No clear winners or losers in software showdown

Advisers attending FPA panel would have liked to see more direct comparison between products

Oct 12, 2008 @ 12:01 am

By Davis D. Janowski

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About 300 financial advisers packed the meeting room for the Financial Planning Software Show-down during the Financial Planning Association's national conference in Boston last week.

Despite initial technical glitches, this showdown ended peacefully.

Part of the conference's Practice Management and Technology track, this panel session was a reprisal of one given at last year's NexGen, a conference for younger advisers held by the Denver-based FPA.

The demonstration and discussion that followed the panel session comprised four advisers from different firms, each presenting a rundown of their likes and dislikes in using four of the industry's most popular financial planning packages.

In preparation for the presentation, each participant created a financial plan using the same hypothetical clients with the same characteristics in order to demonstrate how each package would handle the inputs.

The suggested products were eMoney Advisor, from eMoney Advisor LLC of Conshohocken, Pa.; MoneyGuidePro, from PIE Technologies Inc. of Midlothian, Va.; Money Tree, from Money Tree Software Ltd. of Corvallis, Ore.; and NaviPlan, from Emerging Information Systems Inc. of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

PROS AND CONS

William Bissett, senior client adviser of Pinnacle Advisory Group Inc. in Columbia, Md., presented results generated by MoneyGuidePro, a product he has used for several years in his practice. The firm manages about $500 million in assets.

"One of the things I like most about the software is that it helps me teach clients about failure," Mr. Bissett said, explaining that seeing the results of a plan's failure is a great motivator for them. "The software excels with 'what if?' scenarios."

H. Jude Boudreaux, director of financial planning at Bellingrath Wealth Management in New Or-leans, which has $50 million in assets under management, presented eMoney Advisor. He said the firm has used the software for six years and in that time has seen it come a long way.

"One of the best aspects about the program is that it's web-based, which allows all the data to be aggregated and updated on a daily basis," Mr. Boudreaux said.

A bit later in his presentation, though, he said its web-based nature can also be a mild irritant because there is a delay when running calculations, though only in milliseconds.

A feature that has been greatly appreciated by the firm and its clients is the software's Vault feature, an online repository for a client's important documents.

Another knock against the program, though, Mr. Boudreaux said, is that its cash flow analysis is limited in terms of the depth to which an adviser could drill down, compared with the other programs.

Money Tree Total Planning System was presented by Sabrina Lowell, a certified financial planner with Mosaic Financial Partners Inc., a San Francisco-based firm that manages $385 million in assets. Compared with eMoney Advisor, Money Tree's Golden Years module has very granular cash flow reports, she said.

Ms. Lowell said that another big plus for the firm is the ease with which an adviser can build firmwide assumptions into the software's calculations, thus increasing consistency across advisers. There are easy-to-read balance sheet views that display assets versus liabilities.

Advisers, many of them new mid-career advisers or newly independent, attended the presentation for a variety of reasons.

"We just bought Naviplan and are somewhat overwhelmed with all that it can do, and really wanted to see someone demonstrate it who knew what they were doing," said Lethe Burns, an Austin, Texas-based financial adviser with Ameriprise Financial Services Inc. of Minneapolis.

Barry Morris, a certified public accountant and newly minted CFP with no assets yet under management, attended to try to find the best product for his practice.

"Many of these packages are really expensive," he said prior to the start of the discussion. Afterwards, Mr. Morris, who is an accountant, and now planner, with Louis M. Rocco Public Accountant of Morristown, N.J., said that the presentation had been informative.

An InvestmentNews technology survey of 242 advisers conducted online from mid-April to mid-May showed that 15% of respondents used MoneyGuidePro, 14% used MoneyTree, and 13% used one of several products from EISI.

By the end, Ted Yoos, founder and president of Cornerstone Financial Management LLC of Burlington, Mass., said that he had narrowed down his own search to two programs. A CFP just getting his sole-proprietorship fee-only-planning firm off the ground, he said he was next headed to discuss the programs with their vendors, and then he planned to test the free 30-day trial versions of both upon returning home.

"Right now, I still rely on my own spreadsheets, but I'm probably going to go with MoneyGuidePro or Naviplan," Mr. Yoos said.

E-mail Davis D. Janowski at djanowski@investmentnews.com.

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