate benefit of both industry and consumer. Would you agree that professionalism extends beyond the provision of financial advice to uplifting the community at large? Please add your comment below, or send it to gareth@fanews.co.za

Comments

Added by Bidnis Man, 13 Dec 2012
Bah humbug. What if you give them bad advice (according to them, not you) for free and then get reported to the FSB. A few hundred hours later and a few hundred thousand in legal fees later you may or may not have to pay their 'damages' caused by your so called bad advice. Financial planning is a high risk occupation. Doing it for free does not make it risk free.
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Added by old timer, 10 Dec 2012
Quite frankly I'm tired of working for nothing. Since when do Doctors , Medical Specialists and Lawyers work for free? I recently called out a plumber and got charged a R450 call out fee before he even started work, and my specialist charges R550 for a 10 minute consultation! In 18 years I've never received one cent for visiting a client. How many times does a CFP present a client with a comprehensive financial plan just to find that the client shops around for someone less qualified to do the deal for less commission?Maybe Nti should set the example by donating a month's salary or his year end bonus to pro bono work. The FPI certainly charge enough annual membership fees without actually doing much in return for the membership.
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