Most advisors say they provide clients comprehensive wealth advice, but is that really the case? And if you do provide wealth advice, how is it done? What tools do you use?
It is very difficult to provide advice without the right technology. Interestingly enough, according to the most recent Financial Planning Technology Survey, approximately 25% of the respondents were not using financial planning software. And, in the prior year survey, almost a third were not using planning software. So why the disconnect?
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In my experience, a disconnect exists because there are advisors who plan on the back of a napkin and consider this comprehensive planning. This method generally results in using a rule of thumb methodology and perhaps leveraging a financial calculator to solve for a number or projection. This is not comprehensive planning.
Another possibility for the disconnect is that while we have access to powerful tools, very few know how to use them to their full potential. Aside from not maximizing planning software, advisors I’ve worked with in the past have delivered basic planning with spreadsheets. The rationale for these decisions is often attributable to at least one of the following:
- Already have access to Excel
- Readily available formulas
- Can customize assumptions
- Can more easily brand the reports & control the way the message is conveyed
Using Excel, or another calculator, rather than a financial planning program often is telling of the services the advisor is really providing. Even when Excel — or a similar calculator — is used, much like true planning software, it is not fully applied. When considering the varying client situations advisors are faced with, a spreadsheet is not an effective way to run a scalable business.
There are many reasons to be using the financial planning technology that's available in the marketplace today.
It aids in delivering advice
There is a great deal of complexity in articulating to a client what the next 30 years of their life might look like and how strategic decisions they make today may impact their future. Showing them a variety of scenarios based on their level of risk and their goals is very difficult to do in general.
Having client data within the financial planning software enables advisors to share that information with the entire ecosystem of technology applications. In other words, unlike Excel, once you have your information in the software, you may be able to leverage that existing data to gain a much greater perspective of your overall book of business. The analytics and intelligence alone can pay for the cost of the program many times over.
The look and feel
Some of us turned in an answer to a complicated question for high school calculus on a folded piece of paper. Then, we saw others with phenomenal looking projections and beautiful charts wrapped in plastic binding. Who do you think impressed the teacher? Today, the teacher is your client, and by presenting a plan in a manner which resembles high school homework assignments results in being poorly perceived.
LEGAL PAD VS. iPHONE
When you position financial planning as the primary service you provide, you need to demonstrate that expertise throughout your entire client experience. It becomes the center of how you conduct your business, run your meetings and interact with clients. Changes like this can have a huge impact on how you are viewed in the eyes of clients and prospects. The plan, and your client’s ability to attain their goals, is how you should be judged — rather than being judged based on quarterly market fluctuations.
Financial planning and clients’ individual situations are becoming more complex. The good news is that financial planning software vendors are innovating and developing their platforms faster than ever. For many, these venders become true partners to advisors in helping them build their business.
Although there have historically been some good reasons for using customized Excel reports instead of a financial planning program, the advantages now available in the premier software packages outweigh the drawbacks. This is especially true as technology continues to advance.
Daily updated aggregation of assets that integrate with the plan, as well as virtual vault storage capabilities for important documents, are increasingly becoming a basic expectation of clients. And by not fully adopting the capabilities of software, you run a very real risk of becoming obsolete in the near future; essentially offering a BlackBerry and legal pad to clients living in a world of iPhone and Mint.
Brian Leitner is senior vice president of practice management at Mariner Wealth Advisors.
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