The Tool that Will Transform Firmwide Financial Planning

Bob Veres

Alex Murguia, founder and CEO of InStream Solutions, may be the most creative visionary in today’s advisor software ecosystem.  And like all people who think outside the box, sometimes he discovers that his best ideas have far better uses than he intended. 

InStream is best described as a financial planning tool.  It performs the usual retirement-sufficiency calculations and Monte Carlo projections.  It offers such creative add-ons as Social Security planning, automatic creation of mindmaps that organize a client’s entire financial situation in graphical format, and, more recently, incorporation of Dr. Wade Pfau’s “safe-savings rate” calculations, which make planning advice more relevant to Gen X/Y clients in their early accumulation years.  There are customizable alerts that proactively warn an advisor if a client’s situation is breaching any of a variety of thresholds, such as retirement sufficiency outside the safe zone, moving below the safe-savings rate or having a mortgage which, at current rates (automatically pulled down from the Internet every day), could profitably be refinanced.

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But another feature, which Murguia was initially excited about, was ignored by the smaller advisory firms who were among the first InStream users.  “We collected all the recommendations made by all the advisors to all the clients in the system, anonymously, of course, and aggregated them for all of our users,” he explains.  “We thought it would be incredibly valuable to be able to compare your recommendations in a particular client situation with all the other recommendations.  The idea was to evolve a best-practices engine across the profession.   But people just weren’t using it.”

Rescued from the dustbin

Murguia was thinking about dropping the feature and focusing on some of his other ideas.  And then he demonstrated InStream to a large potential buyer: Ralph Ujano, Senior VP of Wealth Management at Mercer Global Advisors.

At the time, Mercer was beginning to face a challenge that is entirely new to the mainstream planning profession, but which is a well-known headache in boardrooms of wirehouse organizations.  “Consistency of advice is very important to us,” says Ujano, “especially at the rate we’ve been growing.”

But how do you impose and monitor any financial planning consistency when you have, as Mercer does, advisors working in offices in Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Columbus, OH, Detroit, Chicago, Sarasota, FL, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Omaha, Boulder, Scottsdale, San Diego, Newport Beach, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Francisco?  The firm now works with 4,500 clients, collects in excess of $50 million in annual revenue, and its 45 planning professionals are conveying literally thousands of independent advice-related judgments in conference rooms in all corners of the country.