Pro Bono Advice – how does it work?

By Nicola Beswick, Chair, Pro Bono Financial Advice Network

Our vision is to ensure that Australians living with a personal health crisis who need access to financial advice but are unable to afford it, can obtain it through the Pro Bono Financial Advice Network (PFAN). To achieve this vision we work with the fantastic financial advisers in our network to connect them to the  individuals in need who are experiencing significant financial hardship, specifically as a result of serious illness or disability, and require financial advice assistance.

Two questions we are often asked is how does the PFAN referral process work? and what is expected of PFAN advisers?

How does the PFAN referral process work?

For advisers who want join PFAN

Advisers who wish to join PFAN complete an application form which identifies their areas of advice expertise. The application must then be signed by the adviser’s licensee to provide approval to deliver pro bono advice.

Once the application is processed, the adviser is added to our PFAN adviser register and receives their welcome and onboarding information.

For Clients who want advice

PFAN clients are referred to us by the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Australia network who promote the availability of pro bono financial advice via advertising and informational webinars.

On referral to PFAN, individuals complete an application form which details their personal circumstances, and financials. This information is processed through a simple algorithm which determines client eligibility for pro bono assistance.

The adviser and client matching process

As PFAN clients are identified within a particular region, the PFAN support team emails all advisers within the region with high level details of the advice assistance required and to seek willingness (and availability) to assist with the pro-bono case. The support team confirms adviser approval to take on the case and then connects the adviser with the client via an introduction email.

What is expected of PFAN advisers

Advisers are expected to make contact with the client within two working days of the case being assigned and then progress with the relevant advice delivery process. The advice or financial guidance required by PFAN clients varies greatly – it may be as simple as assistance with completion of forms or more complex cases such as identifying insurance benefits in super. In our experience to date, we have found the vast majority of cases to be relatively simple requirements and only a one-off advice consultation is required.

From time to time, clients who receive financial advice may as a result of this, no longer be in financial hardship and be able to fund any ongoing advice requirements. This is a negotiation between the adviser and client and any revised arrangement is then put into place. PFAN is clear in setting expectations with the MS Network referrers and clients who use the service that the pro bono financial advice only applies where financial hardship is evidenced and ongoing.

Once advice has been successfully delivered, PFAN Support team gets in touch with both adviser and client to discuss satisfaction with the process and obtain (optional) testimonials which are extremely valuable in marketing and promoting the PFAN service more widely in the community.

On behalf of our clients, we thank you

We thank all of the wonderful PFAN advisers who have provided invaluable and often, life-changing assistance to our PFAN clients.

And if you would like to consider pro bono advice, remember that just taking on one case a year will make that life-changing difference to a person in need.

Join us and our mission to improve the financial wellbeing of Australians living with MS through providing pro bono financial advice. The more advisers we have as part of PFAN, the more communities we will be able to serve.  This ultimately makes our profession stronger through building awareness of the benefits that financial advice can bring to all of us.

Giving your time and expertise to help people in need

By Nicola Beswick, Chair, Pro Bono Financial Advice Network

Giving to charity does not always have to be about giving money to an organization.  It can be about giving your time and expertise to those less fortunate.  This is what the Pro Bono Financial Advice Network (PFAN) is about.

At this year’s AFA conference, I talked about a lovely lady I assisted who came to me through the Network.   Her story highlights the small difference we can make, as advisers, to change people’s lives.

I met Laura in late April 2021. She had completed our request for help form with the basics as her multiple sclerosis (MS) impacts her ability to concentrate on one task at a time.

Like any client, we spent around an hour talking about her situation.  Laura got in contact with us because she was running out of money fast. For a range of factors including COVID, and her MS Laura had struggled to find a job. Knowing she needed money, Laura had taken two lots of $10,000 out of superannuation to help meet the basics. Laura confessed to me that although she knew it wasn’t ideal, but she had no other choice.  

Laura lived in a home she built and moved into two months after her MS diagnosis. She was using her Centrelink payments to fund her mortgage repayments, but the burden was getting real. She wanted advice around whether she should sell her home or not.  Her savings had disappeared. She told me how much she was beginning to hate her house.

Our conversation went along these lines:

“What is your mortgage balance, how much do you think the home would be worth?” The answer – not a lot of equity. If she sold, she would never be able to purchase another home.

“Tell me about your superannuation…” “I have around $40,000”… “Do you have any insurances?” – Laura’s answer. Nope, I don’t have any. “That’s ok – do you mind sending me a statement and signing an authority to enquire on your account for you”. “Sure, ok.”

She sent me her statement, which was around 12 months old. The statement noted a TPD policy for an amount that would pay off her mortgage and leave a residual amount to assist her with her living.

Laura had no idea, and I didn’t want to get her hopes up until I had confirmed this directly. A few weeks later, we confirmed the insurance was still active.

Our next meeting, went along these lines:

“I’ve done some investigating on your superannuation, and you have an insurance policy.”

“The amount of cover you have will enable to you pay off your mortgage, so you don’t have to sell your home.

This is going to help change your life!”

I share this story to highlight the importance of what we do as advisers by guiding others through some of the most emotionally daunting times in their lives, and especially if they’re impacted by a serious illness.

Someone in this position is unlikely to seek financial advice because they are afraid of the cost of obtaining advice. And they may not be aware of programs such as PFAN which offer access to advice, and more often than not, deliver real financial benefits. If Laura had not gotten in touch, she would have eventually lost the insurance policy, most likely would have sold (or lost) her house, and detrimentally impacted her future without even knowing it.

I approached Laura as I do with any other client. All processes and procedures were the same as my typical day to day work.  However, one of Laura’s MS symptoms is chronic fatigue, which impacts her ability to concentrate.  I ensured everything we discussed was confirmed back to her in an email, like I do already,  but with one small difference. I  broke the process and communications down into smaller bite-sized chunks to make it easier to assist with our conversations and progress.  I also provided simple explanations of concepts that sometimes we may forget our clients do not understand. 

Many advisers know that sometimes the assistance you provide your clients is not that complex. It can be going through the basics and making sure people know where to start. It can also be complex given life’s uncertainties, challenges and changes. The financial planning profession is about the people it serves and their lives. Expert guidance, compassion and support is what we deliver on the job every day. Pro bono advice is simply doing what we do every day without expecting anything in return.

It’s easy to get involved. You can help by taking on just one case a year. That’s one person’s life you are changing. Multiply this by all the  advisers in the PFAN program, and that’s a significant difference we can collectively contribute to the community.

Nicola Beswick

Chair, Pro Bono Financial Advice Network and Senior Financial Adviser at FMD Financial

Giving back. Why to consider it as part of your business.

About me and my journey

My Dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) at the age of 55. While dealing with the devastating diagnosis and an uncertain future, Dad discovered he was eligible to receive an income protection payout. That discovery changed the course of his life and mine. 

I realised how important it is to educate people about the often-complex world of finance. Because the smallest changes can make the most significant difference. I said goodbye to my nearly 10-year career in intellectual property law, and I committed to helping people plan for a financially secure future. 

I have now been in the financial planning industry for just over seven years.  During these seven years, I have time learning from many various professionals in conjunction with many years of industry-specific study. I have completed my Certified Financial Planner®, Accredited Aged Care Professional™, and SMSF Specialist Advisor™ qualifications. And if that wasn’t enough, I am currently undertaking a Master of Financial Planning (thanks FASEA!).

My Dad’s MS Journey

It took Dad’s medical team years to settle on a diagnosis because Dad didn’t fit into ‘the box’ of those who are commonly diagnosed with MS. 

Dad’s symptoms manifested in his inability to use his right arm. Dad, like most of us, is right-handed. Take a moment to think about all the things you do with your dominant hand – the everyday things in life you don’t give much thought to like writing, shaving, getting dressed, doing your shoelaces…the list goes on.  All these things became a challenge for him. 

As Dad’s MS got worse, he was unable to use a lot of his right side. The positive news is that since that early deterioration, Dad’s MS has remained dormant. Others aren’t so fortunate, with their deterioration concentrated over a short time. The nature of this insidious disease means that no one knows how or when they will be impacted. There is no cure for MS, so all you can do is control the symptoms with an array of drugs.

Giving back to the community through the Pro-bono Advice Network

My experience with my Dad not only changed my career direction; it inspired me to look at the bigger picture and find other ways to assist the 25,600 plus Australians living with MS through both fundraising and advocacy.  

I started providing pro bono financial advice to individuals and families going through a health crisis first as a member, and now a Board Director of the Pro Bono Financial Advice Network (PFAN).   I have also been honoured to be collaborating with PFAN’s Board and the MS Educational Team to prepare and present a series of webinars targeted to individuals with MS, their carers and their families, about the benefit of obtaining financial advice. Following my Dad’s diagnosis, that the events that surround his journey, this is and always will be a cause very close to my heart. 

The webinars’ purpose is to highlight to the MS community the value and benefit of consulting with a financial adviser to ensure adequate current and future financial plans are in place. Using real-life examples of individuals that came directly from the MS Connect Support team, the webinars explained the role and scope of a financial adviser, outlining how an adviser assisted the individual in the example provided.

Two of the many case examples include:

I am 45 years old, I had been diagnosed with MS about 15 years ago, it has been a slow progression up to now, and I had to cut back on my work. My two kids are in their late teens. I am a single mother, my ex-husband is not involved with the children or me.  I am finding that I can no longer work as I make mistakes and cannot stand.

I was let go three months ago after ten years of working in insurance; I am 55 years old.  Even though I am “looking for work”, I know I cannot hold on to a job, my memory is just not there anymore.  I live with my wife, who works and also is my carer.  I feel like I am not contributing, and that is a problem for me.

While these are only basic pieces of information, we developed fictional financial situations to show the difference a financial planner can make to someone’s long-term position. Such as outlining the insurances someone has within their superannuation and how a successful claim on these can materially improve their ongoing cash flow, or what strategies can be employed to maximise someone’s Disability Support Pension payments.

Some success stories

There have been so many positive experiences through the work I do with the MS community.

I’ve had the privilege to provide pro-bono advice to a 63-year-old lady whose primary concern was the loss of her Centrelink Pension, and what had been her only source of income for many years. The loss was as a result of an inheritance from her late mother.  As her MS impacted her attention span, all concepts had to be explained slowly and in basic terms. Fortunately, her son had financial power of attorney and was able to assist in all decision-making processes. I prepared an advice document to invest her funds to receive a higher income and mapped out how to maximise her superannuation contributions over time.

Another example is a couple with two teenage children.  They were after an understanding of their overall position. The husband had been living with MS for around seven years and had recently reduced his working commitments. His wife, a self-employed bookkeeper, managed the family finances. I prepared a roadmap of their current position, the timeframe around repaying their small outstanding mortgage and provided an overview of their superannuation and insurances for their future understanding (should the need arise). This provided much-needed comfort to them, as they gained security and peace of mind around where they were headed.


These are only two of the countless people I’ve met along my journey so far.  However, this work a privilege. Not only has it equipped me with a deeper understanding of financial planning, but it has also given me a humbling sense of perspective. To reiterate an article recently written my fellow PFAN board member, Niall McConville, giving back to the community provides a sense of fulfilment through positively impacting the lives of others and their families. It also helps increase the positive value that obtaining financial advice provides within the community, further expanding an appreciation for the work we all do. I encourage you all to consider joining PFAN. It’s a beautiful way to support those, at a time when they need support the most.