By any measure, EISI is one of the largest and most influential developers of financial planning software in North America. Approximately 250,000 financial professionals currently license software from the company. From simple needs-assessment tools to the comprehensive and detail-oriented NaviPlan Extended software package, EISI's financial planning products cover the gamut of advisors' needs.

Since the initial release of NaviPlan Standard and NaviPlan Extended in the U.S. over a decade ago, EISI has been regarded as an innovator in the field of financial planning software. The company was one of the first to apply artificial intelligence to personal financial planning software, was among the first to offer planning software with online/offline capabilities and was among the first to incorporate meaningful retirement distribution planning functionality into its software.

But in spite of EISI's strong reputation as an innovator, the recent advances in the NaviPlan product line have been uneven. NaviPlan Standard received a significant overhaul a few years ago, but NaviPlan Extended has stagnated a bit. Moreover, the rationale for supporting two different versions at the same time is weaker than it once was.

The distinction made sense when NaviPlan first launched, but much has changed since then. The two versions have been on convergent paths for a number of years, with Standard adding more features while Extended has required streamlining. So the company has taken that trend to its logical conclusion, merging capabilities from both the Standard and Extended applications into NaviPlan Select, to create a consolidated Web application.

Introducing NaviPlan Select
Although the consolidation of these two products might not seem earth-shattering, advisors who have used both will immediately appreciate it. No longer do you need to learn two applications. No longer will you begin a case in NaviPlan Standard, only to realize that you later require the functionality of Extended. Select is more flexible: You can, with few exceptions, pick and choose the level of detail and the analysis you need.

I recently had the opportunity to preview a beta version of the new software, which should be available by the time you read this, barring any delays. Since beta software is always a work in progress, some of the annoyances I encountered in NaviPlan Select may be resolved before final release. So my intention is not to fully evaluate it yet but simply to familiarize readers with it.

When you first log in to the program, you are transported to the client list. The main list includes client names, ID numbers and the dates of last modification. Buttons along the top of the list allow you to open a file for an existing client. You can also grant another user the right to read, write or control the client file, or revoke any permission you've previously granted. The buttons also allow you to reassign a client to a different user log-on, or to delete a client. An additional button, labeled "data scrub," allows you to export data from the client file and share it with a third party without revealing personally identifiable data. So information such as cash flow, net worth, financial goals and strategies can be shared without revealing client particulars. This enhancement is ideal for advisors who want to outsource some or all of the financial planning functions to a third party while protecting a client's privacy.

A search button to the right of the client list allows advisors to search by last name or client ID. Boxes and radio buttons let you confine the search to a subset of the full data set. Above the existing client list are buttons to create a new client and to access a blank fact finder. For those who license Ibbotson asset class data, there is an additional button that brings up an Ibbotson disclosure form.

If you choose to create a new client, a wizard quickly guides you through the process. Here, you can enter names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, gender and types of analysis (single or joint). If you want to add optional information, you can hit the details button and enter it. If the system is set up to import client data from another source you can click the import button and avoid manual data entry.

The wizard then prompts you to add family members, beneficiaries and advisor information. Next, you come to a critical juncture: plan selection. Here, you have five possibilities to choose from. The first, "calculators," is not a plan at all. It is a drop-down list offering you access to a number of different calculators, including a loan comparison calculator and one comparing the numbers for traditional IRAs against those for Roths.