WealthTrace, a retirement planning app, is pretty much a one-man show. However, the one man is Doug Carey, a 39-year-old Chartered Financial Analyst with undergraduate and graduate degrees in economics who taught himself programming. So it’s a good bet Carey won’t be a one-man show for long.
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In addition, WealthTrace’s recent debut, at $695 for the first year and $495 annually thereafter, illustrates the creative upheaval upending practice management software for financial advisors.
WealthTrace is being marketed as a simpler alternative to other financial planning apps. Here are the bullet points Carey wrote to describe the app:
- Powerful and accurate, yet incredibly easy to use.
- You will get a comprehensive picture of your retirement situation both on the screen and in an easy to understand report.
- Run scenarios to see what you can do to change when you can retire and when your money runs out in retirement.
- Easily change assumptions, such as social security, expected returns, and inflation to see how this impacts your plan.
Despite its ease of use, relatively low price, and simple interface, WealthTrace in some ways is sophisticated because it allows an advisor to build what-ifs using different year-by-year rates of return and inflation.
For example, you can create elaborate assumptions not permitted by popular professional retirement planning applications that cost more. You can create multi-period plans that assume one economic scenario for five years, another scenario the next five years and another scenario the next 10 years.
A wealth manager can thus model a long-term picture and overlay his or her view of the economy and markets on a plan. It’s the kind of work professionals do because it helps them as well as their clients understand and plan thoughtfully for scenarios an advisor believes are most likely to occur.
To input different scenarios, you must use WealthTrace’s syntax, but that’s simple. And controlling inflation and return variables gives you great power to model the future you envision and illustrate other outcomes clients could experience.
The story behind this story is also a big one.
WealthTrace illustrates the creative upheaval in the business of making software for financial advice professionals. Programming has become much easier over the past 20 years. A small number of standardized programming languages have replaced the proprietary code of the 1980s and early 1990s. Programming is much more plug and play and copy and paste.
An entrepreneurial economist who knows how to code can write an innovative retirement planning app and make a good business of selling it to RIAs, perhaps eventually selling it to broker-dealers, banks and custodians. Point is, WealthTrace is a one-man shop that can now pretty easily fine-tune its pricing to carve out a business serving RIAs.
Yes, he has a lot of work to do, but Carey can carve out a niche among wealth managers and financial planners and have a going concern that supports his family nicely. Whether he can turn it into a real business and manage employees is totally unknown. Still, what Carey is doing at WealthTrace is what I love most about America.
After graduating from Ball State in Indiana and getting a Masters at Miami of Ohio, Carey began his career as an analyst at National City Bank, which would become a casualty of the 2007-2008 mortgage crisis. At NatCity, Carey says he was quickly named a portfolio manager and, along the way, earned a CFA designation. In 1999, Carey left the bank to develop software analyzing mortgage-backed securities—CDOs, CMOs, and other complex derivatives securities — at Derivative Solutions, a software startup.
In 2005, Derivative Solutions was bought by FactSet
. Carey stayed through mid-2010. At that point, Carey, father of a two-year-old and four-month old who lives with his wife in Boulder, Colorado, says he has no debt and has accumulated enough cash to start his own business.
In 2010, after leaving his job at FactSet, Carey says he initially started an RIA and was beginning to advise clients. But he was disappointed in the tools available.
“They either lacked flexibility or were too complex when they did not need to be,” says Carey.
Carey started building his own spreadsheets and then programmed a desktop version of WealthTrace. In March 2011, he outsourced to a software development firm to build the web version.
One new twist on this professional planning app is that a simple version of the software is sold directly to do-it-yourselfers. A less complicated version of WealthTrace is available to consumers for as little as $39 a year.
Some financial advisors will resent that a version of the professional app of WealthTrace is also being sold to consumers, but I don’t buy into that kind of thinking.
In fact, because WealthTrace has a consumer DIY version, it could one day serve as a referral source for advisors, just as custodial retail branches today are a referral source to RIAs.
A 30-year-old DIYer who uses WealthTrace today could get an inheritance next year or experience some other sudden wealth event. Of course, in 10 years, that DIYer is likely anyway to start thinking about retirement and college planning. Financial planning apps are increasingly likely to empower consumers as well as advisors, and advisors cannot stop that trend and should capitalize on it instead of getting hung up on it.