When planner Sandra Field and a group of advisors from a Southern California FPA chapter tried to volunteer to help troops with their finances at the nearby Marine base at Camp Pendleton, the effort ended in exasperation.
We were willing to spend hours, Field recalls, just talking to them to educate and help, without giving our name or company, without selling anything, without a hidden agenda and we were not allowed.
In an experience common to many advisors around the country, Field says she and the other planners were turned away by the military over concerns that they might try to sell soldiers unsuitable investment products.
There is a terrible lock hold on who can give advice and how you can deliver it, says Field, a NAPFA member and founder of Asset Planning in Cypress, Calif. I understand some rules are there to prevent insurance and annuity sales from taking place, but it also restricted us from educating them with basic budgeting. It was heartbreaking to hear some of the stories.
Planners like Field expressed acute frustration with the lack of planning help available to soldiers in financial straits, as they commented on a Financial Planning investigation into whether more comprehensive financial planning could help stem the rate of military suicide.
Ric Edelman, founder of Edelman Financial Services, which has planning offices nationwide, wrote: I hope that this article will press the Pentagon, White House and Congress to get military families the financial advice that they need. The story led to a new push in Congress to address the issue.
Financial Plannings investigation focused on the experience of a planner, Jan Chapman of Anapolis, Md., who intervened to assist Army Sgt. Angelo Stevens, who said he was on the verge of killing himself so his family (and two ailing children) could get $500,000 in government life insurance benefits. It also reported that planners who go beyond very limited parameters to try to help soldiers in crisis often run the risk of losing their jobs the fate that befell Chapman and at least one other planner. Even though military statistics show that financial stressors are among the most common precipitating factors to military suicide, planners under contract with the military are only authorized to provide financial education, mostly in meetings of about 15 minutes in length, according to the Pentagon.
Like Field, many other planners posted accounts on financial-planning.com about their frustrations when theyve tried to help soldiers or about how financial stress can be severely debilitating, especially amid other disturbing factors or conditions. Below are edited excerpts.
MILITARYS SUICIDE EPIDEMIC
Although stress and post-traumatic stress disorder can certainly contribute to suicide, especially for combat veterans, it's often specific and acute pressures of life marital troubles, job issues and, above all, terrible financial trouble -- which drive people over the edge. This viewpoint needs to be more widely distributed, since as we're becoming more aware of the suicide epidemic in our veterans and active-duty service members, the focus has been on post-traumatic stress disorder and combat vets. Clearly, the problem is more widespread. Clearly, people in our industry are in a position to help. Clearly, well-meaning rules are inadvertently contributing to the issue. Steve F.
AIR FORCE MAJOR-TURNED-CFP
This is reminiscent of the bad old days and the complete lack of any financial training for advisors, most of whom were former service members whose only training was their marketing materials. Yes, it did get some service members, like me, saving, but at what cost? I agree that investing is not what young service members need. They need fundamental personal financial education on such topics such as personal debt, recognizing lifestyle costs, the concept of savings, household risk, guardianship of children and so forth.
As a retired Air Force officer and CFP, and one who was made responsible for briefing all incoming personnel on the important matters of personal finance at my final assignment at Andrews Air Force Base in the late 90s, my sense is that young service members suffer from what all young people suffer from when it comes to personal financial responsibility: youth, short-sighted wants and a live-for-today attitude.
The military is no different than any other employer, except a much higher proportion of its workforce is made up of young people, which amplifies this problem. Making personal finance a mandatory part of post basic-training education makes perfect sense to me. U.S. Air Force Maj. Bruce Miller (retired), CFP
This article is sobering. The fact that our young military men and women are committing suicide in part to solve their financial problems is an abomination. Most disturbing is the fact that Pentagon policy prohibits their financial advisors from providing planning. The excuse that planners might sell unsuitable products to financially naive military members is a non-starter (a simple prohibition on selling products at all would fix that). The article also provides another vitally important piece of information: namely that survivors of deceased military members active and retired receive substantial amounts of money in the form of death benefits. Sadly, survivors are often as or more unsophisticated when it comes to money matters as the deceased service member. Jeb C.
I believe that an advisor has a great opportunity to reach out into their community and meet with the commanding officer or senior non-commissioned officer of their recruiting region to offer services to troops before they ship off. The recruitment numbers in most communities are low. The recruit doesn't have a lot of money or debt, so the workload is minimal. But the chance to connect with a person who will likely come home to the same community in three, four, five years is high and, if you connect with them early, there is great chance financial planning guidance will help them steer clear of heavy debt, instead of having to try and save them after the thought of suicide has entered their mind. --Gary B.
THEY EARN IT EVERY DAY
The problem that I have seen over the past 35 years is that the approved vendors in this space are largely product-driven and, for the most part, incompetent and require far more discipline, personal education as well as a fiduciary-only commitment. The U.S. serviceman niche really needs behavioral counseling more than anything else. Once the proper education about life, family values, life transitions and more is accomplished, then the basics of a written financial plan can be administered. Once the relationship matures, then basic financial planning concepts can be addressed. I strongly believe that military families at least deserve this. They earn it every day and we all should be very supportive of this effort. --Michael Chindamo, co-founder, Fautores Family Offices