Advisors can offer high net worth clients an online personal finance application similar to ones that are wildly popular with investors.
Online personal finance applications are proving to be very popular with investors. Millions of investors today use websites and mobile apps such as Mint.com, Personal Capital, and Blueleaf to aggregate and view all of their household accounts and investments in a consolidated, easy-to-use dashboard.
When considering whether to engage the services of a personal financial advisor, investors often discover that many advisors aren't capable of providing the kind of online access to their financial information to which they are accustomed. Many of the tools used by financial advisors don't deliver such capabilities directly to investors.
To compete with the new generation of personal finance applications, advisors want to provide their high net worth clients with comparable solutions. Only a handful of options exist today, including aforementioned Blueleaf as well as eMoney Advisor, but a new entrant to the field specifically targets advisors' high net worth clients. That solution is Wealth Access.
Wealth Access is an online financial aggregation and reporting service that is, according to its website, "designed to meet the needs of high net worth investors and their advisors."
Based in Nashville, Tenn., David Benskin founded Wealth Access in March 2011 after a 12-year career as a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch. As his advisory business grew, Benskin became frustrated with the number of manual solutions his team created to track and manage the complex finances of his high net worth clients.
Account aggregation programs provided some relief for raw investment data collection, but Benskin still found it difficult to share aggregated data with clients in a simple and elegant way. Though he describes Wealth Access as "Mint.com on steroids," he emphasized that the service's goal is to promote collaboration between clients and advisors rather than act as a substitute for advisors.
"We're not trying to disrupt the financial services industry or replace the job of a financial advisor," said Benskin. "We want Wealth Access to improve advisors' relationships with clients by allowing everyone to work together with accurate, up-to-date information."
Benskin created Wealth Access to first be used by clients, followed by advisors. No advisory relationship is required to create an account, so investors can use Wealth Access independently (see pricing details below). Conversely, advisors can subscribe and pay for the service and then invite clients to create their own Wealth Access accounts.
After logging in to Wealth Access, clients are presented with a client dashboard screen. The dashboard is made up of five windows, including a statement of the client's total net worth in dollars (with assets and liabilities listed separately), a bar chart of net worth over time (that can be viewed using daily, weekly, or monthly periods), current portfolio diversification pie chart, list of alerts and activities, and news stories relevant to holdings in the client's portfolio. Each dashboard window contains a magnifying glass icon in the top right corner, which will open specific Wealth Access reports where information can be explored in more detail.
The top-level menu contains links to access detailed reports and screens labeled Dashboard, Accounts, Net Worth, Activity, and Alerts. The Accounts section is used to manage accounts and assets aggregated in the application.
Accounts are divided into two groups in Wealth Access: Automated Accounts and Custom Accounts. Automated Accounts are accounts Wealth Access will automatically update using account aggregation software. Clients first select from various account categories including banks, credit cards, investments, retirement, mortgage, and home equity line of credit, then select their provider from a list of supported financial institutions. After selecting their provider, clients enter their username and password credentials to authorize a data connection. Authenticating each account connection takes a few minutes to complete, but this only needs to be performed once per account during initial setup.
Behind the scenes, Wealth Access employs account aggregation from both Yodlee and ByAllAccounts, which together are capable of aggregating data from over 10,000 financial institutions. Roughly 100 of those connections were active in Wealth Access when I reviewed the service, and many of the large investment account custodians are supported, including Charles Schwab, Fidelity Investments, TD Ameritrade, and Pershing. Benskin anticipates adding more financial institution connections over time, particularly in response to both client and advisor demand.
Custom Accounts are accounts that are not automatically updated through aggregation software. These accounts are divided into categories labeled Real Estate Holdings, Investments, Private Equity, Collectibles, Liabilities, and Rental Properties. Each category handles characteristics specific to the type of asset being added, which is a nice feature. For example, once a street address is entered for real estate, Wealth Access can automatically retrieve an estimated market value of a client's residence (or rental property where applicable) using the Zillow Zestimate® feature.
Clients do not need to be responsible for manually entering all their account information in Wealth Access. If clients grant "Full Access" permissions to their advisor (see Sharing Data below), advisors can enter the account information on behalf of clients, so the system supports flexible setup procedures.
With client control in mind, Wealth Access allows clients to configure which account information is shared with other advisors and professionals, such as attorneys and accountants. A client can grant "Full Access" permissions to any authorized advisor, which allows advisors to view and interact with the client's account as if they were the client. Currently there is no limit to the number of advisors and professionals with whom clients can share account information.
Instead of granting Full Access to an advisor, clients can assign permissions individually for each account, alert notification, or document uploaded into the system. Benskin explained the reasoning behind granular permission levels with an example of a client who has two investment advisors, each managing specific accounts with a specific investment strategy. The client may want to receive an alert when her total portfolio falls below a certain value, but each of her advisors only manages a portion of her total portfolio. As a result, she doesn't want either advisor to see the alert generated by Wealth Access based on the value of her total portfolio, so she excludes both advisors from viewing that alert.
Such detailed permission settings are absent in online personal finance applications, leading Benskin to apply for a patent on the feature. He commented that user adoption of Wealth Access is high, in part because clients are always in control of their data and can revoke an advisor's access at any time. Benskin added that he feels clients are more reluctant to use other online finance applications because it is not always clear what is being done with their data (e.g., being resold to third parties for advertising purposes).
Again, Wealth Access was created with clients in mind, but the application also extends many useful features to financial advisors. Once logged in, advisors are presented with a dashboard labeled Advisor Overview.
The advisor dashboard displays an at-a-glance bar chart of total client assets aggregated in Wealth Access, categorizing the advisor's managed assets under "Home" and non-managed assets under "Away." Other charts display the total asset allocation of all clients' combined portfolios, advisor alerts, top client holdings, and more. Wealth Access maintains a history of client asset information, allowing advisors to quickly view trends across their entire book of business. Like the client dashboard, advisors can click a magnifying glass next to each chart to view additional report details.
The top-level menu in the advisor's view contains links labeled Accounts, Alerts, and Vault. Advisors use the Accounts section to create, manage, and delete client logins, the Alerts section to define custom alerts or view alerts shared by clients, and the Vault section to upload, view and share electronic documents in a basic online document storage system.
Wealth Access does not currently feature a mobile app for popular mobile operating systems, but the service does support full functionality when run on mobile Web browsers. I tested Wealth Access using the Safari browser on my iPad and found the program just as easy to navigate as the desktop version, although it's worth noting that pinch gestures to zoom in on charts and text did not work.
Unlike applications such as Mint.com and Personal Capital, Wealth Access is not a free service. A monthly subscription fee is charged, as Wealth Access does not generate revenue by selling client data to third-party advertisers or by promoting products such as credit cards or insurance policies.
Individual investors subscribe to the program for $100 per month, which includes an unlimited number of aggregated accounts and no limit on the number of advisors with whom data is shared. No long-term commitment is required, and subscriptions can be canceled at any time.
Advisors subscribe to Wealth Access for $300 per month, which includes logins for up to 10 clients. Additional client accounts can be added for a fee of $10 per month per login. Onboarding services, setup, training, and marketing materials from Wealth Access are all included in the monthly fee.
Benskin began beta testing Wealth Access in December 2011, slowly taking on new clients and, at that time, was aggregating approximately $10 million in assets and liabilities through the service. Over the last eight months, Wealth Access has grown to over 60 families using the investor plan and 17 advisors using the advisor plan, and aggregates over $800 million in assets and liabilities.
The service that financial advisors provide is under pressure in the form of free online personal finance apps. Because of the popularity of these apps, clients now have higher expectations for on-demand access to their entire household financial accounts, and they want it with the push of a button. Wealth Access is one of the few online aggregation and reporting tools that delivers the access high net worth clients want, but does so in a way that promotes interaction and collaboration with a personal financial advisor.