"I've seen it all," says Rick Fingerman, founder and president of Financial Planning Solutions, a small shop managing roughly $50 million in Newton, Mass. "Job loss, bankruptcy, foreclosure, divorce, credit card debt, you name it."
Cancer patients are often in desperate need of a finance expert to help them sort through their options. Yet the cost of hiring an advisor may seem like an unnecessary - if not outright unaffordable - expense. In 2007, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and the Financial Planning Association launched a pro bono program to pair financial planners with cancer patients and families.
Fingerman signed up immediately and, since 2008, has been counseling patients, coaching other planners to work with the cancer stricken, and overseeing the daily operations of the program. To date, he has matched more than 200 patients with planners - engagements that have helped families tackle credit card debt, insurance bills and other budgetary concerns.
For his extraordinary work, the Foundation for Financial Planning and Financial Planning magazine named Fingerman the winner of the inaugural Pro Bono Planners of the Year Awards.
"Rick brings an outstanding level of commitment and compassion to his work, while also lending his considerable expertise and experience" to the program, says Nancy Borstelmann, director of the patient/family support and education program at Dana-Farber, who nominated Fingerman for the award.
Saundra Davis, who runs Sage Financial, a nonprofit that provides financial coaching to low- and moderate-income families in San Francisco, was named Pro Bono Planner of the Year runner-up.
In addition to the individual awards, two groups of planners were recognized for their outstanding pro bono efforts: the Financial Planning Association's New York chapter won the Pro Bono Team of the Year Award for advising 9/11 families, and SpendSmart, an Oceanside, Calif., nonprofit providing financial education, was named Pro Bono Team of the Year runner-up for helping at-risk kids, single moms, military families and others develop financial planning skills.
ALL ABOUT GIVING
The Foundation for Financial Planning is a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide financial planning services to lower-income families; individuals in crisis situations, such as domestic violence or medical emergencies; and military personnel. The foundation provides grant money to groups such as the United Way, Boys and Girls Clubs, and the Center for Women and Families to organize and promote events where those facing financial challenges can meet with advisors at no charge.
Since 1998, the foundation has awarded 75 grants totaling more than $4 million. This year, it's received 69 applications and will likely award 15 grants totaling about $500,000. Money for the grants comes from investment advisors and corporations serving the financial community. TD Ameritrade Institutional, for instance, is matching every dollar individual financial planners and investment advisors contribute up to $1 million. Amerprise, Charles Schwab, Fidelity, LPL Financial and Cetera Financial are among the other firms that have contributed.
This year, the foundation, working with Financial Planning, established the Pro Bono Awards to recognize the charitable contributions of financial planning professionals. Awards were open to financial planners, registered representatives or registered investment advisors working with nonprofits to provide free financial advice, education and life skills.
Foundation chair Barry Freedman and executive director Jim Peniston assembled a panel of judges that included Freedman, who also heads Freedman Financial Associates in Peabody, Mass; Karin Maloney Stifler, a CFP at True Wealth Advisors in Hudson, Ohio; Josh Dunning, partnership development advisor at AARP in Washington; and Lee Baker, a CFP and founder of Apex Financial Services in Tucker, Ga.
HELPING THE CANCER STRICKEN
The judges were looking to recognize planners, such as Fingerman, who made a significant difference in people's lives. At the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Fingerman recruits planners and estate attorneys, oversees a training program he created to teach financial coaches how to work with cancer patients, and assigns each pairing of planner and patient. He also built an online group so that coaches can discuss their work and share best practices.
In his training classes, Fingerman introduces volunteer coaches to programs and information sources that help patients with issues such as credit counseling, heating oil assistance, prescription drugs costs and other services. About three dozen coaches provide one-on-one advice and counseling.