There's a lot of content in the magazine and on our website devoted to better ways to managing your practice, growing your AUM and maximizing your firm's profits. Given our readership, it's appropriate that we focus on these topics regularly. But it struck me as we were judging this year's Financial Planning Pro Bono Awards that it can be easy to give short-shrift to ideas about building planner satisfaction - and not necessarily through higher ROI from your clients.
Given that the average planner these days is in his or her 50s, that means many joined the profession in the 1980s, aka the Me Generation, a time when personal satisfaction became an American focus. If working professionals didn't have to worry so much about their basic needs, they should consider how much happiness their careers brought them. The concept may have been foreign to many of our parents or grandparents, but it's now fully ingrained in college grads.
In this issue, we honor planners who rely on a different calculus to compute their annual compensation. Among this group, the satisfaction dervied from helping others amounts to the big annual bonus. How big is that bonus? If measured by lives turned around, extraordinarily big.
In writing this month's cover story, FP senior editor Ann Marsh set out to answer this question: "Why do some planners donate inordinate amounts of free time and resources to people who can't pay them in return?"
In her reporting on the winners, chosen by FP's editors in partnership with the Foundation for Financial Planning, Marsh found that, "for this year's individual winners, the reasons were personal: the unbearable loss of lifelong friends to cancer, watching a grandmother endure years of verbal abuse or the scalding, firsthand experience of a financial setback. In each case, these planners found themselves equipped to help people with specific problems who may never have gotten help otherwise. Each sacrificed for the privilege of contributing, but the satisfaction these planners have received is great. Watching misery converted to hope and resolve is powerful compensation." She adds: "This year's winners are models for the industry and will hopefully inspire more planners to find out how they could best give of their time and unique experiences."
That thought prompts me to renew our call from a year ago to institutionalize the premise of pro bono work. "Imagine if the myriad planning associations made volunteering - say one day per quarter - mandatory in order to be a member of the group," I wrote last year. Beyond the industry associations, more planning firms themselves should require it, too. Planners deserve the compensation coming to them, but may find the bonus of sharing their experience to be a richer reward.