It has been some time since I've come across a new financial planning software package that I can get excited about, but Figlo is such a product. It is innovative and easy to use. But what really sets it apart is its client-friendly graphical interface.

Technically speaking, Figlo is not new, although it is new to North America. The firm's roots go back to 1996 when Infa Group began selling financial planning software to financial advisors, banks and other providers in the Netherlands. Within a few years, the firm estimates that it had a 75% market share in the Netherlands. By 2006, the firm's software was being used by more than 12,000 advisors and more than 2 million consumers. In February 2011, Figlo opened its North American headquarters in Ontario under the leadership of Sam Vassa, CEO of Figlo North America.

The firm's mission statement resonates with many tech-savvy advisors today: "Our mission is to make personal finance comprehensible and accessible for every person in the world. With ongoing investments in software development and financial knowledge, Figlo will keep delivering compliant financial calculations that meet both consumer and advisor needs. We feel a social responsibility to keep investing in simple consumer interaction tools for the financial industry so that people get the right financial information anytime, anywhere, on any device."

In concrete terms, what does the mission statement mean? It means that Figlo offers a powerful yet consumer-friendly platform that includes goal-based planning, budgeting, monitoring, alerts and a consumer portal. The platform is designed to be accessible on all sorts of devices including desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Another interesting and innovative aspect of Figlo is that the firm is now a virtual firm. In other words, all IT infrastructure is outsourced. As of January 28, 2011, the Figlo platform has been powered by Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud computing environment. According to Vassa, Figlo chose Microsoft's service after extensive due diligence. Figlo determined that Azure is flexible and robust and offers rock solid dependability at a reasonable price. Since Azure is cloud-based, it offers Figlo unprecedented scalability. As they take on new customers, they can add capacity on demand without negatively impacting performance.

Figlo Test Drive
I recently took a brief tour of the Figlo platform. I used a test site that did not include all of the platform's capabilities. Figlo is still tweaking its standard offering for advisors at this point, so a full review would be premature. Instead, our purpose is to introduce you to an innovative new technology. Although it is still being tweaked, I believe that the Figlo approach will cause many to re-examine the way financial planning is delivered to clients. That factor alone makes it worthy of further discussion.

While many financial planning applications offer the ability for advisors to collaborate with clients, Figlo is built from the bottom up as a collaborative tool. Since the focus is on collaboration, the interface is devoid of professional jargon; it is designed so that a lay person feels comfortable viewing it. The basic process is divided into four steps, each represented by a tab at the top of the page: Have, Want, Need and Do. Figlo calls this the Hawanedo advisory process.

The Have tab is where you enter persons in the household you are planning for, employment income, other income, pension income, assets, liabilities, expenses and insurance. The Want tab is where you lay out your goals. This could be anything from the purchase of a house to a recurring expense like a car purchase every four years to a defined benefit pension for a small business owner. The Need tab helps you plan for financing the "wants." For example, if you say you want to purchase a car in three years and there is no asset linked to financing the car, you can choose to save a fixed amount every month in a savings account for three years so that you will have the money available to buy the car.

The Do section is where you run one or more scenarios, settle upon a plan, print the plan and present it to the client. Once the plan is finalized, the application converts the "needs" covered by the plan into "haves," thereby signifying that funds have been committed to funding the needs.

All of the above sounds pretty standard so far, and it is. What sets Figlo apart is the interface. The system uses a card-based metaphor throughout. When you create a household, each person within the household is represented by a card. The card can contain a photo of the person, his date of birth, his gender, address, e-mail, etc. As you progress through the program, adding income, assets and the like, you link them to the appropriate household member. When you return to the card in the household view and flip it over, you see all of the items linked to that household member. Cards can be rearranged on the screen by simply dragging and dropping them into position.