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Planners offer pro bono advice as coronavirus takes toll on businesses

How Americans have been exposed to coronavirus 3/16/20
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Last week, CFP Kevin Mahoney of the financial planning firm Illumint made an offer. In a video he posted on Twitter, he would give pro bono advice to anyone who had been financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

In one day, he received three meeting inquiries: two individuals are now unemployed due to the virus’ toll on their work, one whom may lose their permanent resident status because of it. Another is concerned that a business contract could fall through and make it difficult to pay their 2019 tax bill.

“It’s daunting, because these are difficult situations,” Mahoney says. “They’re tough conversations. I will certainly do what I can.”

The ripple effects of the coronavirus and related business shutdowns are hurting small and large businesses alike. The turmoil has prompted advisors to step into the breach and offer their services for free.

Even as cities restrict gatherings and companies cancel events, the rate of COVID-19 cases is rising, adding urgency to the advisors’ services. As of Monday, there were more than 3,900 cases across 49 states, according to data collected by the New York Times. At least 68 people have died.

Travel-related companies such as hotels and airlines are laying off workers as vacationing and non-essential travel grinds to a halt. Starting March 16, some states are mandating restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and casinos close to the public, which will take a toll on low-wage and hourly workers.

“I think in this set of circumstances — even for [those] who may not have lost a job per se, the virus is affecting everyone,” Mahoney says.

Some financial advisors, including Mahoney and Alex Wilson of SmartPath Advisors, are offering budgeting and financial advice for free to those who have been impacted. Mahoney and Wilson are using Twitter to get the word out, setting aside time slots in their week for video meetings and calls.

“I have many friends already feeling the impact of COVID-19 on their small businesses,” Wilson said in an email. She posted her offer on March 15, and says she has received one response so far from a friend who had to close down her art studio, which served children, amid virus fears.

Mahoney offered pro bono planning to the public once before — in early 2019, he led 60 CFPs in the XY Planning Network to give emergency advice during the government shutdown.

He and Wilson said they’ve had trouble getting the word out about their pro bono services, beyond the financial advisory community. For Mahoney, it’s something he struggled with last year as well.

“My biggest disappointment with what happened with the government shutdown initiative — I just felt like regular people didn’t know about it,” he says.

Alex Wilson, a CFP at SmartPath Advisors, says many of her friends are feeling the impact of COVID-19 on their small businesses.

Wilson says her post received a lot of shares and likes on Twitter, “but it did so within the industry,” she says.

Mahoney says it can be difficult to connect with those who need help the most. “There are such barriers to people reaching out for advice,” he says. “They think they can’t afford it. They’re not sure where to start, or they don’t trust the industry at large.”

While Mahoney and Wilson are offering pro bono services as individuals, organizations are in the early stages of stepping up, too.

The Foundation for Financial Planning, which helps support pro bono advice to military and veterans as well as people with cancer, is offering emergency grants and extra assistance to the programs it already funds, according to a statement from its CEO, Jon Dauphiné. He says the organization is also accelerating the launch of a new online platform that will match financial planners to virtual pro bono opportunities.

XY Planning Network has added a search capability on its website to connect individuals who have been financially impacted by the virus to one of the 48 participating advisors who have agreed to donate their time.

A Financial Planning Association spokeswoman said the group is “exploring some possibilities” for helping financially strapped individuals.

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