Case Study – Pro Bono Advice

In this claims case study, the adviser shares how he offered his services pro bono to a family dealing with cancer.

At a glance

Submitted by: Mark O’Leary
Business name:  Eluvia
Licensee: Hillross
Clients: Family who lost husband and father to cancer
Claim type: Death cover, terminal illness benefit

In detail

“Why do it? It’s a damn good question!” Mark replied, when asked why he regularly offers his services free of charge to people with terminal cancer.

“I genuinely believe we are seriously helping people when they’ve got nowhere else to go, even in some cases where it’s only half an hour’s work, and we just point them in the right direction. We feel that it’s the right thing to do.”

He explained that the type of advice provided in pro-bono cases differed significantly from his regular work.

“To a large degree we become like counsellors. We’re holding their hand and helping people work through issues, keeping creditors from their door, and taking away stress from their lives.

“In these cases, there’s probably more time spent in the back office than in front of the client. We spend quite a number of hours on tracking down lost super and lost insurance – products that a lot of people don’t even know they’ve got.”

Mark shared one example of a pro-bono case he has worked on recently:

“I met Katy* for the first time, with her husband and her kids, in a palliative care hospital. Her husband had been diagnosed as terminal, and had around one month life expectancy. Katy was sitting there with a cheque that had been paid out under terminal illness benefits. It was a $300,000 cheque which she had there waiting for me, because she didn’t know what to do with it. She’d never even opened a bank account.

“Nothing significant happened out of this case from a financial planning perspective. $300,000 wasn’t a lot in terms of this family’s needs. We talked about paying out the mortgage, and what to do about buying cars, because the only car they had was his company vehicle. The husband said he wanted his wife to get a new one, which is an example of the kind of thinking that goes on – he wanted her to have a new car, not a second-hand one, because if it broke down there would be no one there to help her.

“I spoke to her three or four weeks ago, after he had passed away. She said she just wanted to get herself through Christmas, and get the girls started at school. She’s then got to think about the next step. They’re on Centrelink benefits, and she’s got a little bit of money left, but not a lot. All I’ve done so far is point her in the right direction in terms of paying off debt and updating her will.

at the end of the day, we protect families, irrespective of the numbers attached

“So even though there’s been no formal advice, nothing written down, this case sticks in my mind because it’s very, very real.”

While acknowledging that offering pro-bono advice is not for everyone, Mark believes it can be a very rewarding experience, particularly for younger or newer advisers.

“The majority of advisers within our practice are very young – in their late 20s and early 30s. They’re all fully trained, but they don’t necessarily understand the value of insurance and estate planning. We’re using this as a teaching aide of sorts. It’s a way of saying to them: ‘This is seriously what we do! We might sit here and talk about money and shares and the Dow Jones, and that’s all very important. But at the end of the day, we protect families, irrespective of the numbers attached.’

“It isn’t easy, there’s no question about it, but I feel quite good about the difference we’re making. Oddly, I like the sense of responsibility, because I know that we can make a greater difference than most other professionals at this point in their life. A lawyer can tidy up, do a will, and that’s important. An accountant has a role too. But when you meet with them, you get an immediate, heightened sense of responsibility and you’ve just got to get it right.”

Mark had this advice for other professionals looking to offer free services to those in need of financial support:

“With this, there’s no end game. Because the more you look at it, the more people you can bring into the loop to support.

“You have to think about it very carefully in terms of how you manage your time. And if you have a go, you have to do it wholeheartedly, because you don’t want to let people down.

“Choose one organisation that resonates with you, so you can focus your service. And be prepared for difficult conversations.”

*Name has been changed to protect the clients’ privacy

Three years ago, AMP Financial Planning and Hillross embarked on a partnership with the Cancer Council of NSW to provide free financial advice to cancer sufferers. The program has now grown to include support for patients across Australia, with more than 300 advisers volunteering their services in Victoria alone.

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