In his 30-year military career, Dick Power managed billion-dollar budgets for computing and other logistics projects. Then he got his master’s degree in business administration and spent years as an executive at a Fortune 500 company. Now, as an 82-year-old volunteer financial planner, he video chats with veterans, patiently helping them log into online accounts and get their financial lives in order.
This is not a simple short-term gig where a volunteer spends a couple of hours helping someone out and then never sees them again. Power spends years working with his clients, helping them inch toward financial solvency.
“Clearing up something like $40,000 in credit-card debt can take a while. You have to figure out how to get through the process and then come up with a payment plan and execute it,” says Power, who retired from the U.S. Army with the rank of colonel and now lives in Massachusetts.
Power became a certified financial planner in the early 1990s after taking a night course at Boston University, and he got involved in pro bono work after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He’s now semiretired, but he maintains his CFP credentials so he can continue to help people effectively.
“When 9/11 happened, we had just formed a Massachusetts chapter of the Financial Planning Association, and we were looking for something we could do to help,” Power says.
Most of the direct assistance to victims’ families was happening in New York, but Power and his colleagues realized that there would be a big mobilization of reserve military personnel, which would create a major financial disruption in many people’s lives. The association offered to provide financial planning free of charge to National Guard members. “That initiative continues to this day,” says Power, who previously headed up the FPA’s pro bono program.
Power says that pro bono financial planning works best when it happens through partnerships with organizations that already have a relationship with people who need help. The best way to get involved as a planner, he says, is through a professional organization or by working directly with an organization that provides services to people who need them.
“The thing that gets people best involved is having a current need where they’ve asked for help,” Power says. “I’ve found that some planners will sign up to do volunteer work and then they won’t get any clients. The people they are supposed to help never participate. So they get discouraged and they quit.”
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One group Power works with is called Homes for Our Troops, which builds accessible housing for wounded veterans. Those veterans, however, can’t qualify for the housing if they have financial problems.
“People were getting into financial difficulty because they didn’t know how to take care of the bills [that come with owning a home],” Power says. “So we make a financial plan based on their resources, and before they get keys handed to them, they know how to manage the ongoing bills.”
Three years ago, Power started working with a wounded Army vet who was in financial difficulty. They met regularly via video chat to work on clearing her debt so she could qualify for a new home. “A few weeks ago, they handed over the keys, and I had a chance to be there with this young woman, in person for the first time,” he says. “She can now wheel around freely in her wheelchair at home. She’s got a new lease on life. That’s a terrific reward for me.”
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