A well-established planning product has been released in a new web-based version that offers many advantages for existing users — but may not be such a sure thing for new customers.

Money Tree Software has been producing financial planning software for professionals since 1981. The company’s popular Money Tree Silver software, which does what the firm calls “efficient fundamental planning,” is ideal for simple planning cases. It can illustrate wealth accumulation scenarios, education and insurance needs, as well as retirement income drawdowns. It has been available online for at least half a decade.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said until recently of the Money Tree Total Planning Suite, the firm’s more comprehensive collection of planning tools. The Total Planning Suite consists of two products, which could be purchased separately: Easy Money, a goal-based comprehensive financial planning solution; and Golden Years, a retirement income distribution application that takes an optimized cash-flow approach to distribution planning and includes the ability to perform detailed tax analysis. Now advisors have the opportunity to buy a web-based version of the suite, dubbed Total Online.

Total Online is very similar in scope to the Total Planning Suite, but Money Tree has totally rewritten the application for the cloud. This will create a bit of discomfort for current users of the Total Planning Suite. Since the interface is new, it requires some time and training to get used to it. In addition, there is a conversion process involved.

If various advisors within the firm use different settings, they might encounter a problem. That’s because the desktop version allows each user to have his or her own default settings, but the online version does not. So, when you do the conversion, the online version will have unified settings for all users.

Running about 80 pages, the conversion guide can be daunting at first. But it’s worth transitioning to the online version, which provides advisors with anytime/anywhere access to applications and client files. The new version also allows advisors to outsource to Money Tree the maintenance of the applications and client files, in addition to backups and disaster
recovery.

WHAT’S NEW

When you log on to Total Online, you encounter a spartan new welcome page. At the top left is a home navigation button; below that is a navigation menu. The top right is where you log off and where you access the help section. Most of the rest of the space contains links to guides and videos.

The administration screen is also new. This is where a firm’s administrator can add users and assign roles, which control user permissions. For example, you can allow a user to view or edit all clients or only those assigned to the user. You can also control who is allowed to alter the application’s default settings, and whether a user can import, export or delete clients.

Total Online comes with three preconfigured roles: advisor, paraplanner and assistant. Users can add, edit or delete roles. The administrator can use style settings to upload a logo and alter the color scheme of the application. The administrator also handles settings for default assumptions, so they don’t have to be reentered each time.

For new users, getting to know the system at a basic level should be easy — but learning all the nuances of this application does take time.

First, advisors can either create a client or select an existing client from a list. Next, they either select a scenario to work on or create a new one.

Navigation is primarily through the left navigation bar, but there are also tabs across the top of the screen that allow the advisor to view and edit assumptions, see how surplus funds are handled and more.

CONSISTENT APPEARANCE

One aspect of Total Online that I particularly like: Assumptions, in the lower left of the screen, follow you from page to page, so you know what scenario you are working on.

Another is the uniformity of the data entry screens. Whether you are working on assets, liabilities, income or some other screen, the data entry method is consistent, as is the navigation.

The asset screens are flexible and can handle just about any type of asset, and provide fields for an array of pertinent information. Besides the usual details about, say, a Roth 401(k) account — such as tax treatment and anticipated rate of return — you can assign an account type (savings, for example), a class (growth) and a liquidity rating.

For future additions to the plan, you can input a current amount as a dollar amount or a percentage of salary, or you can also propose an annual increase. And there is ample room to input additional future changes, so you are not limited to a single increase in the future. This allows for very detailed scenario modeling.

The insurance input options are also strong. When entering life insurance policies, you can choose to include or omit cash values in asset allocation and liquidity reports. You can also include or suppress life insurance benefits in retirement reports for either spouse/partner. The application can cover life insurance, long-term care insurance, disability insurance, auto insurance, homeowners insurance and other types.

The tax section can also accommodate detailed information — just about all types of filing status, state tax data, wages exempt from FICA tax, itemized deductions, Schedule D gains or losses, future changes to tax situation and more.
The well-designed estate section allows you to activate a number of strategies with one or two clicks. If you want to finance a credit shelter trust with jointly held property, for instance, you check a box to tell the program to use joint property, then check the credit shelter trust box for one spouse or both.

The program includes a client portal. The advisor needs to enable it and set the permissions, as well as supply the client with credentials.

LACK OF DAZZLE

The Total Planning Suite is competent and comprehensive. In moving the suite online, Money Tree gave some thought to how it works, what was necessary and what could be streamlined. The result is a product that is responsive, has clear navigation and requires somewhat less data than previous versions did.

The one potential downside is that the product is a bit dull looking — it lacks bells and whistles like sliders, interactive graphs and the like.

This is not all bad, of course. A bare-bones approach means that the application is more likely to be highly responsive; fewer moving parts mean fewer things can go wrong. In addition, the application is compatible with about every operating system out there. I tried it with a Windows Surface R/T tablet and it performed flawlessly.
But you might not want to use it with clients in a live setting. Some competing products look nicer and are better suited for running what-if scenarios in a live meeting.

Same problem with the client-facing reports: They are accurate and contain all the necessary information, but just don’t look that good. When compared with reports from some competing programs, Money Tree feels antiquated. The graphs in particular look bad.

Money Tree’s Donnie Carpenter told me that upgrading the reports is next on his firm’s to-do list, but it may be a while before the reports are ready — and it remains to be seen how they will stack up against the competition.
Money Tree Software’s Total Planning Suite is a capable suite of financial planning applications with a unified data entry engine. I believe it is an excellent choice for those currently using the desktop version of Total because the cloud storage offers easy access and relieves advisors of the responsibility for software maintenance, backups, disaster recovery and the like.

But if you are now using another financial planning application, the decision is more difficult. The capabilities that most advisors require are all there, but the reports and presentation capabilities are not. Depending on the way you work with clients, this could be a deal breaker for you.

If you are concerned about the reports and lack of presentation capabilities, however, you might want to wait until the new reporting project has been completed and revisit the software at that time. FP

Joel Bruckenstein, a Financial Planning columnist in Miramar, Fla., is co-creator of the Technology Tools for Today conference series (set for Feb. 10-12 in Anaheim, Calif.) and tech guides for advisors. For more information, visit JoelBruckenstein.com.


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