In the last year, the number of websites promising to help investors shepherd their money has mushroomed, indicating an upswing in Americans taking control of their financial futures. But can these new internet services really help?
If the number of financial planning websites that offer services free, at least initially, is any indication of a widespread trend, then there is an upswing in Americans taking control of their financial futures. Learn Vest, Nest Wise plus Plan & Act are three (relatively) new online websites that promise better financial futures to clients at a modest price.
Learn Vest: “A custom program designed just for you by a Certified Financial Planner to give you the tools and motivation to achieve a balanced
It starts with a free phone consultation with a certified financial planner after a short questionnaire is filled out. The value of the consultat
ion is stated to be $40 suggesting that it is short and likeably more of a marketing ploy than a sustained solution. Learn Vest also offers a free newsletter. Any cost beyond the free consultation is not stated. One assumes figures are given in the initial free consultation.
Nest Wise: “Discover insight, information and advice that can help … manage your financial life based on what truly matters to you.”
It has a considerably more sophisticated website and offers more information upfront. Their services include a concierge team, learning center and a financial assessment. Normally, the initial financial plan is $250 followed by $40 per month for continuing financial advice. The site also offers 28 model portfolios that Nest Wise invests in for its clients charging 1% of assets.
Plan & Act: “A financial plan that is … online, personalized just for you, looks at all of your assets and helps you prepare for your future.”
Another stylish website that offers a free online assessment (no human directly involved as far as I can tell). An example of what the participant can expect of the evaluation is available. A video pep talk is also accessible in which I learned that recommendations for a financial plan are made in an online chat room (an indirect human this time). However, the qualifications of this person helping you in the chat room are not stated.
Learn Vest promises certified financial planners for their initial consultation. However, Nest Wise and Plan & Act make no such claim.
The websites of Learn Vest and Nest Wise come up quickly on a search, which means their team is technically savvy, at least for search engines. This is less so for Plan & Act.
Those who have brokerage accounts at large firms, such as E*Trade and Charles Schwab, can already do what these sites claim to do. Almost all brokerages, and especially the larger ones, offer a questionnaire for clients to determine their comfort level of risk for their age and circumstances. The firms then translate this information into model portfolios for customers. The firms even indicate to the client online whether or not their current portfolio is meeting their goals. If it is not, changes are suggested that would alter the character of the portfolio appropriately.
My guess is that users of the online services profiled above either are not familiar with the services their existing brokerage firm offers, are new to investing or are curious about the sites and try them for that reason. Others may simply want to compare the Plan & Act, Learn Vest and Nest Wise results to those of their own brokerage firm.
If you are a person who would rather be thrown into a pit of feral pigs rather than manage your own monies, then these sites are not for you. On the other hand, for the average investor who wants to take more control of her or his financial future, these sites offer model portfolios just like most large brokerage firms.
This brings up the question as to whether or not changing from an existing firm to one of these new plans is worth the time or effort.
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