I recently tried out Sharelogix, the online financial planning suite from FinanceLogix, a division of OLTIS Software LLC in Tucson, Ariz. FinanceLogix also offers a desktop version of its financial planning software called VisualAdvisor Plus, but I did not test it for this review.

There were a couple of factors that piqued my interest in FinanceLogix. The first was its Web site. The firm claims that its integrated tools encourage, enhance and assist teamwork between clients and their advisors. It also asserts that its product drives revenue for its clients. I was also impressed with the fact that the offering includes a client portal. The data aggregation option sounded attractive as well.

Kicking The Tires
Getting going with Sharelogix is easy, though it requires navigating through numerous screens. I started at the FinanceLogix home page (www.financelogix.com) by clicking on the 30-day risk-free trial button. At the next screen I selected Sharelogix. After clicking through a couple more screens I entered my name and e-mail address (which becomes my user name) and created a password. After accepting the user agreement(s), the application created my account. I then logged in to my home page, which has a clear, eye-pleasing design. To the left, there are navigation buttons that link the user to the main program modules-"retirement," "education," "insurance," "estate" and "asset allocation." Initially, each of these buttons displays a picture, but after you've created a case, the pictures give way to display sub-menus when you run the mouse over a module button. The center of the page contains a list of clients, which you can add to, edit, delete or sort through.

When you first create a new client account, the application requires that you supply his e-mail address, and this becomes the user name for the client's own portal entrance into the program. You must also assign the client a password, which he is prompted to change the first time he logs on. The only other information required to establish a client account is a name and phone number.

Once you create a client account, you can start creating your first financial plan. FinanceLogix calls these plans "scenarios," and you can create an unlimited number for each client. When you create a scenario, the application keeps track of the date it was created and the last time it was accessed. It also allows you to designate which plan is the current one. Furthermore, the application allows you to check plans in and out. This ensures that if you are working on a plan that a client has access to, only you can manipulate the data while the plan is checked out.

I created a simple initial retirement scenario for a hypothetical client to evaluate some of the Sharelogix features. For the most part, data entry was easy. Under retirement, for example, I selected the worksheet, and the program guided me through the three tabs ("general information," "assets and liabilities," and "cash flow and goals") where data entry is required. In each case, the main screen only requires the minimum amount of data necessary to perform the calculation; however, "details" buttons allow you to drill down and supply additional information.

For example, the annual salary field allows you to enter one amount, and the following field allows you to increase the salary by a set rate going forward. If that does not provide enough flexibility, you can drill down and enter an anticipated salary for each future year. "Table" buttons are arranged throughout the program to provide additional guidance. For example, if an advisor needs help on life expectancies, the "table" button next to the field supplies a life expectancy table and some guidance.

The balance sheet tab offers some data entry flexibility. With exchange-traded securities, you can type in the ticker symbol and the program will populate the other fields (such as the asset name, asset class, etc.). As an alternative, you can click the add button and manually select an asset class from the drop-down menu (cash, fixed income, large-cap stocks, small/midcap stocks, international or "other") and assign a name to the asset.

On the cash flow/goals tab, you input a retirement goal, either as a percent of current income or as a dollar amount. If you are not sure what the goal should be, you can hit the details button to create a retirement budget.

Fields are also provided for capital preservation (presumably an amount the clients want to pass on to heirs) and "other retirement expenses," which can be used for those expenses that do not occur, or those that are not budgeted for annually. The program will automatically calculate Social Security benefits if you supply the age at which benefits are scheduled to commence. The default appears to be full retirement age. As for income taxes, the program asks for current 1040 income and the amount of federal and state tax paid. From there it calculates a percentage of income paid to taxes and uses that number in the calculations. The advisor can override this number if appropriate.

After the required information has been supplied, you move on to the results section. Here, the output is presented on four tabs. The first contains a summary of a straight-line projection indicating whether the retirement goal will be met. There is a pie chart representing the current asset allocation, and you can easily select an alternative allocation to be used as a "what-if" scenario. There are also sliders that allow you to vary the inflation rate and the retirement expenses on the fly to see what the impact on the plan would be.

The income tab illustrates the various sources of retirement income. The risk/reward tab allows the advisor to run a Monte Carlo simulation on the retirement portfolio to look at the probability of the portfolio lasting throughout retirement.

Sharelogix includes some additional functionality accessible through three icons at the top right of the client dashboard. One of these is an alarm clock that alerts you to upcoming calendar items. The calendar itself, the second icon, allows you to set up appointments, alerts, etc., and you can synchronize this with your Microsoft Outlook calendar, though I'm told that this is a one-way synchronization only. (Sharelogix imports your MS Outlook data and stores it in a separate Sharelogix calendar, but you cannot move it the other way from Sharelogix's calendar into Outlook.) The third icon links to the document vault. When you click on this link, you are transported to the main vault page, which is automatically populated with a folder corresponding to each client. The application automatically sets up a basic file structure for each client, so that when you click on the client folder, there are two subfolders: one called "client files" and one called "private," the first of which can be tapped into by the client, while those on the private side cannot.

Within the client folder, two subfolders are set up by default: bank statement and financial reports. Advisors can put additional folders here, as they can at the advisor level and the client level. On the private side, there is only one default folder, the financial reports folder, but again, you can add additional new folders at will.

One nice feature within the vault section is the alerts functionality. Sharelogix allows you to set up global alerts and client specific alerts of various types. If you wanted to be notified each time a new document was uploaded to any folder, you could set an e-mail alert to tell you. If you wanted to be notified every time a document was accessed, added, changed or deleted, you could set up those alerts as well. You can also set up alerts for individual clients.

So, for example, you could receive a weekly summary of all activity in your vaults, but you could set a separate alert to trigger an immediate notification should activity occur in the accounts of one of your top five clients.

Without a doubt, the single most praiseworthy aspect of Sharelogix is the client portal. It is more comprehensive and more visually pleasing than many competing products we have seen. It gives the client immediate access to a current personal balance sheet and it serves as a secure communication tool between him and the advisor. In addition, the client can update his own financial information here. The advisor's portal grants the advisor access to both the client's "file cabinet" and the advisor's own "file cabinet," which the client cannot see. In particular, I like the flexible file structure of the document vault and the flexibility afforded by the various alert options associated with it.

The underlying financial planning application, while promising, requires work. FinanceLogix prides itself on being able to do either goals-based planning or cash-flow-based planning within a single user interface (as opposed to two different programs), but I was underwhelmed. The lack of detail available within the worksheets and the results screens dampened my enthusiasm.

When compared with the financial planning application MoneyGuidePro: G2 (the subject of last month's article) Sharelogix falls short as a goal-based planner on many counts. When compared with a top quality cash-flow-based program like NaviPlan Extended, it also falls short.

The first time you log on to Sharelogix, there is no sample case, something that most of its competitors offer. Nor is there a tutorial or wizards. When I clicked on the help link, nothing happened. I'm told that in the next version advisors will be able to set up their own "sample cases," which can then be used as templates for future cases, but I think FinanceLogix should supply a few of these itself.

Currently, there is no way for the advisor to change the global defaults. So if you don't like the inflation rate that FinanceLogix uses, you must change it in each individual scenario. When I asked about this, I was told that in the next version advisors will have the ability to set their own global defaults.

I found the layout inconsistent in a number of places. For example, when I was in the worksheet, a print icon was visible. When I went to results, it disappeared. I'm not sure why. Terminology was also problematic in places. In the asset/liability section, in order to add a new investment account, you first have to click "add a new savings account." Why not "add new investment account"?

I was not thrilled with the goal-setting features. The ability to prioritize goals and express goals as ranges is important, but you won't find those capabilities here. I also thought the default life expectancies were too low. There is a chart and a footnote with suggestions to help modify the defaults, but if the developers believe that advisors should "consider adding five to seven years to life expectancy," then why not just increase the default values?

In MGP:G2, you can enter a total for an investment account and then just go to the asset allocation table and type in the percent of the account invested in each asset class. You can't currently do that with Sharelogix. In addition, you cannot customize the asset classes, and there are probably too few to suit many advisors.

The software's designers also need to address data entry problems. If you close the browser without saving your work, or if your computer shuts down or freezes, you have to start over. This can be particularly distressing if you've entered all of a client's assets and forgotten to save.

When you enter an asset, you have the choice of setting your own rate of return or allowing the program to calculate it for you. I found some of the program's calculated returns to be slightly optimistic, but that's open to debate. It would have been nice to have access to the standard deviations and cross correlations used in some of the calculations. But I could not find that information anywhere.

The results tabs, while visually pleasing, lack details. If you want tables projecting yearly balances, or any other details for that matter, you have to run reports. You can't view the information in the results section on screen. There are numerous other aspects of the program that I think could use improving as well, but there is no need to belabor the point.

The "presentations" were too simplistic and generic for high-net-worth clients, although they may have some value for unsophisticated clients. I'd prefer presentations linked to the client's situation instead of ones using boilerplate language, and I'd prefer that the presentations not be linked to the top of the module sub-menus above the worksheets, where they currently reside.

FinanceLogix's designers obviously understand the value of integrating CRM and calendars, but they would probably be better served joining forces with Your Silver Bullet CRM participants as opposed to going it on their own.

The pricing is competitive. A single user Sharelogix license costs just $95 per month. That includes the client vault with up to 2 gigabytes of online storage. An additional 5 gigabytes can be purchased for a very reasonable $25 annually. The optional data aggregation by CashEdge costs an additional $165 per month, but entitles up to 500 of your clients to use the service.

So, coming back to the stated value propositions on the FinanceLogix Web site, the company's experience has helped it make a good start at developing a financial planning product, but it is still a work in progress. The company has been very successful developing a portal and a document vault, tools that clearly enhance two-way communication among advisors and their clients. Will this product drive advisor revenue growth? That remains to be seen. Sharelogix can produce good-looking output with minimal data entry, but the core planning modules need refining. The good news is that many of the problems can be easily corrected. In the future, there is a good chance that Sharelogix will find acceptance among advisors, particularly those who serve the mass affluent. Only time will tell if the application can achieve its full potential.