Truth – Financial Planning Software

by Richard Allum on 25 February 2008

Truth is the financial planning part of the Prestwood software system which has been ‘re-packaged’ and launched by Paul Armson. I attended a demonstration and workshop given by Paul where I met Mike Linksey of Fincision. Mike has posted a thorough review of the software on his site which I have reproduced below.

TruthI’ve seen virtually all of the adviser-targeted financial planning tools & packages currently available in the UK, (plus a few that aren’t but might be soon) but for quite a time I’ve been intrigued by the enigma that is Prestwood, the system pioneered by Paul Etheridge. Until now, it’s been fairly low on most people’s radars, but a change in proposition and a tie-up with 1st Software has created a buzz in the adviser community.

Yesterday, I finally got around to making the trip to Stourbridge to catch Paul Armson’s seminar on Truth, the financial planning package borne out of the Prestwood system.

Paul has been running these seminars to full houses for the last month or so, and places on the remaining seminars are disappearing fast. It seems that some serious people are getting interested in Truth, with Richard Allum of Adviser Assist and James Hay Wealth Management’s recently-departed UK sales director Stefano del Federico being just two of the dozen delegates who joined me.

And it would appear that Truth is gaining traction, with Armson claiming to have signed up 120 people in the last 3 months alone, and having somewhere between 4-500 users in total less than 6 months on from launch. These numbers are bound to grow once 1st Software switches off it’s own tired-looking planning tools and releases the next drop of Adviser Office (next week?) containing the Prestwood export option. But, the real news is that Quay Software are very close to following in 1st’s footsteps, which would give Prestwood access to over 70% of the IFA back office market plus the tacit endorsement of the two biggest players. Looks like Ben Goss’s Distribution Technology has got some unexpected and serious competition!

So, does Truth justify the hype?

Well, if your business model is about holistic financial planning, the answer has to be yes. In fact, Truth is unquestionably the leader of the pack here by some margin. If I had to attribute this view to one element, it would be the product’s maturity, which on the face of it might seem to be a strange statement given that Truth is less than 6 months old, but that would be to ignore the fact that the base Prestwood system of which Truth is a subset has been around for a lot longer and obviously has had much care and attention lavished on it. The underlying functionality has a settled feel to it, like slipping on an old pair of slippers!

The bugbear of many of these planning systems in the past has been the laborious task of populating them with client data which almost always resides in one or more disparate systems. Truth has clearly understood this is a time-consuming and frustrating issue, and has pre-populated common data, but crucially also provides import and export functions with built-in data mapping tools. This should make the task of moving data into and out of Truth a much simpler job than for competing systems. It’s been apparent to me for a while now that back office software users have been tinkering under the hood with the result that the premise of a communal data integrity has been compromised. That field which carries the label ‘account name’ may well contain the client’s dining preferences in one office, and a don’t mention the war note in another office! Any notion that a standard dataset can be extracted from a back office will undoubtedly lead to frustration in future for a growing number of users, so a facility to map custom data from the back office to Truth is a real winner.

Within Truth, the majority of the client-specific data is held within an innovative ‘Items’ area. This bucks the trend of spreading data around rigidly-defined categorised pages (i.e. personal, assets, liabilities etc.), and really does make a lot more sense. Users can even customise the amount of data within each client record, as there is a very simple mechanism to add/ remove data subsets from a master list. If your client doesn’t have any investments, just delete the whole investment template dataset; if your client has some weird and wonderful estate planning arrangements not covered in the standard template dataset, choose one or more relevant data templates from the Available items list and add them in, or invent your own!. There is even the ability to build your own custom client data super-templates (i.e. single person, unmarried couple, married couple). This is simple but clever stuff.

It really is worth spending time making sure Items is fully populated, as the rest of the Planning function feeds off it. Because Truth is primarily a cashflow modelling tool, the concept of planning is geared around presenting and manipulating data on net worth, income, expenditure and cashflow; Truth isn’t about stochastically-modelled outcomes, risk-based asset allocation models or sophisticated fund selection. This isn’t a unique approach (PlanLab and DSTiPAS do similar jobs), but I won’t argue with Armson’s observation that for many clients, this will be the first time they will have actually seen a true net worth statement, and it is frequently quite an eye-opener.

What I will take issue with him over is the notion that you could sit down with clients and run Truth in front of them. Yes, the graphics are a powerful way of getting the message across, but Truth’s one genuine fault will get in the way of this: the UI and it’s distracting and ultimately annoying deficiences! Truth is a desktop or server based package, so it shouldn’t suffer from the inherent hinderances of a browser-based UI, but unfortunately, Truth’s UI is just a mess. Whilst the underlying information architecture of Truth is solid, the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. It’s simple and sadly all-too-common stuff in our industry:

  • confused and inconsistent design patterns
  • poor navigation
  • untidy page layouts
  • poorly integrated add-on modules (Finametrica risk profiler, VCA database)

It’s blatantly obvious that usability wasn’t a factor in the development of Truth, which really is a shame; with a good usability makeover, Truth would be peerless. Instead, competing systems with relatively inferior functionality will snatch business from Truth because of better UI design (PlanLab springs to mind). Whilst the adviser community is notorious for not being overly concerned with the eye candy (unless it’s blonde), I think that for £197 +VAT per month you should expect a better user experience; sometimes form needs as much TLC as function!

But lets get back to the goodies! On top of the cashflow planning, users have the ability to overlay catastrophic events to simulate what might happen if a client were to die or be disabled. These overlays can be used against the client’s current situation (scenario) or used to further illustrate the benefit of certain recommendations (take out additional protection, and your wife won’t run out of money to feed the kids when you die!). Again, the functions might not be unique, but the simplicity of it’s implementation is gob-smacking! There is also an additional module concerned with Estate Planning which can get as simple or complex as a user might wish. I confess to allowing my attention to wander to take in the magnificent surroundings of Paul Etheridge’s house during this bit of the seminar!

Once you’ve finished playing with the cashflow toys, the Financial Plan report-building area comes into play. This is another brilliantly simple but powerful aspect of Truth. The base Prestwood system is famed for it’s highly intuitive and flexible reporting functionality, and Truth contains the full version. The layout and concept is similar to the Items area, with the ability to drag & drop report elements from a standard list to create a plan. The standard list can easily be augmented with custom paragraphs (which have the ability to be context-sensitive) & graphics, and the user can choose between a built-in word processor or exporting out to MSWord.

Audit and archiving functions are comprehensive, and there is also a Meeting Agenda writer and simple Contact Management module included within the package. Licenses for the Finametrica module are an additional cost, but heavily discounted.

With a first-user license cost of a sniff under £200+VAT per month, Truth isn’t the cheapest system available by far, but subsequent licenses come at only £50 per month per user, and the user license is not person-specific. The cost also includes training days and unlimited telephone support.

This relatively high cost may put off some prospective purchasers who either don’t want or understand the power of Truth, but there’s one more trick Armson has up his sleeve which might prove the tipping point, and it can be found here. Expect to see an avalanche of consumer press and clever marketing in the not too distant future! Armson is clearly making a play to drive the adoption of Truth via consumer-led demand, a unique concept in the UK financial planning arena.

I’ve been waiting for someone to make this play for around 18 months, particularly as it has been so successful for some of the US players (Financeware, Ameriprise), and it is no surprise that the marketing-savvy Armson should lead the way in the UK. The commoditisation of the financial planning process itself brings a new USP to the advisers armoury, and one which I firmly believe will be a significant factor over the next few years. We are already seeing polarisation within the stochastic modelling camps with Barrie & Hibbert winning the battle over the actuarially-inferior Distribution Technology and poorly-marketed Tillinghast offerings, and this is arguably led by the perception that B&H have a more robust model and supporting processes: they can be trusted (particularly when over 70% of european insurers use them on an institutional basis). I foresee Truth following a similar line of being marketed as the ‘trusted’ planning tool, supported by an evangelical franchise of Truth-using financial planners.

Strategists at commercial financial planning package providers such as Distribution Technology, PlanLab, & DSTiPAS need to get their thinking caps on: the Truth is dawning, and it’s coming to eat your lunch!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Simon Cromwell 16 January 2008 at 20:26

Thanks for the review which makes interesting reading. Any plans for such a review on the other systems avialable, in particular PlanLab?

Richard Allum 17 January 2008 at 20:44

Simon,

Mike Linksey at Fincision is working on a full review as we speak. I have my own views on PlanLab vs Truth which I will post once Mike’s review has been published in order that both tools can be compared by readers.

Iain Wishart 24 March 2010 at 13:39

We switched away from Distribution Techology as their software didn’t do what we needed it to do. Further, there seemed no dedicated support at Distribution Technology or anyone who knew their system inside out. Whenever we call truth there is always someone there to help us get a solution. Price is just one factor.

It was after I attended one of Paul Armson’s seminars promoting ‘lifestyle financial planning’ (including Truth software) that I had that ‘light bulb’ moment.

I was able to see just how flawed the traditional IFA product-based approach to financial planning was.

Paul’s alternative approach of promoting lifestyle financial planning that focuses on the client (rather than just their money) has revolutionised the advice process in many professional IFA practices.

Paul Armson is an innovator. I note he has now left Prestwood and I await his next move with great interest.

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