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A Promising New Practice-Management Tool

Precise FP puts data entry into clients' hands.

Joel P. Bruckenstein, 08/14/2008

PreciseFP is a new non-proprietary online client questionnaire from Spectrum Input, LLC. The firm, headquartered in Alpharetta, Ga., was founded by Don Whalen, CFP, a comprehensive financial planner, and IT specialist Sebastian Skwarek. Whalen is active in both NAPFA and FPA, the two leading financial planning organizations. Skwarek is an Adobe Certified Instructor, and a company he owns is an Adobe Solutions Partner and an Adobe Solutions Integrator. Together, these two have tried to improve on a vital part of the financial planning and investment-management process that is often taken for granted: the data-gathering process.

While a small minority of the advisor community give a great deal of thought to and put a great deal of emphasis on the data-gathering process, most don't. Many advisors tell me that they either use a form provided by their broker/dealer, or they use a canned form that comes with their financial-planning or investment-management software. These forms are certainly better than nothing, but as a rule they don't always capture the optimal amount of information or the most relevant. Furthermore, because of their very nature (a paper document printed from a template in a software application or a virtual form within an application) the forms themselves might not provide the optimal utility that they should to the advisor.

Whalen and Skwarek said that they believe that data gathering forms can be improved upon so that they not only gather the right data more efficiently, but so they can also better facilitate the ongoing financial planning workflow process. PreciseFP is their initial attempt to tackle this challenge. I say that this is their initial attempt to emphasize that PreciseFP is a version 1.0 product. As such, I would not expect it to be as flawless or as highly evolved as it will probably be after the firm develops a user base, receives feedback, and makes improvements, but I do expect it to be relatively bug-free and to add enough value that readers want to buy it now.

Initial Impressions
So far, PreciseFP seems to be off to a good start, based upon my initial trials. The product is composed of two parts, an Advisor Dashboard and a client-facing site. To get started, an advisor logs on to the PreciseFP Web site and signs up for a free two-week test drive. Spectrum Input then sends an e-mail with a user name and a link to initialize the account. After logging on to the dashboard, you are transported to an Advisor Dashboard page.

The initial dashboard page allows users to enter their own advisor/firm information. Some of the information, such as account number, name, and e-mail address, will be pre-populated, while other information must be supplied. Some of this information, including picture and contact information, are used to personalize the client-facing Web site.

Among the other items in this section are a questionnaire link (the link users supply to clients that gives them access to the user's personal "questionnaire site") and a default PDF password. This is the password used to unlock the encrypted PDF files of the questionnaires that users, as well as other designated workflow recipients, will receive. So, for example, if a user wants to work with a virtual assistant and a virtual financial planner and wants each to receive a copy of the questionnaire when it is completed, both would be listed as workflow recipients, and the application would e-mail an encrypted copy to each when the user is e-mailed a copy.

Four additional tabs along the top of the page allow access to other areas of the advisor dashboard. The "Survey Questions" tab name is somewhat misleading on the second tab. Right now, this tab allows you to customize, to some extent, the 16-question risk-profile section of the survey, but it does not allow users to alter other sections of the questionnaire. The third tab allows advisors to enter a custom disclaimer statement that becomes part of the questionnaire. The supporting documentation section allows the advisor to notify clients of all supporting documents, such as account statements and tax returns that the advisor typically requires at meetings. Billing info allows the advisor to update account information with the provider.

Other sections of the dashboard allow the advisor to review a list of all recently saved questionnaires including information relating to those questionnaires (e-mail address, password, etc.) and view statistics related to submitted questionnaires. These statistics include useful information such as new and updated submissions on a monthly basis (or totals), submissions by state, by client age, and by client net worth.

Now let's look at the client facing site. As mentioned earlier, users e-mail the provided link provided on the dashboard to clients. This allows clients to access the advisor's personalized custom site.

The navigation bar on the left of the page guides the client through the data-entry process. There are sections of the questionnaire dealing with client information, related family information, employment, insurance, assets, liabilities, cash flow, and risk (client survey). Overall, it appears that the questionnaire is very well done. I'm not going to discuss each and every page of the questionnaire, but a couple of examples should suffice.

The estate information page is basic, but it asks most of the right questions. In addition to asking whether the clients have wills, living trusts, etc., it also asks when the documents were drafted and in what state they were drafted. This last critical question is often overlooked. The form also presents another critical question that is often overlooked: "Have you ever lived in a community-property state during marriage? If so, which one?"PAGEBREAK

The assets page asks most of the right questions as well. The form is clear, easy to fill out, and makes good use of drop-down menus.

The client site includes other nice touches. For example, there is a "percentage complete" meter at the bottom of the screen so clients can see exactly where they are in the overall data entry process. If a client cannot finish the data entry during a single session, the application will automatically assign the user a password so the questionnaire can be completed later. When the questionnaire is complete, it will automatically be e-mailed securely to the advisor and any other workflow participants designated by the advisor.

Pros
There is a lot to like about the initial version of PreciseFP. The advisor dashboard is well designed, and it offers the opportunity to perform some statistical analysis. The ability to personalize and customize (to some extent) the client-facing site is significant.

More importantly, the questionnaire itself is better than what many advisors are currently using. The advantages that PreciseFP has over "typical" data gatherers fall into two main categories: content and utility. The content side should be self explanatory. If an advisor is using a data-gathering tool that doesn't capture all of the information that PreciseFP does, odds are that the results of any financial planning will be less than optimal. From a utility perspective, the advantages of PreciseFP might be less clear to some.

By making use of an electronic format, PreciseFP allow advisors to delegate much of the data-gathering and input to clients. This saves time and lowers the cost of producing a plan. In addition, PreciseFP automatically saves and stores all forms. This strengthens overall recordkeeping/disaster-recovery compliance. Since the form is virtual, it also facilitates the distribution of the client information, getting it where it needs to be quickly and efficiently.

There may be an additional compliance angle here as well. Many compliance attorneys including Tom Giachetti of Stark & Stark recommend that advisors put the onus on the client to make sure that the data the advisor has is current. PreciseFP can help here.

For example, PreciseFP allows advisors to include a disclosure within the online confidential client questionnaire stating that the advisor will continue to work under the assumption that the information contained in this document is correct until the advisor is notified in writing by the client that something has changed. From the client's perspective, the online document is easy to update, making it more likely that the client will actually update the form and notify the advisor when changes occur. That sounds like a win/win situation to me!PAGEBREAK

Cons
I ran into some minor usability issues, but quite frankly, that's to be expected with any 1.0 product. I thought the first screen on the client-facing page was a bit confusing. There is a big button in the middle of the page for those who are returning to an existing questionnaire or importing from a printed one (yes, you can do that, too), but there is no "start" button for first-time users. There is a navigation bar at the bottom of the page, but when I asked a few uninitiated folks to try the survey, they had trouble figuring out where to click first. This is an annoyance, but one that can easily be repaired.

I also ran into intermittent problems logging on. I think the problem was associated with the security configuration on one of my computers, and it only seemed to effect Internet Explorer 7. When I launched an alternate browser or tried logging on using another computer, I did not experience any problems. I suspect bugs such as this will also be worked out shortly.

In another related issue, those who click the import/continue button are also presented with a pop-up window for logging on. I think that window needs improvement as well.

A larger problem in my opinion is the lack of customization available. While I think that this questionnaire is a good one, most firms are going to want to capture data that is not currently accounted for, and they will want to ask some questions in a specific format. Other applications, like Surveymonkey, offer many question formats and a great deal of customization of questions. I hope that PreciseFP is heading in that direction.

Another thing I worry about is the automatic assigning of passwords. If my previous experience with this sort of thing is any indication, clients will lose those passwords at an alarming rate. In fairness, PreciseFP anticipates this and e-mails a copy of the password to the advisor, but those e-mails are not secure, and even if they were, do you really want to be getting that sort of phone call from clients and prospects? Better to let the client select their own password. Perhaps they'll actually remember them!.

While not a "problem," the other thing that would add exponentially to the value of PreciseFP would be seamless integration with other programs and platforms, such as custodial platforms, broker/dealer platforms, financial-planning applications, CRM applications, etc.

Another option I'd like to see added is the ability to assign different workflow recipients to different surveys. At some firms, you might want some questionnaires sent to Service Team A while others are sent to Service Team B.

Bottom Line
PreciseFP is a promising new product that should appeal to many readers today, and I suspect that it will be even more appealing in the near future. It isn't perfect, but it is good enough to warrant consideration immediately. Today you get a good virtual questionnaire, a personalized portal, automatic workflow, storage and back-ups, statistics to track usage, and much more.

In the future I hope to see integration with a wide variety of other applications and a more customizable questionnaire. At $49 per month or $489 per year (the yearly deal currently offers an additional two free months), with a one-time setup fee of $119, the application seems reasonably priced for advisors that have active practices. PreciseFP even offers an ROI calculator here that helps you determine if the product is right for you.

This type of application is not revolutionary, but it is one of those things that make you wonder why nobody has done this before. It is certainly worth checking out.

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