Will Advisors Get to The Promised Land?

Sue Bergin,Sue Bergin@smbergin

The maturation of the baby-boomer generation turned into a bit of a “promised land” for advisors.  New products, services, specialties and strategies were devised better to serve this massive market.  Advisors, along with the rest of the financial services industry, eagerly waited the fees, commissions, and product sales that would naturally flow as boomers prepared for, and transitioned to, retirement.  Everyone was ready, but will those who were promised ever even reach the so-called promised land?

In an article (subscription required) published in Financial Planning, “Advisor Threat? Wave of New Online Services Incoming”, Charles Paikert reports the influx of venture capital and clients flocking to the online advisory space. Many of the services who have staked a claim on the promised land are getting clients before advisors even get in the door.  Financial Guard is an example of a service offered directly to individual investors/employees.  It provides advice and recommendations to employees on their 401(k) portfolios.

10.30.13_Bergin_PromisedLandWhile these services are arguably tapping into a segmented market, it is important to note the increase in their popularity.  However great the rise, it does not diminish the experience of working directly with a financial advisor. Let’s take a look at some of the applications and services with a presence in the online world:

  • SigFig, a mobile application that tracks, organizes, and makes recommendations on financial assets garnered $50 billion in assets managed in just nine months after the app launched.[1]
  • In February 2013, online investment company Betterment had amassed $135 million in assets under management, investing on behalf of 30,000 users.[2]
  • Online wealth management firm Personal Capital amassed $120 million in assets under management, 75% of which came in the first quarter of 2013.  The firm continues to add $20 million to its platform monthly.[3]
  • Jemstep, which provides recommendations on retirement goals, has attracted 10,000 users and tracks approximately $2 billion in assets.  It has only been up and running since January 2013.

These new entrants are a prime example of what late British author and psychologist Havelock Ellis had to say about the promised land—It always lies on the other side of the wilderness.


[1] TechCrunch, “Financial Planning App SigFig Crosses $50B in Assets Managed Though the Platform,” 1/14/13

[2] Pandodaily, “With 135 million in Assets Under Management Betterment Lures Two Key Hires Awa From Traditional Finance.”  2/12/13

[3] Pandodaily, “Wealth management isn’t for old farts anymore.  Personal Capital uses technology and design to spice up a boring topic.”  4/11/13

What to Do With All Those Receipts?

Sue BerginSue Bergin

There are many little annoyances that an advisor must deal with as a cost of doing business. Tracking expenses is a prime example. Out of necessity, advisors have developed systems for tracking expenses that vary in sophistication. Ranking high on the list is the empty-the-pockets-on-the-assistant’s-desk-and-let-her-deal-with-it system and the stack-the-receipts-in-a-pile-for-a-slow-day-project approach.

While these systems are second nature, the beauty of living in the digital era is that annoying tasks have spawned clever digital solutions.

Such is the case with tracking business expenses. For those who have embraced mobile devices, the days of the crinkled and barely legible receipts can be gone forever. Shoeboxed, Lemon Wallet and ABUKAI Expenses are some of the apps available that make managing receipts painless and efficient. You can download these apps on your Apple, Blackberry or Android device(s), and then simply take photos of your receipts. The expenses are digitally categorized and stored, and in many cases, the data can be imported into a spreadsheet or an accounting program like Quickbooks. With Shoeboxed, you can mail in old receipts and they will make digital copies for you. You can even get multiple “seats” on an ABUKAI account, allowing staff members in your office to contribute to the expense report. Other expenses management software programs, like Expensify and Xpenser, also have mobile applications that result in efficiency gains.

shutterstock_111610157Neat Receipts takes a slightly different approach. They offer a mobile scanner and digital filing system that allows you to scan receipts, business cares and documents. The Neat Receipts software system then identifies, extracts and organizes key information. While these applications might help you to make your practice more efficient, they could also help clients who own businesses. Clients often look to their advisor for tips on how to gain more control over their financial world.

With tax deadlines rapidly approaching, the inefficiencies of traditional approaches are top of mind. Take this opportunity to suggest this small way to remove one of the little annoyances in their lives. You may find that they are quite receptive and appreciative of your efforts.

Budgets Get an Extreme Makeover

Sue BerginSue Bergin

The tight economy and some hip personal financial management tools have done the impossible.  They’ve made budgets sexy.

No one ever used to admit that they liked to budget.  Creating a budget was tedious and uncool; sticking to it was even harder.  Thanks to recent technology, however, budgets are being seen in a new light. Today’s economy has made it necessary for more Americans to know, with certainty how much money they have coming into and going out of their household.  As consumers delve into the budgetary process, they are realizing it isn’t nearly as overwhelming and time consuming as they may have thought.

A recent study showed that most Americans follow a spending plan. Nearly half (48%) say they “loosely” follow a budget.  25% “strictly” adhere to their budgets.” Only 27% say they have no budget at all.

Household income is the primary determinant of whether someone will commit to the budget discipline.  36% of those who earned under $30,000 annually followed a budget faithfully.  Only 18% of earners whose salaries exceed $75,000 a year were as vigilant about the budgetary process.

Personal financial management sites such as Mint, Betterment, MoneyDesktop, Yodlee and PNC Virtual Wallet have given the budgeting process an extreme makeover.  They’ve simplified the budgeting process, brought it to life, and even made it fun.  Financial planning software such as the offerings by eMoney Advisor and MoneyGuidePro includes budgeting tools that make it easy for financial advisors to offer an insightful analysis to their clients on how to maximize savings and create user-friendly budgets.

The key innovations that have revolutionized the budgeting process are account consolidation, aggregation and automated expense characterization.  Once accounts are linked and tracked in many of these services, the expenses are automatically pulled in, categorized, and updated regularly.  This simplifies the task of routine budgeting and offers huge relief when it comes time to preparing mortgage and loan applications.

The transparency these services offer into actual spending habits may also be behind the positive ranking survey participants gave to inquiries about their financial holdings.  Nearly half (47%) claimed to know their checking and savings account balances, and 48% have a “rough idea.”  Only 5% say they “do not know”.

When it comes to spending, 36% say they can calculate the “exact amount” while 58% has a “rough idea” of what they pay out each month.  6% had “no idea.”

Innovative technology offers a gateway to help clients become more mindful about spending.  Until a website or mobile app comes along that effectively prevents people from overspending; however, the face-lift offered by technology is simply cosmetic.[1]


[1] Survey statistics mentioned are from CashNetUSA, September 5, 2012

The Phone that Knows You Better than You Do by Sue Bergin

Every day, the mobile device in your pocket gets just a little bit smarter.

The latest example of how mobile devices can help organize your life comes in the form of the Android app, Friday. Friday is a personal assistant and is billed as a passive automated journal of your life. It tracks all of your mobile activities, collects and indexes them, and builds your own personal “Wikipedia.”

When did you last reach out to your top clients?

Friday knows, and can even tell you how long the call lasted.

How long does it take to get from Client A’s office to Client B’s office? Friday can tell you how long it took last time you did it, and the time before that too.

Are you spreading your business throughout town enough? Friday can tell you how many times you’ve eaten at each of your four favorite eateries this month.

Friday is a passive data collector that leads to “self discovery.” Continue using your mobile device the way you’ve grown to use it, and Friday will collect a treasure trove of information about you. You might even forget your phone is spying on you … I mean, collecting data on you. But, it is. Everything you do is chronicled just in case you might want to go back and examine it at a later date.

The creepiness of this app may outweigh its usefulness, but it is important to know that the data is out there and Silicon Valley (or India in the case of this app) is rapidly finding ways to curate it for us.