When financial advisor Liz Miller took on a client whose spouse had recently died, she realized a piece of the survivor's financial life needed more attention than her wealth management services would provide.
That is, the client needed help with the basics of managing money because her late husband had handled everything.
"She hadn't been involved in the household finances in many years and had a lot of anxiety about paying bills and managing bank accounts," said Miller, a certified financial planner and president of Summit Place Financial Advisors in Summit, New Jersey.
Through a friend, Miller learned of professional daily money managers. After vetting a referral, she connected her client with the pro.
"This person helped our client regularly look at her bank accounts and bills, set up an organization process and understand her living expenses," Miller said. "It ended up being a fabulous fit."
The profession of daily money managers is small, with the exact number of people in the business hard to come by. The American Association of Daily Money Managers has about 700 members — all of whom must agree to a background check — scattered across the U.S., with a few in Canada.
While practitioners — who do not need to be association members — come with varying backgrounds, the common thread is that they help people with the nuts and bolts of personal finance: paying bills, staying organized, reconciling medical bills with insurance statements, organizing tax documents, etc.
"We know our area of expertise," said Leah Nichaman, founder and president of Everyday Money Management in Rockville, Maryland, and a past president of the association. "For the other things — investments, accounting, law — we refer them to a person already on their team or help them find the right professional."
The cost for a daily money manager ranges from about $75 to $150 an hour, depending on location and specific services, Nichaman said. Some also offer power of attorney services (which comes with a legal fiduciary duty).
The association began offering a certification program about 10 years ago in an effort to set standards for the business. In addition to work requirements — 1,500 hours of daily money manager experience under their belt — applicants have to sit for an exam and be re-certified every three years. They also must adhere to a code of ethics.
"The idea was that at some point regulation might come along, but there still is no regulation at the state or federal level," Nichaman said. "So this is our effort to help professionalize the work."
Cindy Stevens, founder of Personal Financial Solutions in Fallston, Maryland, earned her certification about six years ago. She typically meets with each of her clients every other week for an hour or so. In addition to the paperwork she handles, she also might notice if something is amiss in the client's life and needs attention.
"I'm in the home every other week, so I'm also being the eyes and ears," Stevens said. "They might need help for something else — say, medication management — and I can refer them to other [professionals]."
She also said she's been called on to step in when caregivers — family or friends — were exploiting their charge and essentially robbing them blind. Other times, her role has simply made it harder for a client to be taken advantage of.
"Sometimes we can be a buffer between kids and parents or grandparents who want access to their money before they're even in the grave," Stevens said.
CFP Elizabeth Windisch has an older client whom she paired with a daily money manager, based on concern expressed by the client's adult daughter about her mother's cognitive decline.
"At some point, the client will need someone with [power of attorney] to take over her finances, but she's not quite there yet," said Windisch, a financial advisor at Aspen Wealth Management in Denver. "This has been a really good bridge to help her stay on top of her money day to day."
At the same, though, Windisch also has referred younger clients — those in their 40s and 50s — who simply need help with the nitty-gritty of money management.
"They might just struggle to keep on top of their finances," Windisch said.
While the ranks of professional daily money managers are still thin, Nichaman, of Everyday Money Management, said there's no shortage of work for her colleagues, whether they are certified by AADMM or not.
"People who don't have the certification, or their 1,500 hours yet, still get plenty of business because there's a huge need for our services," Nichaman said.
"Eventually I think it will evolve to people only picking [daily money managers] who are certified, but we're not at that point at all," she said, adding that those who aren't certified can still be doing "very good work."
Nevertheless, before consumers hire a daily money manager, they should make sure they're selecting a committed professional.
Miller, of Summit Place Financial Advisors, said she'd start with the association, whose website has a search tool that allows you to find a member near you. Or, if you work with an advisor, ask that person to help locate and vet one.
"I see this as a companion profession," Miller said. "They aren't a replacement for other professional services, but are a wonderful add-on because they provide valuable skills and can offer great peace of mind."