Financial advisors are out shopping for integrated planning tools.
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by Richard McCausland
Madison Planning Group in White Plains, N.Y., sure doesn’t skimp on financial services. It offers insurance planning, business succession planning, estate tax analysis, trust strategies, educational funding, retirement planning, pension distribution analysis, property management, general tax strategies, and more.
“My job as a planner is to figure out what’s not financially right with the client, and to come up with a solution to fix any problems,” says Gary Schwartz, a registered investment advisor and president of Madison Planning. Sounds simple enough, but that means acquiring a familiarity with every aspect of the client’s financial life, he explains. After all, a comprehensive plan is “really a combination of everything” that has a financial impact. For example, “I can’t invest someone’s IRA money unless I know what they have in their 401(k),” says Schwartz.
Madison relies on two products from Financial Profiles: Profiles+ Forecaster, but “primarily” Profiles+ Professional. The latter has a hefty 10 personal planning modules: financial statements, income tax, accumulation, education, asset allocation, survivor needs, disability, financial independence, long-term care, and estate planning. There are also four business planning modules: business valuation and continuation, financial statements and ratios, employee benefit analysis, and key employee evaluation.
If that sounds like functional overkill, Schwartz uses “pretty much all” of those modules. He values having access to integrated analytic software that can accommodate the shifting needs of his clients over the years. An unmarried 30-year-old has different financial goals from a middle-aged dad with teenagers, who differs from a 58-year-old who’s close to retirement. Schwartz notes, “An accountant may look good by saving you money today, but that may not always be the best solution. We might need to look at saving the client a lot of money 30 years from now.”
Schwartz’ experience is pretty much the norm these days, and developers of financial planning software are taking heed. A growing list of publishers are offering integrated planning functionality, either as modules within an all-in-one tool or as a series of separate packages that can swap data within a suite.
ExecPlan, from Princeton, N.J.-based Sawhney Systems, represents this customer preference for all-in-one tools. ExecPlan bundles investment planning, retirement planning, estate planning and insurance, education funding, and tax management.
Here’s another example: NaviPlan Standard, from Emerging Information Systems (EISI) in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is a goal-based package that addresses retirement, education, insurance, and estate planning needs. For those clients in a more diversified financial situation, NaviPlan Extended is a cash flow-based solution. It builds on the functionality of NaviPlan Standard to provide more comprehensive treatment of incomes, expenses, assets and liabilities, stock options, federal and state taxes, and insurance and estate planning strategies over the life of a client.
“Planning is very similar to the gears inside a watch,” comments David Freitag, vice president and chief marketing officer for Carlsbad, Calif.-based Financial Profiles. “You need to move multiple gears to get a clear picture of what’s going on.” In other words, “The education plan will affect the retirement plan, which will affect the long-term care plan,” he says.
That’s why Profiles+ Professional boasts so much functionality. “What [financial planners] are asking for is the ability to do all these kinds of analytics without having to go to disparate tools,” says Freitag.
What’s more, they want data to flow from one module to the next. “The one thing they hate to do is re-key in data, which creates opportunities for error,” notes Freitag. Data portability also means “you never have to leave the suite; you can keep on opening other doors,” he adds.
Within the Professional product’s 14 modules, there are graphic capabilities, text pages to discuss key concepts, and audit trails for explaining how calculations were reached. The company’s studies indicate Professional users sell an average of three products following a presentation.
For clients who want “a quick reading” of their financial health, Profiles+ Forecaster includes only six modules: survivor needs, retirement and college funding, disability and long-term care analysis, and most recently, “by popular demand,” asset allocation, notes Freitag.
Forecaster data may be imported to the Professional suite for more in-depth analysis. For both products, the practitioner can present “summary” style output, which outlines major portions of the client’s financial case, or he can present “detailed” output, which presents a fuller look at needs and goals.
| Financial Planning Software Providers|
Emerging Information Systems
MasterPlan Financial Software
Money Tree Software
SunGard Online Investment Systems
MasterPlan encompasses no fewer than 12 functional areas of analysis: cash flow, tax planning, capital needs analysis, retirement planning, education funding, real estate, disability, estate and trust planning, business valuation, asset allocation, budgeting, and “what if” scenarios. Modules make a point of covering even routine (although often overlooked) situations such as household budgeting or how to deploy diverse assets if the client is in need of quick cash.
Tight linkage among the modules means one-time data entry and integrated calculations. For example, if the planning professional enters the property tax on a rental property, the program adjusts cash flow for the cost, adjusts income taxes for the write-off, and calculates the property’s investment return based on the client’s tax bracket. Data is configured so as to leave a clear audit trail.
Flexibility is the goal. “Our program provides a broad perspective as well as areas of specialization, such as tax planning and cash flow analysis,” says Mark Robinson, an owner of Vacaville, Calif.-based MasterPlan Financial Software. Co-owner Mary Robinson points out that practitioners also have four presentation options: graphs, textual explanations, detailed reports that outline the audit trail for both current and “what if” situations, and one-page summary reports. These can be mixed and matched, she points out. For instance, “Here’s a report that has tons of numbers, but you can drop in graphs to explains certain results visually.”
MasterPlan’s broad functionality is useful to Henry (Chip) Lafler, CPA and senior partner with Lafler, Moore & Webb in Roseville, Calif. He cites a client who came in with questions about her and her husband’s retirement plans. In going over their situation, Lafler—a registered rep of Pacific West Securities—found they had one child in college and another heading there, a stock portfolio in place, the possibility of a large bonus for her that could be deferred, and other financial complications that would directly impact what an effective retirement plan should look like.
Phillip Lafler, Chip’s son and president of LMW Financial Services, comments, “The average Joe doesn’t understand the implications of capital needs analysis. With MasterPlan, everything is spelled out: insurance, investments, tax planning, even mortgages.” He typically gathers data at an initial “sit-down” with the client, goes over a draft proposal at a second meeting, and then “everything is talked about, including what strategies we’d like to implement” at a third get-together.
For a speedy review of a client’s financial situation, Money Tree Software markets Silver Financial Planner, which covers estate and retirement planning as well as education funding. Notebook tabs allow the planner to easily navigate through different sections of the program, which makes it easier to formulate a comprehensive plan.
For more in-depth analyses, there is the Windows-based Money Tree Suite, which comprises Golden Years (retirement planning for older clients), Retirement Solutions (for younger clients), Easy Money (education funding), and Money Tools (integrated portfolio, contact, and practice management). Each module works stand-alone or integrates with the other three.
So which product should a practitioner use? Mike Vitkauskas, president of Philomath, Ore.-based Money Tree, advises, “Know your client.” If he’s the impatient sort who’s unwilling to fill out a 10-page questionnaire, Silver Financial Planner is the best bet. If he’s likely to be tightly focused on a specific goal, the appropriate module within Money Tree Suite is probably the way to go. Otherwise, the planner will want to use at least a couple of components in the suite, since as Vitkauskas explains, “If you do just one analysis without including [all the relevant] others, you can’t balance out your recommendations.” Typically, to arrive at an effective plan requires “at least” a two-interview process.