Changing the face of advice

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Planning in a rural community has a slightly different face and news, whether it's good or bad, can travel pretty fast.

Lyn Heaysman is an authorised representative for Harvest Wealth in Mildura, a town of 30,000 on the banks of the Murray River.

Heaysman and her team have made a good name for themselves among the community since they began providing pro-bono services to clients through the mental health system.

The important thing to remember is that these are highly professional and intelligent people, who in normal circumstances can make good decisions, says Heaysman, but will often make bad ones when under the health pressures that they face.

“It’s usually to do with helping them make better financial decisions at a time that’s critical to them. Examples may be accessing temporary disabilities through their defined benefits scheme, negotiating with the bank to have their mortgage reduced, accessing mortgage insurance benefits and so forth.”

The pro-bono work isn’t cheap, and Heaysman has had to limit herself to four clients per year, which usually blows out to six.

“When I first started doing this I did it every time someone asked and then I realised I wasn’t making any money for my business. If I’m going to stay in business to help everyone, I’ve actually got to make some money as well. By working out what’s the tolerance of pro-bono I can give then allows me to say yes or no.”

There are a number of other organisations that Heaysman links up with, so that those who she does have to turn away are provided with another door open somewhere else.

Part of the reason they're so popular is thanks to word-of-mouth travelling faster than the speed of light. For instance, Heaysman was working with one couple where the husband had a terminal illness. They managed to claim his terminal illness benefits through insurance as well as the Centrelink benefits and had everything sorted before he died.

“We did that as a pro-bono case, but her sister was a bank manager in Mildura and at a local function she stood up in front of the whole crowd and said how Harvest Wealth had this really strong pro-bono culture in their business and that she had seen a strong example of their commitment to that.”

They have also changed the perception that other professions have of advisers. After working with a local solicitor on a case, Heaysman said the solicitor admitted that she had to rethink her view of the profession.

With the benefits that pro-bono can have on an advice business and the wider community, coupled with new legislative changes, she is adamant that now is the right time for all planners to start thinking about their social service.

“With our FoFA reforms, now that financial planning is entrenched in legislation, we have to have a far better culture in working with our profession – not dealing with us as an industry but as a profession. And in doing that part of it is having some social responsibility. I highly recommend all financial planning businesses entrench some sort of social responsibility in their business, whether it be pro-bono, community work or whatever.”