Stranger Things Are Happening to Financial Planning Software
Financial planning software is dead. Long live financial planning software!
Everyone knows if you want to create financial plans you need a financial planning application and if you want to open accounts, trade and run compliance you need a wealth management application. That’s the way it’s always been.
These two previously separate systems have recently begun to merge. We have seen numerous wealth management platform vendors adding financial planning features, either by buying companies outright or building the components they need from scratch. Firms such as Envestnet, Fidelity and AdvisorEngine chose the former route while other vendors like Oranj and RobustWealth chose the latter. (See Top 5 Digital Advice Platforms for RIAs)
Now we are witnessing a group of financial planning vendors who are building out complimentary features would normally be the purview of a wealth management system.
The old siloed approach is not dead yet, as there are still vendors with significant market share, MoneyGuidePro and Advicent for example, who are still fighting a delaying action to maintain the purity of planning in their applications. But no matter from which direction the new combined approach is coming, it demonstrates a trend of financial planning being more combined more tightly into the overall advisor workflows. (See Top 4 Financial Planning Software Applications for Advisors)
It’s like the Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials from the 80’s. “Hey, you got chocolate in my peanut butter! And you got peanut butter in my chocolate!” (For those of you over 40, you know what I’m referring to. For everyone else, Google it.)
There are a number of vendors of planning software who have begun to break down the walls between financial planning and wealth management by adding new functionality that allows advisors to build portfolios, trade them and ensure they are compliant, all without ever leaving their own applications. (See The Battle for the RIA Technology Integration Hub)
Whether new competitors are emerging via build or buy, the pressure on vendors of financial planning tools has been increasing. How they respond to this pressure can be divided into two broadly-defined camps:
- Expanding Their Horizons – Advizr, eMoneyAdvisor*, RetireUp
- Sticking to Their Knitting – Advicent, MoneyGuidePro
* eMoney is owned by Fidelity, but we’re including it here since it is still operating as a quasi-independent product line.
I put together this diagram using a template from our Competitive Analysis Report package that shows product functionality overlap of multiple vendors across the entire wealth management process life cycle. eMoney has the broadest feature coverage, when you include the integration with Fidelity’s AMP digital advice product.
On the far left, eMoney, Advicent and MoneyGuidePro have all gone the path of marketing to add value to their product, while Advizr and RetireUp and believe that offering insurance products is the best way to go.
Expanding Their Horizons
These vendors have chosen to blaze a new trail in the financial planning space. They noticed the market trend towards more tightly integrated functionality across planning and non-planning processes. Instead of seeing this as a roadblock, they saw opportunity to expand their offerings.
Financial planning guru Michael Kitces has astutely observed that financial planning software is transitioning from being an “advisor calculator” into a holistic “financial planning experience” for clients.
Advizr and RetireUp are relative newcomers to the space, both having been founded in 2012. Six years is a long time for fintech in general, but for financial planning they’re relative babes in the woods compared to eMoney Advisor (2000) and old dog MoneyGuidePro (1985).
Neither firm has let their relative youth hold them back from trying to shake up the status quo. Advizr, which closed a $7 million Series A funding round last June, recently announced a new product, Advizr Accelerate, which will enable advisors to implement their investment and insurance recommendations directly from within the Advizr platform.
RetireUp also enables advisors to add insurance products to their clients’ plans including term life, permanent life, group policies as well as annuities. They have also added functionality to open new accounts and submit account transfer forms (ACATs).
This is a radical change for most advisors who are financial planning focused and handle their own investments as Rep-as-PM. They start in their planning app to gather information, discover client goals and generate estimates of retirement income and expenses. Then they switch to their portfolio management system to open the account(s), assign an investment model, create the necessary order to fulfill the model, and send them to the custodian for execution.
Advizr Accelerate allows advisors to handle this entire process inside their application. Does this mean they are now a wealth management platform? Or can they still be considered financial planning software? The lines continue to blur between the two.
Some might say that it’s about time this occurred, considering the number of advice platforms that have either developed their own “lite” financial planning or went out and purchased a full-featured application. It could be only a matter of time before integrated financial planning becomes table stakes in every wealth management platform.
Turbo Tax is a Verb
“We are turbo-taxing the financial planning process so that more clients can receive financial plans, explained Hussain Zaidi, co-founder and CEO of Advizr. With this new functionality, Zaidi believes his firm can streamline the end-to-end process from prospecting to onboarding to planning to product execution all the while impressing clients with a superior user experience.
Advizr’s first partners will be custodian Apex Clearing and an undisclosed insurance company. Apex has made a name for themselves by building a strong technology infrastructure that caters to robo-advisors and other innovative clients such as Betterment, RobinHood, and ThinkOrSwim, so it makes sense to Advizr to launch this new product with them.
Besides trading equities, ETF and mutual funds, the Advizr platform will also support pre-populating insurance applications and has plans to do the same for mortgage refinancing and student loan debt, according to Zaidi.
RetireUp is taking a slightly different tack by focusing on facilitating the purchase of insurance products that support a well-designed financial plan. Their software has the ability to model annuities based on specifications received from their insurance company partners. The selected annuity is placed inside the client’s plan where the advisor can use a slider to adjust the amount of money to transfer in from a selected account and instantly see the impact on future cash flows.
While Advizr doesn’t support annuities, they will be adding insurance analytics as well as debt management tools and lead generation functionalities that will enable advisors to offer more holistic financial planning solutions, Zaidi noted.
Both vendors have built out new accounting opening functionality but are also approaching it in contrasting methods. Advizr has created a self-directed product that includes a lite planning process for advisors to offer for free on their website. RetireUp’s account opening requires the advisor to manage the process, but is integrated with their own form-filling and eSignature software.
Banks, broker-dealers or RIAs that are looking for a lead generation tool can install Advizr Express software on their website or run it from a tablet where prospective clients can run through a financial health “checkup” and then begin the account opening process with a single click.
The account opening software provided by RetireUp includes the option to transfer in existing securities from accounts held at other custodians (ACATs). They have developed an interface with Google to instantly validate client addresses for ACATs.
This helps to avoid a common problem with ACATs, which is determining the correct address to send the paperwork. Sending it to the wrong location could delay a transfer by a week or more, explained Patrick Kelly, RetireUp’s EVP of Business Development. Through a partnership with Cooperative Technologies, RetireUp is able to help the advisor to select the correct address to send the custodian’s paperwork.
Kelly came to RetireUp when they purchased his company, RepPro, which developed form-filling software similar to Laser App (which was itself purchased late last year) and eSignature capabilities similar to DocuSign. An integration with LexisNexis is used to power RetireUp’s built-in identity verification feature that is used for remote onboarding. New clients cannot affix their digital signature to any documents without this verification, Kelly insisted.
By incorporating these features into the financial planning process, Advizr and RetireUp are looking to solidify their positions as an integral part of every advisor’s standard workflows. Once they control the path to new accounting opening and client onboarding, it is much more difficult to replace them with a competing financial planning application that doesn’t offer similar functionality.
Of course, an RIA could bring in two or three other applications to take their, but this raises the barrier to entry due to the time and additional costs required.
This ability to streamline the implementation process saves time for advisors, while immediately driving new revenues from asset gathering, product sales and investment management fees.
These new product offerings are set to disrupt and enhance the financial planning and investing process for the wealth management industry.
Compliance is King
In September 2017, Fidelity launched their own digital advice offering for advisors called, Automated Managed Platform (AMP), it is a joint project with their eMoney subsidiary. It includes a risk assessment questionnaire, a number of ETF portfolios, electronic account opening, and funding via cash or asset transfer. Once the account is opened and invested, clients can monitor it via the eMoney portal.
While AMP is primarily designed to be a self-directed process, it also allows advisors to switch clients to a more collaborative model that is closer to those who are onboarded through Fidelity’s Wealthscape platform. eMoney clients who have assets custodied at Fidelity can enable a built-in integration to Wealthscape, but it requires a multi-step process to enable bi-directional data transfer between the two systems.
This integration is not the same as Advizr Accelerate, which is entirely contained in a single application and does not require advisors to manually configure their systems or select individual clients to share data with. This will most likely be improved in future releases, but for now, Advizr has an advantage in terms of easy of use.
Besides their digital offering, eMoney Advisor wants to “bring joy to your compliance team,” exclaimed Lisa Graham, their Director of Product Management, at a recent T3 Conference. They plan to do this via a new product called Advisor Assurance, which will automatically archive all client-advisor interactions such as documents, presentations, website activity, manual account changes, and more.
Advisor Assurance will maintain archived data for up to seven years with a full audit trail and the ability to retrieve deleted documents, Graham explained. The ability to audit manual changes enables timely reporting to with FINRA while providing detailed contextualized information on the related risk increases.
As part of the expanded eMoney fiduciary framework, they entered into a partnership with Capital Rock to help advisors assess account rollover appropriateness.
eMoney considered their enterprise clients by developing an admin experience. Compliance team members can create a checklist, oversee information exchange at a firm level, demonstrate review of client activities and investigate client behavior to ensure a thorough check. Advisors can also keep track of client login frequency to better understand their schedule and, subsequently, offer more tailored service.
Through new partnerships, eMoney is enhancing their technology integration options. This year, they will be teaming up with BlackDiamond, WealthBox, Riskalyze, and Envestnet. Integrations with Tamarac, Charles Schwab and Salesforce are also in the books. Users can expect an app exchange for access to Salesforce’ Financial Services Cloud along with installation support.
Not one to disregard the client side of the business, Graham described an updated client portal with a refined alert system and two-factor user authentication. Clients will be able to track their goals in a dedicated “Goals Area” and better aggregate their assets. The best feature, though, is the enhanced Vault. Built to help “clients organize their financial lives” securely, the updated vault will include “a consistent visual experience across Advisor and Client Vaults and a streamlined process for uploading and managing [clients’] important financial documents.”
“If you get a client to adopt the eMoney Vault, you get a client for life,” Graham concluded.
Sticking to Their Knitting
I recently had a conversation with MoneyGuidePro’s CEO Bob Curtis at a technology conference, and he insisted that his firm will be focusing only on financial planning and will not be building any functionality related to portfolio construction, trading, marketing or any other area they are not already servicing. While they have added tools for prospecting (MyMoneyGuide) and the DOL Rule (Best Interest Scout), both of these will remain strictly planning-based options, he stated.
How will this strategy play out? It could strengthen the hold that MGP has on current clients, who tend to skew towards older, more successful advisors who also practice under a fee-only model. MoneyGuidePro was said to be the primary planning application used by nearly 42% of advisors who responded to a 2017 survey created by financial planning guru Bob Veres of Inside Information.
On the other hand, this strategy could cost them market share if more of their advisors feel that having financial planning functionality integrated into their wealth management platform (or vice versa) is more efficient for them while delivering the same or better outcomes for their clients.
Based on a survey by the Financial Planning Association, MGP has a more realistic 28% market share. It maybe that firms like Advizr are opening up financial planning to new advisors who have never offered it to clients before. This would have the effect of raising all boats as they expand the market of advisors who use planning software.
Curtis broke down value the added services into four quadrants across a low to high spectrum. Calling it the “Advice Value Matrix”, he calculated the dollar value and life value for services ranging from goal-based investing to mutual fund selection to alternative investments and to financial planning. Financial planning fell in the “High/High” quadrant.
Every advisor, according to Curtis, should provide more entry level financial management services to help move clients from low to high value. Ultimately, MoneyGuidePro’s focus is on comprehensive financial planning built on understanding the true financial situation of clients. For the “financially fragile” generation of millennials in particular, Curtis announced Freedom. The product is designed to help Millennials build a better financial future.
During a recent conference presentation, Tony Stich, COO of Advicent, focused on NaviPlan’s configurable technology that is ideally suited for a large workforce. Once logged in, clients could begin with an advisor-led presentation of plans and statistics based on the their current and projected financial situations.
Clients can go through the presentation at their own pace while the technology captures their current expenses in real time and generates a financial plan before they exit the presentation. The process is based on RIA compliance criteria and allows advisors to regulate how their products are demonstrated and sold.
Stich shared the story of a large, east coast broker-dealer going through a rapid growth stage. They employed NaviPlan and its presentation module to implement a compliance workflow and forecast plan by dragging and dropping client information into the system. The system followed the steps above to present the plan to the client. Old-school clients have the option of printing the forecast plan to analyze results.
By streamlining the compliance workflow, the team reduced time spent on reporting by 98% and a rigid workflow directed his advisors to sell in the way he want them to sell. Citing additional NaviPlan user polls, Stich said younger advisors reduced their financial plan creation time by 50%, and advisors in general increased product sales revenue by 40 percent. For the next case study, Stich presented the value of dynamic interstitial messaging when a group of 500 advisors consisting of military families and veteran used NaviPlan.
Moving onto NaviPlan’s life insurance assessment tool, Stich claimed that the software would take only five minutes to identify gaps in a client’s current insurance, demonstrate ongoing needs and educate clients on how planning would help them. Advicent customers can use the company’s regularly updated and maintained leverage calculated machine, Narrator Connect API, to purchase standalone APIs and build customized solution.
Stich told conference attendees that Advicent products had reduced compliance review time by 30% with fewer plans headed to compliance teams. It decreased time spent generating financial plans by 35%, and upped revenue per client by 15% on average through increased wallet share.
Stranger Things in Financial Planning Software