By Morey Stettner
Beyond helping clients manage their finances, some financial advisers aim higher. They educate consumers — people they will never meet — about personal finance.
These advisers have created free resources that empower individual investors to make wise financial decisions. Such resources also can enhance advisers’ marketing and brand identity — enabling them to reach a far wider audience than their client base. Some of these online tools have legions of fans.
Consider year-end capital-gains distributions planned by mutual funds. Many investors know that their fund distributes realized net capital gains in November or December, but they may still struggle to manage their tax bill if they hold the fund in a taxable account.
Mark Wilson, a certified financial planner in Irvine, Calif., created a website [ www.CapGainsValet.com ] in 2014 that tracks funds’ end-of-year distribution announcements. Consumers can check the distributions for the 15 largest mutual fund firms at no cost. (Separately, he offers advisers a paid service that provides distribution data on about 250 mutual fund firms, and a higher-tier option with more frequent, detailed updates on particular mutual funds.)
“It was an idea in my head 10 years before I started it,” Wilson said. An adviser since 1997, he maintained his full-time practice while launching the website. Capital-gains distribution season is limited to the last few months of the year, so that’s when he works overtime to track and assemble the data.
Wilson’s website helps consumers time their mutual fund purchases (to avoid buying a fund planning an outsize payout that would trigger a steep tax bill). Other advisers roll out resources that address broader needs and seek to raise the public’s financial literacy.
Stacy Francis, a New York City-based certified financial planner, entered the field in 2002 in part because she saw firsthand how women who lack financial education can suffer. “My grandmother stayed in an abusive marriage because she did not have the skills to effectively deal with money,” Francis said.
Francis created a nonprofit organization, Savvy Ladies, almost 20 years ago. Its mission: to provide financial education and resources to women. The website [ www.savvyladies.org ] gets about 3,000 monthly visitors. In addition, the group offers a free helpline for women with money questions to talk with a financial expert.
“The helpline has expanded over time and we now have 119 volunteers who advise women,” said Judy Herbst, the group’s executive director. “We help over 150 women every month get connected with [a financial expert] for a free, one-hour consultation.”
Through their side endeavors, some advisers reach even more consumers. Josh Bannerman, a Dallas-based certified financial planner, launched a podcast in 2012 with a longtime colleague. He has recorded 1,200 “Stacking Benjamins” episodes over the past decade on topics including retirement planning, home buying and investing.
While the podcast is popular, Bannerman says the prevailing lack of financial knowledge in the U.S. is a societal problem. “It’s still not enough [listeners] based on how many people there are who could become more financially literate,” he said. “As planners, we have an obligation to help as many people as we can.”