The basic purpose of financial planning software hasn’t changed. It’s about navigating clients clearly and accurately through their financial landscape. That’s why Stan P. Purvis, director of financial planning for Jackson, Miss.-based Trustmark Wealth Management, says he utilizes Money Tree Software.
Like what you see? Click here to sign up for Accounting Today's daily newsletter to get the latest news and behind the scenes commentary you won't find anywhere else.
“The clients understand the financial plan and it is very flexible with modeling scenarios. The summary information and the analysis is very straightforward and easy to understand and easy to visualize,” says Purvis, a CPA and CFP who has been using Money Tree for more than four years. “The credibility and trust a client has in me in being able to see all of their information skyrockets.”
But it’s the platform that is rapidly changing as the Internet-based applications assume a greater role in this market.
Hawley MacLean, president of Reno, Nev.-based MacLean Financial Group, has been using Web-based eMoney Advisor for about five years and likes the convenience and functionality.
“I liked that it was Web-based so we can deal with clients in multiple locations and it seemed to be very comprehensive, and I liked the aggregation aspect of it,” says MacLean, whose firm manages about 100 active clients with net worth ranging between $1 million and $50 million.
MacLean says nightly aggregation is a major advantage for clients because they can log into their eMoney and see where they stand financially. Another benefit is the vault functionality. This allows advisors to upload important client documents, like financial, medical and legal documents, and store them in a secure vault accessible through the client’s site. The vault proved especially beneficial during Hurricane Katrina, says Paul McClatchy, vice president of financial planning at eMoney Advisor, when some advisors were forced to leave their offices and go to another city and work.
MacLean, who currently uses either Excel or Microsoft Word to manage the workflow, would like to track the status of the workflow process from within the application.
In May 2007, eMoney’s Client Site went mobile so clients can access their financial information on a PDA. EMoney Mobile carries the independent advisor’s brand.
While the pricing is broad in range and based on a number of factors such as the size of distribution, commitment, and adoption, the large clients are paying roughly $300 per month.
About a year ago, Money Tree Software launched Silver Online, the Web version of its Silver Financial Planner.
Mike Vitkauskas, chairman and founder of Money Tree Software, says the company continues to promote its Silver Online, the Web version of its Silver Financial Planner. The application, which has the same functionality as the desktop version, also offers a customer access portal that enables clients to, for example, access a plan or view a customized report set up by the advisor.
Offices with multiple planners can work on files stored on the central system. Plan entry, development, review and delivery may be performed by anyone in the planning group with approved access to an individual client record. Advisors may also authorize additional professionals such as an attorney or CPA to access a client’s plan.
In an enterprise environment, where many people are involved in the planning effort, access levels may be defined and specific functions granted to individuals. Functions include client access, data entry, report preparation, report delivery and client access control.
Both applications use the same data collection and provide the same reports. Advisors can move client records between the online system and the desktop system.
Vitkauskas acknowledges there is still confusion about whether a financial planner should use an online or a desktop software application, and some still express concern about data security and accessibility in the event the Internet goes down.
Because of these concerns, Silver Online users can save client data to their desktop when they exit. Currently, about 20 percent of Silver Financial Planning users are using the Web-based version.
Silver Online is $495 initially with a $495 annual renewal. Both (SFP and SOL) are $795 initially with a $495 annual renewal.
In 2006, Methuselah, now part of Scivantage, launched the Web-based version called eMethuselah. This version, which features the Bronze and Gold levels, is namely designed for large financial services enterprises for their field advisory forces.
When asked about the number of users, Michael Forbes, senior vice president and general manager of the Financial Guidance Division of Scivantage, says it is “a split.”
Emerging Information Systems, which markets the NaviPlan and Profiles financial planning packages, offers online Profiles OnDemand and, within the last few years, introduced NaviPlan Central.
Linda Strachan, EISI’s senior vice president of product marketing, predicts that the ASP model will grow increasingly popular.
Profiles OnDemand, the Web-based format, delivers Profiles software on a hosted server or ASP with a centralized database. A subscription to Profiles OnDemand offers management and planning tools, including versions of Profiles Professional and Profiles Forecaster software that function nearly identically to desktop counterparts but feature enhanced case management capabilities. Data is stored in a centralized database.
Also delivered via a hosted server is NaviPlan Central. This product offers both NaviPlan Standard and NaviPlan Extended, and automatically populates NaviPlan with data from such third-party data sources as Albridge Solutions.
The progress reporting features in the recently released NaviPlan Standard version 11.2 are available in NaviPlan Central. Other highlights, available in both the Web-based and offline formats, include an upgrade to an Ibbotson Associates 12-asset-class model; a cash flow deficit/surplus indicator in all goal scenarios; and account transfer and redemption strategies within retirement and education goal scenarios.
Morningstar has also been increasing its utilization of the Web.
Among Morningstar’s product offering is the Advisor Workstation Office Edition for independent advisors. Office Edition features include Morningstar research data, planning tools, portfolio accounting, client management tools, email and calendar functions, batch reporting and archiving.
Unlike its Advisor Workstation Enterprise Edition, a Web-based application for large institutions, the Office Edition for the independent advisor is a hybrid application with an installation component but with all data entry and storage done via the Web.
According to Michael Wilson, director of marketing for Workstation Office Edition, a few months ago the company began offering a back-office outsourcing system for users through which Morning-star imports and reconciles data on a daily basis.
The company anticipates introducing portals this month or early next so clients can access reports posted by advisors. Initially, the portal will simply present reports but the plan is to enable clients to enter data for advisors to access.
Currently, advisors have the ability to email reports to clients from within the Workstation platform but that is the extent of electronic communication supported by Morningstar.
“We do a lot to gather [user] feedback and they are driving the enhancements to the system,” says Wilson.
If use of the Web is the main technological issue, retirement planning has moved into the spotlight as a content area that needs more attention.
Blame the economy.
“The state of the economy has made people more nervous so, in many cases, it provides opportunities for planners,” says Forbes.
An AARP study, titled “The Economic Slowdown’s Impact on Middle-Aged and Older Americans,” found that 63 percent of respondents own stocks individually or through mutual funds, IRAs or a 401(k); and more than 70 percent of those have lost money on these accounts in the last 12 months. As a result of these losses, 41 percent of these investors have changed investment strategy.
Then there are those who are raiding their retirement nests, have opted to stop putting money into their retirement accounts or have postponed plans to retire.
“Retirement planning and income is an overall trend that has been building over the last few years. But with the Boomers, they need more direction on how to pull this money out,” says McClatchy, which offers eMoney 360Pro and eMoney 360. “There’s a big opportunity for advisors to roll up their sleeves and come up with a road map.”
Software vendors are enhancing their offerings with more analysis tools, aggregation capabilities and easier functionality.
One example is eMoney Advisor, which recently announced the introduction of Version 5.2 of its eMoney Advisor 360Pro suite of financial planning tools.
Included is an Annuity Income Analysis Tool, which headlines five new standalone Needs Analysis Modules. These modules are Annuity Income Analysis, Asset Allocation Analysis, Business Insurance Analysis, Asset Protection Analysis and Financial Statements Analysis. Version 5.2 also features improved aggregation, year-end savings and account transfer capabilities as well as an enhanced planning center.
The vendor expects to add this year an Estate Planning Modular Report in Version 5.3.