By Joel Bruckenstein, CFP
PlanTechHub, a new financial planning tool that was previewed at the 2020 T3 Advisor Conference in San Diego, is now available for purchase by advisors. To encourage advisors to try the application before they buy, the firm is currently offering a 30-day free trial to all interested parties. The software retails for a very reasonable $550 per year per advisor. This price includes free log ins for support staff at no extra charge.
PlanTechHub is led by an experienced team that has deep knowledge of financial planning software and the needs of advisors. The firm’s CEO, Chad Blythe, was an early employee at PIE Tech, the developers of MoneyGuidePro, now an Envestnet company. He also spent time at Advicent, the developers of NaviPlan, and at Advizr, now part of Orion. Eric Harrell, the CTO, also spent time at PIE Tech as part of the software development team. Richard Flaherty, Chief Software Architect, has served in several roles in finance, including stints at the Virginia Retirement System and Capital One. The team has some strongly held beliefs about what the planning experience should look like, and those beliefs are reflected in the software design.
According to Blythe, PlanTechHub offers a “modern planning experience”. This experience is focused around three design principles: Iteration, Planning Depth, and the Hub. The interface is goals based, but it is powered by a cash flow-based calculation engine on the back end. The design of the interface lends itself to both modular and more comprehensive planning. So, for example, if you just want to do some quick retirement projections, or if you want to look at a more comprehensive plan that includes starting a business in three years, taking a sabbatical, college planning and the like, the interface can accommodate those needs.
Blythe says that the interface was built “to maximize iteration like never before”. The advantages of this design are that they speed to creation of the initial plan, but as importantly, the design allows one to quickly iterate, developing multiple scenarios with a variety of planning techniques. All calculations take place on the fly, so as you add a goal or planning technique to a scenario, the impact of that addition or subtraction is immediately reflected on the screen. Since virtually all of the scenarios take place on a single screen, the application is well suited to live planning and/or collaboration with clients. Speaking of collaboration, the software includes a client portal that gives advisors the ability to control what clients can see and do within the portal. For example, they can enter data or not, view the plan, create their own scenarios, etc. The portal can also be provisioned to other members of the client’s professional team, such as attorneys and CPAs.
Planning Depth speaks to the flexibility of the program to allow for modular planning and more comprehensive planning. Many potential prospects who are younger might not need a comprehensive plan initially. They may prefer to pay for just the guidance they need at the beginning of an engagement. By taking a modular approach, the advisors can quickly and cost effectively address specific needs, but over time iterate to build on the initial engagement with additional goals and scenarios as the need arises. This type of planning is more in alignment with what the next generation of clients is looking for, and it is an approach that should appeal to a wide audience.
The Hub is PlanTechHub’s answer to deep integration. The concept is to merge data from other systems into the PlanTechHub interface to provide the advisor and the client with a single log-in, a consistent look and feel, and a seamless planning experience.
I’ve taken an initial look at PlanTechHub, but I have not put it through an extensive set of tests; my initial impressions are positive. I like the fact that you can do planning quickly and easily by adding a goal and/or a recommendation on a single screen. As you create scenarios, you can see the impact of each addition as you add it. I like the ability to quickly build many scenarios, so you can compare and contract for a client the pros and cons of each. I like that for each scenario, you can create a list of suggested actions for the client, which appears on a screen that looks almost identical to the planning screen, so the transition is seamless. The suggestions page also includes a list of “what if considerations”. In PlanTechHub, the distinction between a suggested action and a consideration is that the former is something you can control, such as discretionary expenses in retirement. A consideration is something beyond one’s control, such as future inflation rates or life expectancies. The fact that considerations are listed separately prompts the advisor and the client to surface these issues and discuss them as part of the collaborative planning process.
A Workshop area allows the advisor to experiment with adding or subtracting recommendations from a scenario without altering the underlying scenario. If the advisor likes the impact of a recommendation or recommendations on a scenario, they can then be added to the scenario.
While the interface hides a lot of the details and the math, concentrating more on the impact of the changes to the plan, a detailed analysis of every recommendation and scenario is available with a few mouse clicks for those who need to see them.
It is important to remember that this is just a version 1.0 of the software, and undoubtably more features will be added in the coming months based upon user feedback. One feature already in t the works is a history module, which will provide a full audit trail of each interaction within the software by the advisor, the administrative assistants, and the clients.
According to the latest edition of the T3/Inside Information Technology Survey, only 64% of advisors surveyed said they use financial planning software, so there is an opportunity for a new product such as PlanTechHub to gain a foothold. Furthermore, of those using financial planning software there is a heavy concentration of usage among the top two providers, so there certainly is room for a new competitor.
We’ve been hearing for some time that there is considerable demand for a simpler, more interactive planning solution, and the market leaders seem to agree since they have both developed products that seek to address that segment. It feels to me like PlanTechHub is trying to meet that need, but with something a bit more comprehensive and possibly more powerful. The look and feel are certainly unique when compared to the market leaders, and the pricing is very attractive.
Only time will tell whether PlanTechHub succeeds in the highly competitive financial planning software space, but we think the entrance of a competitor with this pedigree is a welcome addition to the category.