The latest version of AdvisorVision is a big step forward.
Two years ago ("AdvisorVision Has Merit-And Flaws,"
November 2004 edition) I introduced Financial Advisor readers to
AdvisorVision 4.0, a Web-based financial planning platform from
AdviceAmerica. My initial reaction to the program was not entirely
favorable. The platform looked promising but a number of problems,
combined with a consumer-oriented pedigree, limited its appeal to
financial advisors serving the mass affluent and higher-net-worth
clients. Now, two years and two versions later (version 6.0 was
released on Sept. 5, 2006) it is time to revisit AdvisorVision.
I recently tested the AdvisorVision 6.0 Retirement Income Edition (RIE) Professional version. This is the first production edition available on the 6.0 platform. RIE Pro is capable of generating automated planning recommendations, but it is designed to allow advisors to create their own.
A streamlined Retirement Income Express Edition 6.0, which generates automated advice only, is currently in beta. The Comprehensive 6.0 version, which is in pre-beta, includes all of the functionality of RIE edition (accumulation planning, retirement distribution planning, asset allocation) plus education, major purchases, insurance planning, employee stock options and estate planning. It is scheduled for release before year-end. For the do-it-yourself set, AdviceAmerica offers LifeVision, a consumer product.
Since AdvisorVision is an application service provider (ASP), there is no software to install. Using a Web browser, you log on and you're transported to the AdvisorVision homepage.
The interface is intuitive. Tabs along the top of the page link to five main program sections: Home, Planning, Advice Center, Setup and Support. There are additional, context-sensitive navigation tools that run down the left of the screen. When you are working from the planning tab, the left navigation bar displays four sections: client list, client profile, planning and tools. The client list is simply a list of clients, which is handy if you want to jump between two or more clients. The client profile includes links to the following sections of the program: goals, risk assessment, income, expenses assets, liabilities, insurance policies and goal assumptions. The planning section provides links to asset allocation, retirement accumulation planning, retirement distribution planning, etc. Tools links to resource allocator and portfolio revaluation. The left navigation bars are collapsible. If you don't need to see a list of other clients, you hide it. If you need it later, you just hit the expand button.
Before using the program, there are a couple of stops I'd recommend you make. The first is the support tab. Here, ten Quick Start tutorials provide an ample introduction. The navigation bar here offers access to a user guide, client fact finders in PDF format, security quotes, mutual fund information from Lipper, a mutual fund screener, an e-mail link to AdviceAmerica and other tools.
Next, visit the Setup tab. Besides the usual fields, the firm's disclosure statement and the firm's logo for use with client deliverables can be uploaded here. Advisors can import client records into the system or export from the system in XML format. (Adapters are available to import client account and personal information from DST, Pershing, Beta, TDW and Albridge.) In addition, advisors can view and edit all global assumptions, advice assumptions and portfolio preferences. Once the setup is complete, the application is ready for use.
I created a client file to experience the data entry process. The navigation tools at the top and left of the screen ease navigation for experienced users, but the "next' button moves novice users through each screen, ensuring that they don't miss anything. After entering client data and filling out a risk profile, my clients' risk tolerance was rated high and an "aggressive" asset allocation was recommended. (There was ample opportunity to adjust this later.) I then entered other required data such as income expenses, assets, liabilities, etc. I appreciated the option of being able to enter expenses on a monthly or an annual basis. Income had to be entered on an annual basis only.
Like some competitors, AdvisorVison offers flexibility in the data collection process. For example, if you enter an investment portfolio, you can simply list the percentage of equities, fixed income, cash and annual savings; however, you can also drill down and add details about the individual holdings, the asset class, quantities, acquisition date, cost basis and price. In fact, since AdvisorVision offers direct feeds from Lipper, if you enter a symbol or CUSIP the program can automatically assign an asset class and update the prices regularly. Once this step is complete, you can go to the goals assumptions and adjust everything from the recommended asset allocation to longevity assumptions for the individual case.
Next, we arrive at the planning section, where a snapshot of the clients' overall condition is displayed. We then move on to view the current asset allocation, suggested allocation and a comparative analysis. Once the portfolio asset allocation is set, the program will recommend mutual funds (or other assets) to implement the asset allocation, based on the defaults supplied during the setup process. A trade report is then presented. If the program is set up to interface with other systems, it can generate a trade file for uploading to the custodian or B/D.
Retirement Accumulation planning is the next stop. Here, there is some canned text summarizing objectives (retire at age 65, estimate additional savings required, etc.), an overview of the current situation and "advice," which consists of some computer-generated text bullet points. Moving on, you can view detailed cash flow analysis, a Monte Carlo analysis and assumptions for the current and suggested plan. A comparative analysis nicely summarizes the differences between the current and suggested plans. If the advisor does not like the results, additional scenarios/recommendations can be generated using the "what if" tab or by going to the advice center tab.
The retirement distribution planning section follows the same conventions as the retirement accumulation planning area. When you have completed this step, the computer generates an "action plan," which again is an abbreviated list of bullet points.
The ASP model is appealing. No software to install ... no servers to maintain. Collaboration is easy with ASPs and many ASPs, including AdvisorVision, offer it.
Navigation in the data entry portion of the program is very good. If you are a novice, you can let the program guide you; experienced users can use the navigation tools move around effortlessly.
While not perfect, the overall capabilities of the program are much improved. One example: AdvisorVision offers flexibility when entering Social Security benefits. If you enter benefits at the macro level, the system will assume benefits begin at full retirement age. At other levels, the program allows you to enter a different retirement start date and to calculate benefits based on various assumptions.
The investment module is strong, making it a fine choice for investment-oriented firms targeting the mass market. Once the setup is complete, generating asset allocation models, portfolio recommendations and trade lists are a snap.
A rules-based system drives the automated planning recommendations. The Advice Center, available only in the professional version, empowers the advisor to override the system's automated recommendations with a recommended scenario of their own. If advisors choose to go with the system scenario as the global default, they can still override it for individual clients as needed. Once created, a scenario, which is a set of rules, can be saved and applied to future cases.
The cash flow screens are excellent. A good deal of detail is available in the default view, but if you want more you can drill down into an individual year, to expenses by line item, for instance.
One screen summarizes what percentage of a client's retirement income is coming from the portfolio, as opposed to other sources. This is an excellent measure of risk, and I believe it should be incorporated in all distribution planning products. The program gives the advisor the ability to designate which expenses are essential and which are discretionary. Progressive asset allocation can automatically shift from a more aggressive to a more conservative allocation over time, if desired. The support center is well designed. The inclusion of ten Flash tutorials and easy access to the guide and other tools is welcome.
Compatibility with the current version of Microsoft Internet Explorer, the beta of version of Internet Explorer 7 and the latest version of the Firefox browser checked out.
Pricing is competitive. The suggested list pricing for Retirement Income Edition will be $499 for the Professional Version and $299 for the Express Version. Volume discounts are available. Enterprise pricing starts at $250,000.
While I really like the data entry portion of the program, I'm not overly fond of the planning sections. Individual areas, such as the comparison screens and the investment related screens, really shine; others, like the computer generated text pages, don't.
Creating additional scenarios is not particularly difficult, but some other competitors, like NaviPlan, MoneyGuidePro and Morningstar, make creating additional scenarios easier and more intuitive. In addition, competitors offer preprogrammed scenarios that make modeling alternatives almost effortless. AdvisorVision does not yet offer the ability to illustrate annutization strategies, but it will be added soon.
The documentation in my version was not up to date. This could be because I was using a demo site, but my tutorials and manual seemed dated.
Some of the global default values troubled me. These included life expectancy (too low) and risk-free rate (too high). Yes, these are judgment calls and they can be changed, but many advisors don't.
I had mixed feelings about the client reports. The educational materials at the front of the report were a perfect introduction to the subject, but sophisticated clients might be unimpressed. My default test report was 57 pages, enough to put anyone other than an engineer to sleep. This report can be modified by omitting sections, but the controls are not granular enough ... you cannot eliminate portions of a section.
AdviceAmerica has made great strides in a relatively short period of time. The industry's focus on distribution planning, which no software firm has yet mastered, creates an opportunity for firms such as AdviceAmerica to make a name for itself, and version 6.0 may help them do so.
AdvisorVision is more likely to compete effectively on the enterprise level. It is highly configurable-it can be loaded with a firm's recommended funds, asset allocations, model portfolios, etc. The capable investment module should appeal to investment oriented firms. Enterprises can create their own planning scenarios and global assumptions, giving individual users as much or as little control as they see fit.
Independent RIAs will be a harder sell. While this version is more flexible, there is nothing compelling enough to unseat NaviPlan and MoneyGuidePro as the favorites in the independent space yet; but in the future, who knows?
Joel P. Bruckenstein, publisher of
Virtual Office News (www.virtualofficenews.com) and an expert in
applied technology for financial services professionals, can be
contacted at email@example.com.