At Oakland City Hall on Saturday, people seeking general information or with specific questions about tax and estate or insurance and benefit planning signed up to speak with certified financial planners who volunteered their services at the fifth annual Oakland Financial Planning Day.
The second floor of the council chamber was filled with visitors eager to speak with the consultants for 15-minute sessions. Long conference tables covered with white tablecloths were placed on either side of the staircase. Colored flags helped to separate the service areas, with general information on one side of the room and specific planning and benefit questions on the other. Volunteers with the Financial Planning Association entered each person’s name and the service they were interested in on a sign-in sheet, and asked them to take a seat in chairs that were lined up against the banister outside the council chamber.
Sometimes waving their hands and often sitting and listening with serious expressions on their faces, people asked questions about debt consolidation, insurance benefits and how to begin the process of planning for a healthy financial future.
Aliyah Dunn-Salahuddin, a recent college graduate, was sitting in one of the chairs the volunteers had placed along the wall. This was her first visit to a financial planner. She said she attended the event because she wants to move from “survive to thrive.”
While she waited, she looked through the papers she brought with her to review with the financial planner. “I am here today to become more financially empowered,” Dunn-Salahuddin said, closing the folder she held in her hand. “I am looking for information about how to repay student loans. I’m also looking at how to start a strong financial foundation so I get out of renting. I am trying to have something for the future.”
Theresa Roderick was also waiting for her time to speak with a planner. She said she has been diagnosed with a serious illness and wants to make sure she makes the right choices when it comes to her real estate so that there is enough money to cover her future medical costs.
“I want to find out about consolidation of different credit cards,” Roderick said. “I get a lot of offers in the mail and I don’t trust any of them, so I wanted to go to a safe place to ask for some advice. I’ve made silly choices in the past and wasted my money. I want to make sure whatever is left that I use it wisely.”
Sacramento resident Herman Low said he wanted advice about taxes and insurance benefits, and that the event was appealing enough for him to drive to downtown Oakland. “Even if they don’t give me quite the answer I am looking for, they have pointed me in the right direction,” Low said after completing his session with a tax planner. “That’s OK,” he continued as he sat down to wait his turn to speak with an insurance benefits planner. “I like the idea of being able to go from person to person in the same place.”
The Oakland event, which is offered free of charge, has become a model for other cities said Frank Paré, a certified financial planner and the president of the Oakland-based PF Wealth Management Group, who organized the financial planning day along with Megan Rouse. Rouse is also a certified financial planner and the owner of Megan Rouse Financial Planning in Dublin. There are now approximately 30 cities holding financial planning days, he said. This year’s Oakland event was sponsored by the Financial Planning Association East Bay Chapter, Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Foundation for Financial Planning and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“It is to assist individuals without them feeling as if there is some ulterior motive, like a product that we are trying to promote or a service,” Paré said. “All we are trying to do is help people where they are financially.”
It also allows the consultants to help more people feel comfortable with working with financial experts. “It’s not just for the rich or the wealthy or those with extra money, in the same way that everybody needs exercise,” Rouse said of financial planning. “We may not all be marathon runners, but we all need a little bit of financial planning and figuring out what our goals are.”
Having participated in Financial Planning Day for the last five years, Evor Vattuone, a certified financial planner and president of Aspire Capital Management, which is based in Walnut Creek, said during a busy event it is not uncommon for him to consult with as many as 75 people. He has seen how financial needs and concerns have changed over the years.
“The first event that we had very few people came out, but every single person that did had a mortgage problem. Houses underwater, they weren’t making it. It started even before 2008. The next two years that I did it, almost 100 percent of the people were short selling the house, foreclosing on the house, bankrupt. I only had one person who had a financial planning question outside of that,” Vattuone said. “Now things have recovered and those people have gone through the process for the most part. There are still a high number of situations like that, but much more of the questions are ‘How do I navigate my pre-retirement years?’ and ‘How do I manage my post-retirement years?’”
In addition to the one-on-one consultations at the financial planning event, workshops took place throughout the day. Ret. Lt. Stan Voogd from the Alameda Police Department presented information about scams, providing a list of topics and methods that criminals direct at consumers, primarily seniors.
Aldo Barbaglia, a retired certified financial planner, provided step-by-step information in his “Financial Planning 101” sessions mixing funny anecdotes about himself and his wife with practical methods for creating financial order. Aaron Balluyot, a representative with Operation Hope, a nationwide organization that has helped approximately 500 million households facing mortgage crises, provided information on foreclosure prevention.
Assemblymember Sandré Swanson, who represents the 16th Assembly District and is one of the event sponsors, said the people in his office are focused on finding solutions to issues related to the mortgage crisis and personal finance and that this event is just one way that people at the legislative level can help. “Don’t give up,” Swanson said. “Just engage yourself. All we can do is offer the help but it really takes the people to engage with us. We have nothing to lose and a lot to gain.”