Giving Advice

Article excerpt

Financial planning software may help attract a new crop of customers

Editor's Note: Independent Banker offers this monthly column to inform community bankers about the wide array of software products available. This column should serve only as a guide. IBAA and Independent Banker make no endorsement of any software products mentioned.

To better satisfy and retain customers, today's community banks, like larger financial institutions, dabble in a wider array of financial products and services to build relationships beyond traditional demand deposit accounts.

Increasingly, consumers are turning to financial advisors to help make investment decisions, assign resources and manage personal portfolios. Rather than lose these potentially lucrative customers to independent financial planners or brokerage houses, many community banks offer financial planning as an extension of their already service-oriented product lines. Community banks are meeting customer needs with such services as asset allocation, portfolio management, tax planning, education funding, insurance, and retirement and estate planning.

These efforts are being aided through the use of sophisticated financial planning software packages that allow banks to integrate customer information from a variety of accounts. The result is the ability to create a financial profile that explains and illustrates a customer's overall financial status and goals with comprehensive reports and easy-to-read charts and graphs. Banks can then use the information to cross-sell bank products or gain additional fee income through value-added analysis. And by serving as a single source for a variety of financial products, banks are more nurturing more loyal customers.

While the majority of financial planning software has, in the recent past, been designed predominantly to aid product sales, a new shift toward fee-based planning services is leading to more sophisticated software programs with highly accurate and dynamic projection capabilities.

Whether your goal is to provide a full range of financial planning services, or target a specific clientele, there is an assortment of software programs for you to consider.

COMPREHENSIVE, INTEGRATED ANALYSIS

Most of the financial planning software available is comprehensive, which means it generally covers everything required to assess and project a person's financial position.

A key advantage of comprehensive software is that all of the analysis is integrated. For example, if your bank representative performs a retirement projection, the pertinent income tax numbers get calculated simultaneously, so that data from one report does not have to be manually plugged into another report. This cuts down on the potential for errors and makes creating financial profiles much less time-consuming. In addition, once the initial data is entered, your bank representative can generate both basic and highly specialized plans.

Most software manufacturers tout their programs as providing quick snapshot assessments-to accommodate bottom-line-oriented customers-and more flexible, detailed reporting and projections. Detailed reporting applications can handle changes in income, unusual cash flow issues or other variables, which may be important for banks looking to serve more affluent clients that demand sophisticated plans.

Consider the overall ease of use of any financial planning software you might buy. Your employees should not need to attend a two-day seminar to learn the software. Preferably, they should be able to run through an onscreen tutorial and start using the system in a few hours. Final reports should also be easy for customers to understand.

One comprehensive package on the market is Money Tree Software's Easy Money for Windows 95. As its name implies, the program creates simple financial plans for middle to upper-middle income customers, as well as large-estate clients. …