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Financial Education Partners

Program Description

Background and Program Description

 

Financial Education Partners (FEP) is a pro bono financial counseling initiative that works with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and other community outreach organizations to offer financial guidance to individuals in need. FEP’s main focus in recent years has been on clients dealing with financial insecurity because of a MS diagnosis. The program is a recipient of the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s prestigious “Making a Difference” award.

 

Working with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS)

 

Getting Started

 

When first launched, FEP offered one-on-one financial counseling to clients referred by NMSS. Tapping into the expertise of members of the Society of Financial Service Professionals, FEP built relationships with NMSS staffers in several cities including New Orleans, under the leadership of the late John Meyer, CLU, ChFC, AEP, and in San Diego, spearheaded by John Rodee. In addition to one-on-one counseling, FEP provided:
 

  • Presentations on various financial planning topics at local NMSS chapter meetings 

  • Webinars for NMSS constituents nationwide

  • White papers on financial planning topics

 

Evolution of Relationship with NMSS

 

  • NMSS changed its organizational structure away from local programming and chapter contact with MS patients. Support was centralized through a national call center—1-800-FIGHTMS.

  • The NMSS call center is staffed with MS Navigators who handle all incoming questions. These questions cover everything from “how can I volunteer for NMSS?” to “where can I participate in a MS Walk-a-Thon fundraiser?” to asking for $250 to pay an electric bill.

  • In recent years, local MS chapter programming was curtailed, and staffing was cut back. FEP’s points of contact with various chapters were terminated or reassigned. Many chapters were closed, and surviving chapters took on a greater geographic footprint. The Seattle MS chapter, for example, covers all of Washington and Idaho. It became impossible to develop a personal relationship with a local NMSS chapter.  

 

FEP’s Relationship with NMSS Today

 

Dick Bell, CLU, ChFC, CFP, MSFS, RHU, REBC, of Calabasas, California, serves as the main point person between NMSS Navigators and individuals who have contacted NMSS in need of financial planning services. He has been interviewed and quoted extensively each year in financial planning articles written by freelancers for NMSS Momentum magazine and has had significant input into the rewriting of the NMSS Adapting booklet—a brochure provided to newly diagnosed individuals.

 

Over the course of the past 7 years, Dick Bell has received 300 referrals from 179 Navigators. These referrals look like this:
 

  • All contacts are by phone with follow up using email and phone. 

  • Most initial calls are 30-60 minutes long. Dick takes notes and emails his notes to the client (but not to the Navigator, for privacy reasons).

  • There may be multiple follow-up calls with individual referrals. 

 

Nature of the Referrals and Financial Concerns

 

The MS Navigators understand that the nature of the guidance provided through FEP is on solving financial issues triggered by the MS diagnosis. They know that FEP does not make cash grants or offer advice on social welfare programs, such as Medicaid. Common threads among the callers are:

 

  • Dealing with the realization of a shortened work life and the implications this has for health insurance and medical expenses

  • Dealing with living as a disabled person, how to make savings last, and how to provide for long-term care needs

 

Role of the Navigator as to Financial Planning

 

  • Navigators have limited time on the phone with any caller.  They are very good at assessing the caller’s financial status and determining whether a caller has any assets to “plan with.”  FEP counselors typically don’t work with individuals who are in dire financial straits.

  • Navigators screen the call and address the unique questions of the caller.  Recent calls related to:
     

  • Giving the client a better understanding of her group health insurance coverage

  • Providing a review of the client’s group long-term disability insurance and how it ties in with Social Security

  • Helping the client gain a better understanding of her overall financial position by creating a simplistic “You Are Here” financial statement.

  • Reviewing retirement plan investment choices

 

Typical Initial Phone Session with Client Referred through NMSS

 

The initial session focuses on fact finding, including obtaining information in the following areas:

  • Family situation, e.g., marital status, children, ages, etc.

  • Employment status and annual income

  • Social Security income amount, if disabled or retired

  • Health insurance, including prescription coverage

  • Availability of group long-term disability insurance

  • Snapshot of retirement accounts

  • Snapshot of checking and savings accounts

  • Home ownership—value and mortgage

  • Debts—credit cards, car loans, student loans

  • Legal planning—wills, living trust, durable power of attorney

 

As the FEP counselor, Dick Bell has no idea where one of these calls will lead or what the real concerns of the caller are. Once the client becomes comfortable that there’s will be no attempt to sell anything and that he has the expertise to understand and explain some challenging topics (group long-term disability insurance), the client tends to open up with numerous concerns.

 

The FEP program provides guidance most of the callers would never receive because they do not have sufficient assets to attract the services of a financial planner, wealth manager, etc.

 

Change in Client’s Situation after Working with FEP Counselor

 

The client referred to the FEP program by an NMSS Navigator will typically better off after the consultation in the following areas:

 

  • They have a more accurate position of where they stand financially, i.e.,  what they own and what they owe.

  • They better understand their employees benefits.

  • They are better able to project where they want to be in the future and what adjustments they need to make now, if any, to achieve those goals.

  • They understand that they may need to adjust to more realistic goals.

 

Required Skill Set of an FEP Counselor

 

FEP counselors need the following capabilities:

 

  • A good working knowledge of employee benefits to include various group insurances and retirement plans

  • A good working knowledge of Social Security and Medicare

  • The ability to walk the talk of financial planning, who lives on less than is coming in, and who understands the peace of mind of financial stability

  • Be a good listener with compassion for somebody who probably has struggled financially in life with or without an MS diagnosis

  • Be a good written communicator who can summarize the main points of a phone call, including developing a list of action items for the referral