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Pay it forward
Pay it forward

Mar 01 2024 / Round the Table Magazine

Pay it forward

Haggerty gains immensely from providing free monthly advice to nonclients who need help.

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For 30 minutes, Michael Joseph Haggerty, CPCA, CFP, meets with a woman who is struggling financially and has three children, two of whom have intellectual disabilities. She is not a client, and Haggerty, a 15-year MDRT member from Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, will earn no money from this meeting. But the government programs and tax benefits he helps this woman learn about leads to increasing her income by a life-changing $800 per month.

“I would like to think that I help everyone I deal with,” Haggerty said. “But when I help someone and there’s no financial win for me through managing investments or maximizing an estate or otherwise, it’s a different kind of feeling that I really helped somebody.”

When I help someone and there’s no financial win for me through managing investments or maximizing an estate or otherwise, it’s a different kind of feeling that I really helped somebody.

Haggerty started doing pro bono work five years ago by offering people at his church assistance with securing aid from government programs and mortgages. His reputation as a resource spread to other people in town, and eventually he was spending considerable time on calls and meetings that didn’t generate business for the practice. His executive assistant, Shannon, initially recommended that he stop these meetings. Haggerty said that’s not who he is. So, Shannon suggested switching these sessions to 15-minute windows — appointment required and no walk-ins — on one Saturday per month. That schedule ensured that Haggerty still could provide this free service and focus the rest of the month on the 1,900 revenue-driving insurance and investment clients. His practice includes two other advisors and four support staff, and Haggerty manages 250 clients with assets of $250,000 or more.

His free counselling day typically runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with the option to extend it until 3 p.m. depending on demand. On lighter days, the appointments are spread out, so meetings can go longer. The benefits of the pro bono work on his practice have been numerous for Haggerty, whose entire business is driven by referrals:

  • Enhanced gatekeeping. With this program, Shannon can vet prospects when they contact the office and provide a defined timeline for when Haggerty can provide the advice that suits them.
  • Network maximization. Haggerty’s solution often stems from knowing who the person needs to speak with next. He has connections gleaned from more than 25 years in the financial services profession. So, when someone recently expressed a problem with a landlord, Haggerty admitted the situation was new to him, but he could reach out to lawyers he knew to find an answer.
  • Differentiation. Churches or other community organizations offer free tax-prep work or other financial assistance, but a for-profit firm offering this service is unique, which makes Haggerty stand out in a small community of 50,000 people with plenty of financial advisors to choose from.
  • Increased flexibility. Haggerty is prepared for the unexpected. There are times when someone comes in for free service, but they really need a standard appointment during the week. One client with $500,000 in investments and a $750,000 inheritance following the death of his father initially came for a free Saturday session. Haggerty also is prepared for the opposite situation when a regular appointment would be more fitting for a free Saturday slot.
  • Unintended referrals. Sometimes a new client will tell him they’re moving their investments to Haggerty because he helped their neighbor get a residential tax credit. “He could become one of my A clients and a great opportunity to meet someone who otherwise wouldn’t have heard of our firm,” Haggerty said. Similarly, people remember this kindness for years, like when siblings contacted Haggerty because he helped their mom get food stamps when they were kids. They wanted Haggerty to help them start saving, so they won’t face the same situation.

But gains for his business is not the point. Seventy-five percent of the people he helps merely need information about obtaining income-tax credits or help applying for government benefits like a fuel subsidy available to marginal income households or an education savings plan. He opened one such plan for a woman with four children and helped her earn about $4,000 a year for six years.

“Nobody’s chasing those people as clients, but it’s life changing for those kids when they’re ready to go to school and have that money for university,” Haggerty said. “That’s the potential win.”

Haggerty never tallied how much money or how many clients are a result of his free Saturdays. He doesn’t expect a financial benefit and treats those days as if he was volunteering at his church or a food bank.

“I’ve made a consistently good living in my business, and the least I can do is try to give back,” he said, adding that fellow advisors could offer such free service two to four times per year or at whatever frequency works for them. “If I have to be remembered for one thing and that one thing is that I want to help people, that’s a good thing. I think if you put good out, you get good back.”