Believing, as we did, that the fee-based financial planning approach would need to be at the heart of our service – one intended to holistically, impartially, and affordably meet the needs of every client – it was a quantum leap forward to find a partner that had already built the engine of such a system.

The existing system’s artificial intelligence delivered personalized advice that brilliantly aligned with what you would receive from an expert financial adviser in person. Nothing else existed like it. But it also had, baked into it, some of the financial service industry’s traditional and problematic assumptions. The personalized financial plans generated by the system could still feel overwhelming rather than empowering. Even more seriously, the system had little practical advice to offer clients who stood at the beginning of their financial journey.

Because we believe that everyone deserves a simple, doable game plan for their money, we set about transforming the system into one that would meet clients where they are – that would appeal to and meet the needs of clients at every stage in their journey. That meant:

  • Creating a friendly, welcoming interface
  • Stripping every bit of industry jargon from the system
  • Radically reducing the scope of the financial plans the system generated, laser-focusing instead on just the three most important next steps for each client
  • Rewriting the advice with straightforward, simple language
  • Hand-picking the advisers from one of the most trusted groups of fee-based financial planners in the country, the group formerly known as the Association of Cambridge Advisors, now the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners.

(We will introduce the advisers in the next few posts. We brought them to our main office in mid-2015 and spent days sharing, learning from one another, and testing the system.)

Next, we put our ideas to the test by inviting a series of beta users to use and evaluate the system.

Then, our team met with the beta users to interview them personally about what worked and didn’t work. In some cases, their feedback was gratifying, and in others it was surprising or even humbling – but always, absolutely invaluable.

What we learned:

  • Users appreciated the privacy that an online platform offered them. It allowed them to explore their financial picture without self-consciousness.
  • Users were pleasantly surprised to have their financial accomplishments recognized. Framing financial advice in the context of what they had already done right with their money was encouraging. It reminded them that progress was possible. They could do this.
  • Three next steps seemed to be the “magic number” for most users, regardless of where they stood financially. It felt manageable to them, rather than overwhelming.
  • They found the community comforting, but they don’t really want to get into details about their money.
  • Those who got coaching from our financial advisers were, without exception, thrilled with the experience. The combination of clear advice and thoughtful, nonjudgmental guidance and support helped them move forward.

Insights and learnings from our beta users were “paid forward” through incorporation into the next iteration of the SUM180 system. Today, user feedback continues to be a much-valued part of our ongoing development process – continually pushing us in new directions to improve SUM108 for future users.

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