When it comes to financial or retirement planning or wealth management, no two clients are even remotely alike. Each comes with a different level of existing investments or retirement plans; each has different life goals and a different appetite for risk.Sorting out these variables in a basic analysis of the client’s position is the first step toward crafting a cohesive and effective plan. Unfortunately, no single software package or tool kit can easily handle the full range of analysis that may be required, so the planner will generally require several different kinds of tools.

There are four general categories to consider:

* Stock and performance analysis software. This helps to analyze specific stocks held by the client as part of the financial plan in order to identify poor performers and stellar assets.

* Retirement plan analysis software. Corporate retirement plans, IRAs, 401(k)s and other instruments are likely to be the centerpiece of any existing plan, and therefore must be assessed for their performance as well.

* Risk analysis software. Understanding where the client is in terms of their life cycle, as well as their natural proclivity towards risk, will have a major impact on the final plan.

* Goal-setting software. It’s critical that the planner understand what the client wants, and the specific life events (college, retirement, purchasing a home, etc.) that will be necessary for them to achieve it.

This review examines eight of the leading packages at the first step in financial planning, the basic analysis of the client’s goals and financial condition. Once the basic analysis is complete, the planner is ready to pursue plan development and presentation, the next step.

MORNINGSTAR PRINCIPIA AND ADVISOR WORKSTATION

Morningstar Principia is one of the most widely used resources in the financial planning industry, designed to help financial professionals conduct fundamental, in-depth research on seven different types of investments — stocks, mutual funds, variable annuity/life sub-accounts, exchange-traded funds, closed-end funds, separately managed accounts and defined-contribution plans.

Principia, introduced in 1991 and now in Version 5.6, is a CD/DVD-based system geared toward independent financial advisors that delivers Morningstar’s most popular investment research, analysis and presentation tools in a modular, economic package. Among its most notable recent enhancements are a new asset allocation module to determine the asset mix most likely to achieve the highest return for a given risk level. An award-winning presentations and education library encompasses a collection of communication resources designed to assist advisors during a variety of client interactions.

Also geared towards financial advisors is Morningstar Advisor Workstation, a Web-based system that offers Morningstar's extensive data, research and reports, and integrates client and portfolio data with other desktop systems. Morningstar Advisor Workstation is offered in two versions, an Enterprise Edition that provides a modular, customized configuration appropriate for license by brokerage or custodial firms and their affiliated financial advisors; and the Office Edition, which offers an all-inclusive practice system for individual advisors. The Enterprise Edition features include in-depth research, robust and flexible client reports, portfolio analytics and comparison tools, goal-based planning, and asset allocation tools. The Office Edition features the most current Morningstar research data, sophisticated planning tools, complete portfolio accounting, client management tools, e-mail and calendar functions, batch reporting, archiving, and more.

Morningstar is a major source of the data and tools needed to perform basic analysis, and those tools — particularly the Advisor Workstation editions for accounting firms of every size — are among the most sophisticated on the market today. Morningstar is the service of choice when it comes to analysis of portfolios and assets.

NAVIPLAN STANDARD

V. 11.0.2.2 and Extended

V. 10.2.0.3

EISI is one of the strongest developers in the software market for financial planning, including the front-end processes of basic analysis. One of the strengths of the company is its commitment to further development of its products — last year, the Profiles product line, and this year NaviPlan Standard and NaviPlan Extended. Major upgrades to NaviPlan Standard, released in November 2007, reflect two years of usability studies and redevelopment, with major enhancements at every level of the program.

NaviPlan Standard Offline is a goal-based planning tool aimed at the individual professional or occasional planner who needs a quick system to assess progress toward retirement, education and major purchase goals. A financial assessment can be completed in about five minutes, and then promoted to any of three planning levels in NaviPlan Standard. The levels provide the basics of life, disability and long-term care insurance, asset allocation, and estate planning analysis. High-level net worth and cash flow information can be presented to the client using the Financial Picture feature.

Key enhancements in Version 11 include screen-to-screen transitions that are up to 10 times faster; instant onscreen updates; a redesigned navigation system and user interface that includes a client file-creation wizard; reduced data entry; a new user preferences menu; a new method of creating engagements; new alerts; a new reports menu; and a new conversion tool that enables files created in NaviPlan Standard Windows software to be migrated to NaviPlan Standard Offline.

NaviPlan Extended is a more detailed cash flow tool with a sophisticated tax engine, with updates for 2008 tax tables and inflation values. It extends the capabilities of Standard to provide a more comprehensive treatment of incomes, expenses, assets and liabilities, stock options, and taxes. Aimed at the upper 20 percent of professionals, this is an excellent package for practices that need more extensive tools and capabilities.

NaviPlan remains the most flexible of the basic analysis packages, incorporating the simplicity of the financial assessment in NaviPlan Standard with the more extensive stock option modeling and goal-setting. This flexibility and a commitment to better usability make it a standout among basic analysis products in an economical but very effective package.

NUMBERCRUNCHER

V. 2007.04/Financial

Analyzer II V. 3.0

NumberCruncher and Financial Analyzer are two more excellent examples of that adage that good things come in small packages. Offered by Stephan Leimberg and Bob LeClair, partners in the estate and financial planning company Leimberg & LeClair Inc., they are simple but effective Windows applications that should have strong appeal for accounting firms engaged in basic analysis and planning.

NumberCruncher couples numbers, graphics and client-ready explanatory text for applications that include a Life Settlement Number Cruncher, DeCoupleCruncher for clients that have decoupled holdings in one or more states, an Estate Planning QuickView, a Retirement Plan Analyzer and the Financial Analyzer II. NumberCruncher itself handles more than 100 computations — from 16 of the most common financial analysis ratios to computation of QPRTs, GRATs, charitable remainder and lead trusts, and private annuities — in a fast and straightforward package that uses familiar columnar calculations.

NumberCruncher for 2007 is a relatively minor upgrade that corrects minor problems relating to the computation of GRATs and the display of the data file name, in addition to updating tables.

Financial Analyzer manages over 75 different financial planning computations to solve clients’ mortgage, investment, financial, loan and depreciation problems. Like NumberCruncher, it’s a fast and simple Windows application that allows results to be integrated into documents or presentation materials. Also of note is the Retirement Plan Analyzer, which evaluates pension and profit-sharing distribution strategies, computing an almost unlimited number of alternatives under methods such as discretionary or attained age. It includes minimum distribution rules, has been updated with the most current tax tables, and prints comparative graphs of the generated data.

These applications may not compete head to head with the more robust financial planning packages, but they do provide an economical and easy-to-use method of handling the widest possible range of basic analytical tasks. They are highly representative of software developed by professionals for their peers in their simplicity, attention to task and precise results.

PROFILES PROFESSIONAL

V. 8.0/Profiles

Forecaster V. 3.0

EISI, which acquired the Profiles product lines in August 2006, took a top-rated financial planning and analysis package and in May of 2007 introduced significantly improved versions of both the flagship Profiles Professional and the quick-analysis Profiles Forecaster.

Profiles Professional is a suite of 13 personal and four business planning modules that cover the gamut from retirement and life-goal planning to asset allocation and modeling and risk tolerance. The upgrade to Version 8.0 focused heavily on advanced usability — streamlined input and report selection, tighter integration of asset classes and types, and simplified screen navigation — but also includes new basic analysis tools that include upgraded asset allocation features, a new retirement distribution analysis, and enhanced tax sensitivity analysis.

Forecaster is a five-module, goals-based planning tool that is designed for advisors to use with the mass market. Offered in a desktop or Web-based version, Forecaster is a fast, attractive package for use with clients with simple to moderate analysis needs. For basic planning, Profiles Forecaster offers retirement planning, asset allocation planning and asset distribution.

The 2007 update to Version 3.0 of Profiles Forecaster likewise focused on usability, but also included expanded planning functionality and expanded data integration capabilities.

The Profiles lines were pioneers in basic analysis and financial planning, and were made stronger by EISI’s commitment to usability and economy. With both desktop and Web-based offerings, Profiles Professional and Profiles Forecaster address different need levels in clients and practitioners without sacrificing speed, power or analytical capabilities.

STOCKOPTER PRO V. 3.6

Though 11,500 public companies offer employees some form of equity compensation, and more than 10 million employees hold employee stock options, there are surprisingly few tools that assist in integrating company stock and options into the overall financial plan — much less provide the tools needed to analyze, model and diversify these assets appropriately.

StockOpter Pro is a specialized analysis tool aimed at providing insights and analysis for the participants of employee equity compensation programs. It is built on the foundations of Excel, but with specialized toolbars and functions that enable advisors to compare the resulting taxes and cash flow of various diversification strategies and then optimize the appropriate strategy for efficiency. StockOpter Insight, another product from Net Worth Strategies not featured in this article, quantifies value, leverage and risk.

Though aimed at the broader application of stock option planning — maximizing terminal wealth and optimizing the subsequent after-tax cash flows — the strength of StockOpter Pro is in its analytical capabilities to reduce the risk of concentration in one or a limited handful of stocks. It does this by contrasting the value of the company stock and options to the value of an investment account over a 15-year or shorter horizon, then enabling what-if scenarios to determine how these assets will perform against different strategies and stock price assumptions. The application enables equities from more than one corporation to be modeled, helping to manage the diversified careers of today’s highest-level executives.

Version 3.6 — scheduled to be released in early 2008 — provides compatibility with Microsoft Office 2007, addresses the new minimum tax credit carryforward changes, and updates the tax tables for 2008.

Though priced above most Excel-based applications, StockOpter Pro nonetheless offers substantial value because of its unique focus and its strong modeling capabilities. It provides an effective replacement for advisor-built spreadsheets for stock option planning, because the input and strategy wizards save time, increase productivity and eliminate calculation errors. For these reasons alone, StockOpter Pro is must-have software for those dealing with high-net-worth clients or a large and diversified client base.

RETIREMENT PLAN

Analyzer V. 2007.04

Retirement Plan Analyzer is a specific tool for basic analysis — one of an array of such tools from Brentmark Software that also includes Estate Planning Tools, the Retirement Distributions Planner, the Kugler Estate Analyzer, the Charitable Financial Planner, RetireNow, Estate Planning QuickView and the Savings Bond Toolkit.

Retirement Plan Analyzer is a rebranding and upgrade of the popular Pension & Roth IRA Analzyer, used to evaluate various strategies of taking distributions from traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, Roth 401(k)s and other qualified retirement plans. It calculates up to four alternatives simultaneously for varying types of distributions, and handles the intricate analyses required for effective retirement planning, estate planning, income tax planning, Roth IRA management and modeling/reporting.

The program also handles additional contributions to retirement accounts, distributions to pay expenses (subject to minimum distribution rules), insurance premiums and proceeds (single life and second-to-die insurance), and pre-59-1/2 distributions that avoid the 10 percent penalty.

The 2007 update to the Retirement Plan Analyzer added support for Roth 401(k)s; updated the tax calculations; added the State Death Tax Manager to handle state inheritance and estate taxes for all 50 states; redesigned insurance handling to include single life policies; handling of nondeductible contributions to retirement plans; better illustration of the present value of future deferred distributions; the ability to include up to 10 non-spousal beneficiaries; and an updated user interface and navigation system.

Though a single-task basic analysis package, the Retirement Plan Analyzer deftly addresses the single most critical factor in estate planning, with analytical capabilities generally reserved for more complex and more costly software solutions. Like the other tools in the Brentmark product lines, Retirement Plan Analyzer is an excellent choice for financial planning and basic analysis tasks.

ZCALC TOOL BOX

The zCalc Tool Box Suite is a group of analytical products and tools that enhance the practitioner’s ability to create, analyze and present tax and estate planning strategies. A set of spreadsheet-based models and calculators, the zCalc Tool Box is tightly integrated with Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, and makes use of spreadsheet functions and templates to produce reports that are easy for the client to follow.

In addition to the zCalc Tool Box basic analysis module, the suite consists of the zCalc Function Library, Tool Box Templates and a presentation generator.

The zCalc Function Library is an add-in to Excel that allows the planner to perform estate, retirement, charitable, financial and tax planning calculations inside a spreadsheet. It installs over 100 custom functions that work just like Excel’s built-in functions, such as present value, future value and PMT.

The Tool Box Templates are the same models and calculators contained in the zCalc Tool Box but provided as regular Excel spreadsheet files/templates. The templates are unlocked and fully editable so that they can be modified and customized with the calculation power of the zCalc Function Library and the presentation power of Excel.

The presentation portion includes a series of PowerPoint slide shows covering a variety of estate and charitable planning topics, including those strategies contained in the zCalc Tool Box. The slide shows can be used to present the firm’s services to a variety of clients, trade groups or seminars. All of the slide shows are expertly formatted for a professional look and feel.

The most recent enhancement to the Tool Box Suite is an advanced estate tax calculator that offers the ability to do complex federal and state estate and inheritance tax computations.

The zCalc Tool Box Suite represents a fast and effective tool kit for estate planning. But in terms of basic analysis, the heart of the system is the zCalc Tool Box itself. Very economical at only $395, its foundations in Excel help to make it a fast and effective analysis package that will appeal to those doing straightforward analyses of estate planning prospects.

Dave McClure is the president of Kent Associates, in Alexandria, Va., an independent testing laboratory and evaluation service.

Vendor Information

Morningstar Principia and Advisor Workstation

Morningstar

Chicago

(312) 696-6000

www.morningstar.com

Pricing: Principia Suite with all modules — $3,325; individual modules — start at $670. Network pricing available. Workstation prices vary.

NaviPlan Standard V. 11.0.2.2/NaviPlan Extended V. 10.2.0.3

EISI

Winnipeg, Manitoba

(888) 692-3474

www.eisi.com

Pricing: One-year single-unit — Standard Offline, $799; Extended Offline, $1,299; NaviPlan Suite, $1,699.

NumberCruncher V. 2007.04/Financial Analyzer II V. 3.0

Leimberg & LeClair Inc.

Havertown, Pa.

(610) 924-0515

www.leimberg.com

Pricing: NumberCruncher single user — $429; annual update — $119; 10-user license — $858; annual update — $238. Financial Analyzer — $129.

Profiles Professional V. 8.0/

Profiles Forecaster V. 3.0

EISI

Pricing: Forecaster — $599 ($799 with Ibbottson Asset Allocation). Profiles Professional, including Ibbottson Asset Allocation — $1,049.

StockOpter Pro V. 3.6

Net Worth Strategies Inc.

Bend, Ore.

(541) 383-3899

www.networthstrategies.com

Pricing: StockOpter Pro — first year, $1,195; renewals, $695. StockOpter Insight — first year, $450; renewals, $350.

Retirement Plan Analyzer

V. 2007.04

Brentmark Software

Orlando, Fla.

(800) 879-6665 ext. 115

www.brentmark.com

Pricing: $595 ($25 less for downloaded version).

zCalc Tool Box

Fast-Tax FPS (Thomson Tax & Accounting)

Carrollton, Texas

(800) 331-2533

www.fasttax.thomson.com/fps.asp

Pricing: Single user — $395. Multi-user discounts available.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access