This article was published in Horsesmouth 11-2-2021
The financial planning tool Asset-Map has been generating a lot of buzz. Here's a look at what it is and how advisors are using it in the real world.
Earlier this year, as part of maintaining an awareness of fintech tools, I came across Asset-Map, a relatively little-known tech newcomer to the financial planning space. Asset-Map has been named both the fastest growing and highest-rated financial planning tool according to the T3/Insider Advisor Tech Survey 2021. The company also recently collected its third WealthManagement.com nomination and first win for best specialized planning application. Asset-Map is getting great public advisor support with a 4.9 G2 rating in financial wellness.
All this high praise moved me to learn more. I read available material, reviewed their website, saw a demonstration, attended a three-day Boot Camp, and used the tool for myself. Asset-Map is a process and capability that’s clear and understandable to me because of its visualization aspects and the logic it employs to tell a client like me exactly where I stand in my financial life and what I have to do, if anything, to improve it.
My next step was to speak with advisor users to get the “real deal” perspective. Getting a field perspective became a key part of my exploration, i.e., research on why advisors are using Asset-Map. So, I arranged to interview several financial professionals, one of whom is featured in this article, and see how they are using this technology.
Asset-Map: A brief introduction
I recently had the privilege of speaking with several users of Asset-Map software. To me, the most interesting thing I see when speaking with advisors is the sincerity and caring they show when talking about the people they work for and what they hope to do for them. The advisors I spoke with are good human beings who care about their clients and work hard at living up to their fiduciary responsibilities as they offer their financial services to the public.
For those that aren’t familiar with Asset-Map:
As the Asset-Map website states, “A Financial Picture is Worth a Thousand….” An Asset-Map Report is a visual experience that displays all of a household’s members, entities, financial assets, liabilities, cash-flows and insurance policies. This provides an advisor with a straight-forward way to quickly address gaps in a financial plan as well as uncover new opportunities to elevate their clients’ condition.
Figure 1: A Laptop View of an Asset-Map
A view from the field with advisor Don Hilario
Don Hilario is a CFP, and founder of Hilpan Moxie Wealth Management. He is a terrific person, a family man, and one of those advisors who is very client-centric. His solo RIA practice—of over $40MM in combined discretionary and non-discretionary AUM—focuses on highly compensated employees (HCE) in “Big Tech.” These are professionals working for a Fortune 100 company also ranked among the top spots on the list of the country’s Best Companies to Work For. His average age is about 40.
Don’s niche focus allows him to develop an in-depth understanding for many of the life situations his clients experience. These situations include owning a home or desiring to buy a home in a considerably high-cost geography, education planning for children, and considering early retirement from high-stress, high-pressure jobs. Don’s practice is primarily fee-based, but in addition to his comprehensive wealth management offerings, which include building individual stock portfolios, he also offers fee-only financial planning when potential clients do not meet his target asset minimum.
Interestingly, because his business is based on a consistent set of clients with common wants and needs for the most part, and similar goals, he can deliver a consistent and common service model to his clients, offering a high level of service to all. This makes his practice both efficient and effective. Essentially, Don can have a single service model and personalize it to each client individually with relative ease.
Don’s mission in his words, is to “visually engage our audience and transform financial jargon into compelling client stories.” That’s where Asset-Map comes in! Asset-Map is designed to show the client’s entire financial life in a single page by showing:
One of Don’s differentiations is that he works with people “just like him.” He is a 40-something CFP® practitioner, and a homeowner paying a mortgage in the same region in which his clients live. He has two young children he plans to send to college by preparing for those costs in advance of need. Integrating the Asset-Map process into his solo practice allows Don to share a common bond and common narrative with his ideal clients and prospects.
For example, having worked with his niche market clients for over a decade gives Don greater familiarity with major inquiries such as: Should I pay off my mortgage before I retire? Does early retirement (i.e., before age 62) make sense for me? Are my savings efforts on track for my children’s college tuition? Because he has shared that client-journey before, Don can better empathize and can adjust for differences based on the breadth of his experience. His depth of knowledge of the niche helps him give his clients a fighting chance to work, live, and retire with confidence.
For all his meetings (prospects, new and existing clients), Don customizes the Asset-Map to show his niche clients market components they’ll immediately recognize, including various sources of income, restricted stock units, and pretax and after-tax retirement vehicles. I asked Don what percent of his prospects fill out the initial discovery questionnaire before that first meeting. He said, “One hundred percent.” This means on the prospect’s first visit, Don has an initial feel for whether the prospect:
I asked Don what he used to build plans before Asset-Map. Don is an advanced Google/Excel sheet user, so he used to prepare complex spreadsheets with lengthy agendas that were “overly complicated and overly wordy,” he says. While “visual” in a sense, i.e., you could see them, Don strongly felt there had to be a better way to efficiently review a client’s financial situation without having to re-read lengthy and outdated analysis.
The alternative, using Asset-Map, was something the client could understand easily, and follow. It was efficient and easy to comprehend. Don’s goal was not to bombard clients with excessive data, lengthy reports, or even Monte Carlo simulations that have limited meaning looking 20 or 25 years into the future. Instead, he prefers to start every client meeting by showing the current Asset-Map—immediately cataloging the client’s financial inventory of “where they are now” and “where they are headed,” all on a single page. (This includes showing the client’s household current status including income, wealth and debts, in all forms whether personal and business, insurances of all types, whether held individually or jointly, and all household members.)
Regarding “where they are headed,” Don consistently uses Target Maps—an Asset-Map feature that shows progress towards goals such as retirement funding, education funding, major purchase inquiries like buying a home or paying off a mortgage. It also indicates what has to happen financially and when it must happen in order to reach that goal if it’s not fully funded. This is what Don means by creating a compelling vision for every client.
Lest you think Don doesn’t support Monte Carlo simulation and other forms of risk analysis, he also uses eMoney to perform additional analysis where needed. In cases where Don wants to take a deeper dive in analysis, Don will help a client, who may be within five or so years of a goal such as retirement, to understand risks by doing a Monte Carlo simulation to test for results under significant stress conditions. He also uses HiddenLevers and Morningstar to do further portfolio stress testing when needed.
However, Don finds that the clients in his niche market prefer using Asset-Map for understanding where they are and what is required to get them to their desired future state. His periodic client reviews (or “client surges” as Don calls it) help strengthen the client-advisor relationship so that when life events inevitably happen, clients can remain proactive and not reactive in their efforts to keep their objectives on track. Don’s relatively homogeneous book allows him to outline a common goal set with his clients for a mortgage-free home, funding for his client’s children’s education, and a quality lifestyle when they are ready to retire—even if it’s early.
Don’s use of Asset-Map
Don says Asset-Map strips away distractions from the process to focus on the “core essentials” and puts the onus on the advisor, where it belongs, “aligning the client’s inquiries with the advisor’s knowledge.” Part of the process of using Asset-Map encourages comprehensive planning by having advisors consider the “4 Frames” and “6 L’s,” as they are dubbed.
The “4 Frames” process asks advisors to consider four different points of view when reviewing the client’s financials:
These “4 Frames” may not be exclusive to Asset-Map software but their inclusion reflects the value of having tools developed by FAs for FAs.
The “6 Ls” or the “Financial Fire Drills” are again, contexts that Asset-Map teaches its users to employ as “checking questions,” i.e., “What’s the plan to address each of the following” or, “Are we good if this happens?”
Though some of these questions replicate some of the “4 Frames,” Asset-Map also provides the capability to model each of these potential plan disruptions.
Don strongly believes Asset-Map significantly reduces abstractions in working with his clients because of its visualization and clarity. His clients are extremely busy people with limited time. They see the value in Don’s services for helping them do the right thing, regardless of market conditions and helping them reach their goals. Their “most valued currency is the time and energy,” says Don. They prefer to devote that to their family, their work, and their life rather than thinking about investments and finances. Don feels Asset-Map:
He specifically said, “When I wake up in the morning, I think, what can I do today to wow my clients?” This software helps him in that quest. As it applies to Asset-Map, Don likes the quote by Leonardo da Vinci, who said that “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
David Leo, Business Coach to FAs
David Leo is the founder of Street Smart Research Group LLC. He is an author, speaker, coach, consultant and trainer to financial professionals. David is an experienced business manager who works solely with financial advisors, planners and firms who want to organize, structure and grow their businesses by attracting, servicing, and retaining affluent clients. Contact him at David@CoachDavidLeo.com or call 212-598-4229.