Tech Review: New Bet on Financial Health
Health apps and monitors are hot right now. My Android phone can count my steps and encourage me to get more exercise. Fitness bands abound from numerous consumer brands. The Motorola Moto watch and Apple watch both include health tracking capabilities.
Consumers seem to be buying into the idea that these devices can help improve their physical health, so why not create similar mobile capabilities to track financial health?
Many financial planning software firms offer software that is capable of helping consumers evaluate and monitor their financial wellness. Oleg Tishkevich, formerly CEO of Finance Logix and now CTO of financial planning at Envestnet, after the latter acquired the technology company, recently previewed his new Financial Health app for me. Even though it was still a beta version, I found the concept quite intriguing.
The underlying premise: Even with all the advances in financial technology over the past several years, many people still have trouble handling personal money issues. Part of the problem is a lack of financial education, but part of it is also behavioral.
There is also a widely held notion that financial planning is a difficult, painful process. By adopting the financial health construct, Finance Logix just might be able to make planning more engaging to a broader spectrum of the American public.
According to Tishkevich, the Financial Health app is designed with some very specific tasks in mind: helping clients connect with their advisor, allowing clients to see account information, asset allocation and transactions, and letting them view and track progress toward their financial goals.
Once an advisor has offered the app to clients, the first step is to log into the app via an iPhones native biometric login, or through two-factor authentication (adding, say, a PIN) or other options.
If you are a new client logging in for the first time, and you have not yet set up account aggregation, you will be invited to aggregate your accounts. Most big financial institutions are listed prominently, so users can select their institution and enter their credentials; the Finance Logix aggregation, powered by CashEdge, will collect the relevant data.
If clients dont see their financial institution listed, they can enter the name in a search box and it will most likely appear.
Once all of the accounts are set up, the app will display a net worth statement. From the net worth statement, users can select an account to view further details. Clicking on an account displays its transactions.
Tishkevich argues that advisors should provide their own account aggregation application to clients, rather than leaving them to consumer-facing applications. Mint has started advising their clients to use robo advisor platforms, which compete directly with advisors, he says.
Hes right. When I logged onto Mint and clicked the Investments tab, the application suggested three low-maintenance ways for me to invest: Motif Investing, FutureAdvisor and Wealthfront. I also received an email from Mint with a solicitation from FutureAdvisor.
Im guessing this is not the type of messaging you want your clients and prospects to receive.
In contrast, when a client aggregates accounts using the Finance Logix system, advisors have access to the client information through the advisor dashboard, and the information can be used for planning purposes.
This information can also be shared with other applications that integrate with Finance Logix.
The Financial Health app menu provides easy access to all sections of the app. Advisors can customize the contact advisor section, to let the client reach out via the channels the advisor provides email, phone, text or social media channels. (You can also include your photo and a snail-mail address.)
The tool can show clients such data as aggregated net worth (left) or progress toward goals.
Financial Healths goal-setting/-tracking section is the most interesting (and perhaps controversial) part of the app. Whereas most financial planning software assumes clients will be well-behaved that they will create and prioritize goals and then stick with a plan Financial Health, by contrast, assumes clients will behave badly and seeks to modify that bad behavior.
Traditionally, financial planning applications would record client goals and funded them in chronological order. So if you had a goal to take a trip around the world for two years at age 60, buy a Bentley at age 62 and retire at age 66, your plan would fail unless you could fund all of those goals, because the software would spend the money on the trip first and the auto second, and would then show a shortfall in retirement.
But thats not the way things work in real life, so planning software has gotten smarter over the years. Most of the better tools now ask clients to prioritize goals, and use that info to fund them. So in the example above, assuming retirement was the top priority, the trip was next and the Bentley was last, the application would fund retirement first.
Of course, the advisor would discuss these changes with the client suggesting a shorter trip, perhaps, with some of the savings going to a more modest auto purchase.
But Tishkevich and his team suggest that this approach also falls short. Even if clients designate the retirement goal as the top priority, they may go ahead and buy a luxury car (lets say a Tesla, now) if there are sufficient funds in the bank.
Financial Health will show the lower-priority goal as funded, but highlight the fact that the higher-priority goal has an extremely low probability of success.
Clients may choose to alter the lower-priority goal by purchasing a more affordable vehicle, or they might try to see if there are alternate ways to solve the retirement shortfall.
At that point, the app shows options: lowering the retirement budget, working longer, saving more before retirement. If the user provides a start and an end date for the goal, the app can automatically calculate the additional savings required to meet the goal.
For each annual savings goal, the app will show the average balance growth for the past four months and the amount of required monthly savings to achieve the goal. If users are ahead of their savings schedule, the app will suggest that they continue saving so they can decrease the time required to meet the goal or increase the probability of goal success.
For the most part, the tool assumes that all goals are funded from one combined pool of assets; it does not create separate buckets to fund individual goals. The exception to this rule is 401(k)s and other retirement accounts, which are automatically applied to the retirement goal, or 529 plans and similar accounts for education goals.
The app also includes access to a document vault that lets users sort and filter documents, and view them on the phone. There is also a secure way that users can share documents with a third party.
Under the current design which may be tweaked before final release clients can create a trusted user to share documents with. The first time they share a file, that trusted user will get an email with an access link; clicking on the link will send a secure token to the persons cell phone. At that point, the user can set up a password for future access.
The Financial Health app represents an interesting concept. It starts off with the notion that clients will act badly, and then illustrates to them, on an ongoing basis, the long-term impact that current bad decisions would have on their financial well-being. The hope is that this will be enough to encourage better behavior and planning.
From within the app, clients can experiment with strategies to improve their long-term prospects. They can see the impact of spending less or saving more, calculate the periodic savings required to achieve a goal, and track progress toward their goals on at least a monthly basis.
In addition, a secure document vault system will let clients access and share all of their important financial documents.
Some advisors will almost certainly find this apps unconventional approach disturbing. Thats to be expected. But I think the fitness-style approach to finances is a good one that will resonate with both clients and prospects.
I think the jury is still out on the assume clients will favor short-term wishes over long-term goals paradigm, but it seems to be worth trying. The only way to see how well it works is to get the app into the hands of a sufficiently large group and to track the results for some time.
If it works, Im sure Finance Logix and Envestnet will build further upon this approach. If not, it should be easy enough to tweak the app to conform to a more conventional planning model while maintaining the financial fitness-tracking aspects.
Getting more folks engaged in their own planning process is a worthy goal, and the Financial Health app looks to be a step in the right direction.
Joel Bruckenstein, a Financial Planning columnist, is co-creator of the Technology Tools for Today conference series and technology guides for advisors. Follow him on Twitter at @FinTechie.