If there was ever a time when financial planning was staid or uncomplicated, that time is not now. With housing prices in free-fall, the financial markets on a roller coaster and the value of the dollar dropping like a rock, clients and their accountants are scrambling to rebuild, redirect and in some cases completely re-write plans for goal achievement and retirement. Strangely enough, it is the users of the software and not the software itself that is evolving. Most of the planning software packages have undergone little, if any, change over the past two years, with most even avoiding the move to the Internet-based applications.
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That’s just as well, since clients seem to be seeking familiarity, stability and reassurance as much as they are financial juggling and additional presentation bells and whistles.
For 2008, we consider a mix of eight financial planning software products that range from narrow and precise planning tools to comprehensive systems. Each is at or near best-in-class status for performance, and all should be of interest to accounting firms with established or growing bases for personal financial planning.
Cheshire Wealth Manager
Cheshire Wealth Manager, a new, comprehensive planner, replaces the Cheshire Financial Planning Suite.
Critical new features include the ability to import client data from Excel, Albridge and Schwab Portfolio Center; to automatically derive the asset allocation of a security based on a ticker symbol or name lookup; to rebalance accounts to a new asset allocation in future years; to set spending order by account with the option of spending multiple accounts simultaneously; customize reports with your company logo, colors and choice of fonts; and save printed reports using the .PDF file format.
Though not specifically aimed at planners who also recommend or sell assets to the planning client, the software does have powerful features for assessing and managing financial assets. It offers a robust Monte Carlo probability analysis using varying rates of return (standard deviation and correlation) for all asset classes; utilizes historical data for 17 asset classes, with some going as far back as 1920; and provides room for including a firm’s Investment Policy Statement into the printed report.
It’s also highly customizable, allowing the accountant to add asset classes, using historical or expected returns; modify asset allocation over time to support portfolio changes in the future; set the order of asset liquidation at the account level, enabling multiple taxations to be spent simultaneously; model the future purchase and/or sale of a major asset; and generate advanced what-if analysis to illustrate changing multiple variables at once.
Cheshire Wealth Manager is clearly a capable and powerful planning solution. It allows the accountant to run a simple goal-based plan suitable for clients in their early to mid years of investing, as well as more complete plans for clients who in their later years need more advanced planning depth and want to specifically manage their assets well in the peak earning to retirement years.
Cheshire Wealth Manager
Newton Highlands, Mass.
Price: $900 per year (standalone network versions). One license needed for each advisor, an assistant license, $150 per year. Security Info Service, $170 per year.
eMoney 360Pro Version 5.0
eMoney 360Pro, the upgraded and re-branded financial planning platform from eMoney Advisor, offers a comprehensive, Web-based financial planning and relationship-enhancement system for high-net-worth clients.
Introduced in May, Version 5.0 added a number of features that include Integrated Goal Planning, a standalone retirement income tool, and mobile access to the system’s Client Site. Modular Goal Planning, another part of the release, includes six modules: Retirement, Life Insurance, Education, Disability, Long-Term Care and Accumulation Analysis.
Integrated Goal Planning simultaneously treats funding items as expenses and goals, helping the client to build savings strategies in order to meet a goal. A funding tab has been added to the expenses area of the Fact Finder, enabling the planner to select whether an item is a goal or an expense and then merge the two presentations in the comprehensive plan.
The Standalone Retirement Income Tool provides some 30 pages of analysis that include independent illustrations modeling mandatory spending versus guaranteed income, asset allocation and stochastic analysis including stress testing and Monte Carlo simulation. Recommendations from the Retirement Income Analysis may be copied into the Comprehensive Proposed Plan.
Clients can view pertinent financial account information from a personal Client Financial Home Page via a Web browser, on such devices as the Treo, BlackBerry, iPhone or other PDA with mobile Internet capability. Here clients can review their current financial information including: balance sheet, income summary and net worth at a glance, overview of their investments, key insurance policy information, market information, weather, personal information, news and links to their advisor’s contact details. Advisors and clients also have access to an online “Vault” for storing all their legal, investment and insurance documents, such as wills, deeds and policies.
An eMoney subscription is purchased as a monthly subscription for $299 per month, which includes a single advisor license and five client seats (three-month minimum contract required). The cost includes basic technology set up and training; initial marketing materials, and 20MB of storage for the online document vault.
eMoney 360Pro is a substantial upgrade to an already capable system, offering both financial planning and advanced features in a flexible, Web-based architecture. It combines a focus on the client with the immediate accessibility of a Web portal in a system that benefits both the accounting professional and the high-net worth client.
eMoney 360Pro Version 5.0
Price: Single advisor, $1,500 per seat license and $350 per client seat.
MasterPlan is a financial planning package aimed at the professional planner. First introduced in 1985, it aims to cover everything a client owns, owes, earns, spends and pays in taxes for the current year, for every year until retirement and to life expectancy.
Chief among the enhancements in recent years have been updated tax tables and calculations, the addition of a substantial Research Center on the Web and the addition of Web conferencing for technical support and sales.
MasterPlan’s 12 functional areas of analysis include a retirement needs analysis, education funding analysis, real estate analysis, cash flow, tax planning, capital needs analysis, disability needs analysis, estate and trust planning, business valuation, asset allocation, budgeting and what-if scenarios. The inclusion of a what-if scenario function easily handles buying, selling and re-financing of assets. In addition, the software has strong tax planning capabilities, calculating for each year of a projection whether the tax was table tax or AMT. This is helpful in calculating where the unescalated AMT threshold looms, according to the plan’s CPI assumptions.
The report engine and graphics generator are also highly flexible. Reports can be a summary only, a graphical presentation or an all-text presentation for clients who want to get directly to the nuts and bolts of the plan. And reports can be exported to Microsoft Word for additional flexibility in the presentation of client data.
Accountants should not overlook the information and calculators in the Research Center, which provides advice for life events such as divorce, business succession, investment strategies and other decision points that will affect a client’s life.
Moderately priced and appropriately focused, MasterPlan is a financial planning tool that is stable enough to require little expansion from one year to the next, except for tax tables. It is particularly suitable for small to medium-sized planning firms whose clients need to focus on tax implications as well as goals and portfolios.
MasterPlan Financial Software
Price: $995 standalone version with six months of support.
NaviPlan is software designed to help accountants and planners attract more clients, increase assets under management and sell more products and services. NaviPlan software is available both as a PC-based solution and in a flexible ASP platform (NaviPlan Central) that enables advisors to work online and offline.
NaviPlan Standard packages a full range of planning features into three easy-to-use levels that allow advisors to quickly explore what-if scenarios and build detailed plans, and is ideal for advisors who treat a wide range of wealth management concepts. A Financial Assessment pre-planning level can be completed in five to seven minutes, and then promoted to any of three analysis levels in NaviPlan Standard. The three levels provide progressively detailed analysis of life, disability and long-term care insurance, asset allocation and estate planning. High-level net-worth and cash-flow information can be presented to the client using a new Financial Picture feature.
NaviPlan Standard v11.0, a significant upgrade, features EISI’s next-generation architecture. It includes navigation and design enhancements, faster page-to-page transitions, on-screen updates, dynamic graphics, reduced data entry and new planning features.