For an independent advisory firm, worthy proposal generation software can be a linchpin of growth because it can help an advisor make the case for why a client should move assets to a firm. In general terms, such software helps clients understand how their assets are deployed and how the advisor would improve that deployment.
Fiserv is a well-known brand in the institutional financial services sector, but its products and services for independent financial professionals are less visible, constituting only a small fraction of the company's total business. A new product, Proposal Generation Manager, expands the options for independent managers.
This latest offering extends Fiserv's Financial Advice Management platform. This platform is anchored by AdvisorVision, which offers such capabilities as automated strategy generation, Monte Carlo simulation, customized risk assessment, scenario builders and goal analysis. Besides Proposal Generation Manager, other components include Investor Needs Analysis and Retirement Illustrator.
According to Fiserv's business solution strategist, Jeremy Schlarb, most advisory firms share common goals. These include a desire to deepen client relationships, enhance the client experience, improve quality and efficiency, increase revenues, monitor and mitigate risk, capture held-away assets, and recruit and retain key talent. Schlarb believes that technology can play a key role in achieving all of these goals and that advisory firms want easy-to-use, seamless solutions wherever possible.
When designing software, Fiserv is conscious of these goals and of some challenges advisory firms face, including regulations, integration with legacy systems, maximizing workflow efficiency and minimizing manual data inputs.
Besides offering a complete set of products to provide support in every aspect of an advisor's day, Fiserv markets components individually to independent advisors. This allows an advisor to create a custom workstation consisting of Fiserv components, or to use one or more Fiserv components with an existing technology infrastructure.
THE NEW PRODUCT
Proposal Generation Manager is designed to allow advisory firms to input or import data, apply business rules, analyze data, select investments or strategies, propose solutions, compare proposals to the current situation and put the proposal into effect.
When you first log on to the system, you arrive at the advisor dashboard. For those who have used Fiserv financial planning tools in the past, the interface will feel familiar. It is clean and uncluttered, with a navigation bar on the left. That bar can be hidden to provide the advisor with additional workspace.
At the top of the screen are the primary navigation tabs: Home, Investment Plan, Setup and Support. If you own additional Fiserv modules, there will be additional tabs for Client Profile, Portfolio, Planning and Monitoring.
Within each section, there are additional navigational tools. For example, on the home screen, tabs divide contacts into Active Clients, Inactive Clients, Prospects and All Clients. Within each tab, you can sort by such details as client name, plan description and client assets. For advisors with a large client base and prospect pipeline, there is a search feature. Overall, the tools to locate a contact within the system quickly are very well done.
CREATING A PROPOSAL
When you locate the case you wish to work on, you move to the Investment Plan Tab for that client. You begin to create a new proposal by copying the client's existing plan as a starting point or start an entirely new proposal.
At the Investment Tab, you are prompted for personal information for the client and spouse, family members, professional contacts, notes, interests and concerns. Wherever you see a magnifying glass next to a data field, it indicates that you may enter or view additional information by clicking on the icon. Unfortunately, it is not always clear what types of additional details are available.
Once client information is entered, the next step is the risk assessment questionnaire. Based on a client's answers to a short set of questions, he or she is assigned a risk profile (moderately aggressive, for example). The application then recommends a portfolio allocation with the indicated risk characteristics. All of the allocation models are configurable in the setup section. This means users can designate the asset classes they want to use, and then they can create asset allocation models that map to the various risk tolerances.
The recommended allocation can be changed at various stages of the workflow if you believe another level of risk is more appropriate. Finally, the recommendation page displays a list of the asset classes with their indicated percentages, the anticipated risk (expressed as expected standard deviation) and the expected return.
Next, you are prompted to enter or import a client's current assets. As assets are entered, the application displays the percentage of assets in retirement accounts versus taxable accounts. The program allows you to exclude assets from the proposal.
The next step is to enter some investment assumptions. This includes the portfolios you want to analyze (current versus suggested, for instance), the time horizon, overrides of the risk-assessment-generated portfolio and the level of analysis.
Once the allocation model has been selected, the application generates a fairly comprehensive analysis of the client's current holdings. It includes separate widgets for asset allocation, performance, sectors, regions, equity style, fixed-income style and more. Within each widget, there is a detail button allowing you to drill down for more information. You also get a breakdown of current investments by account, ownership, portfolio, asset type and held-away assets.
CONSTRUCTING A PORTFOLIO
When your analysis is complete, you move to the portfolio construction section to create your recommendations. Here, you select your investment program, assuming you have multiple programs. You might have some you run internally, and some you outsource to a third party or you might have different programs for various AUM tiers.
Then, you select the portfolio within a program that matches the risk profile of the override you have selected. When you click on the apply now button, the application calculates the recommendations and the analysis. It will show you the asset class breakdown of the two portfolios you are comparing and the differences between the two. It will also display the expected risk and return for the two portfolios. The application will then generate a trade report, indicating the buys and sells that would be required to put the recommendations into effect.
The next step is the creation of a side-by-side analysis, similar to the one for the recommended portfolio versus the one with which it is being compared. When you are satisfied with the recommendations, you can create a printed report for presentation to the client. As is the case with much of the application, the report templates can be customized. Among other possibilities, you can create multiple templates with varying degrees of detail, and you can change the disclosure statement.
Overall, I found Proposal Generation Manager well designed and easy to use, but there are a few caveats, particularly for independent users. The first is that to get the maximum value out of this application, the ability to import portfolio information from custodians, portfolio management systems, retail brokerage sites and account aggregators is highly desirable. These integrations do not exist yet.
I ran into several data entry annoyances that would be mitigated, if not eliminated, in an integrated, institutional system. For example, when I was setting up model portfolios, I was not able to toggle back and forth between those portfolios and the investment models to which I was trying to map them. If I moved off the investment model input screen before I completed the model, I lost what I had done up to that point. The application should allow me to save a partial model or toggle between the two views. Ideally, it would provide a split screen so that I could view the investment model and the portfolio side by side.
An "invalid percentage" message in red lettering appears at the bottom of the data entry screen for creating an investment model as soon as you enter the first investment. I'm fine with a running percentage meter being shown to make sure your allocations equal 100%, but I didn't like the error message.
In another data entry issue related to investments, I object to having to enter the same asset classes more than once. If I use one, I want the program to remember it. At the same time, don't make me look up an investment product multiple times. If I use it once, remember it.
With regard to asset classification, the current default is to allow the system to automatically classify an asset using the Morningstar classification system. If you wish, you can override the system and classify an asset yourself; the system will remember that classification in the future. But once you use the manual override, there is no way to revert to the Morningstar system or to recategorize manually. I'm told that both of these options will be available in a future release.
Overall, the Proposal Generation Manager is an appealing new software product. Institutions now using other Fiserv wealth management software applications should be quite satisfied with this latest addition to the lineup.
Despite the current lack of integration and the data entry concerns, this module, priced at $1,000 per year, should appeal to independents. It is easy to learn and highly configurable, and it produces smart, nice-looking reports.
If Fiserv can build the integrations that advisors want and correct the few remaining data entry issues, Proposal Generation Manager's appeal would only be increased.
Joel Bruckenstein is a Financial Planning editor-at-large and co-creator of the Technology Tools for Today newsletter and conference series. He's also president of Global Financial Advisors in Miramar, Fla. For more information, visit JoelBruckenstein.com.