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Merrill, Raymond James Turn to Health-Planning Apps

By Murray Coleman March 12, 2015

America’s health care needs keep growing, and so do its costs. In response, Merrill Lynch and Raymond James are rolling out new software designed to give advisors more tools to protect clients’ estates against the ravages of rising medical bills.

“People used to joke that they liked to put their old plans next to the nightstand in case they got insomnia at night,” says Rachel McNeil, a Raymond James advisor with Mustard Seed Advisors, a five-person team in St. Petersburg, Fla., that manages $165 million.

Late last year, the independent broker-dealer started rolling out a separate health care application for its Goal Planning & Monitoring suite. The package already included modules to handle everything from investment management to estate planning, according to McNeil.

In the past, Raymond James FAs had to cobble together the medical-related portion of clients’ comprehensive financial plan. For staffers on McNeil’s team, that meant hours inputting data. Also, the health care elements were tackled as separate functions. That meant part of the plan addressed long-term care coverage, and another tried to quantify quality-of-life issues such as how much a couple’s savings might be zapped by early retirement and in-home care needs.

Still another section was devoted to Medicare coverage. The result was a report that often topped 50 pages. “People were already overwhelmed by the whole complexity of health care coverage in the U.S. — I just found it very difficult to get them to crack open this part of the plan and really start a thorough conversation,” says McNeil.

Susan Acker

Although the new health care app has been widely available within Raymond James for only six months, McNeil was a pilot user. As a result, she’s been working with it about 18 months. Already, she’s seeing a big change. “Being able to walk clients through a complex and daunting health care planning process using a dedicated app has revolutionized the way I’m able to engage clients,” she says. “People are buying into our recommendations a lot more readily now — because they feel a part of the process, not just idle bystanders who are being force-fed a lot of statistics.”

Susan Acker, an advisor at Merrill Lynch in Rochester, N.Y., is also finding higher levels of client engagement by taking a more interactive approach. She started showing clients early versions of the wirehouse’s Clear software on her iPad in 2013. Included in the integrated package was Merrill’s Healthcare Discovery app, which officially launched with six other planning modules in May.

Like Raymond James’s McNeil, Acker can use Merrill’s health care app to lead a couple through an engaging computer presentation — and get it done in a single meeting. The Merrill app features stick figures showing how likely people at different ages are to need assisted living, home care or nursing care. If national averages show four-in-seven people require such services by age 85, for example, then four darkly shadowed figures will be highlighted with three others offset in light gray.

Acker also likes to guide clients through a screen showing several bubbles representing costs for everything from dental care and hearing aids to prescription drugs and vision care. At the bottom is a bar that toggles between ages, showing how much those bills are likely to rise at different stages in life. “At this point, I find that clients really start asking to get involved in the process,” she says. “They want to try using the interactive features for themselves.”

Confidence

But it’s not just big brokerages that are using splashy graphics and more-integrated software to help get clients talking about health care topics. Advisor Michelle Goldstein in Dallas has bought a package from Omyen Corp., called the “Retiree Healthcare Planner.” This cloud-based platform costs the hourly planner $99 a month and crunches actuarial table data, estimates on long-term care and projected Medicare costs. She can also adjust outcomes by age and inflation.

“Clients always worry about what goes into your analysis and how you come up with certain assumptions,” she says. “But by sitting down with each couple in a real-time manner, they become direct participants in coming up with actionable scenarios.” In turn, she says, this “creates a greater sense of confidence in a health care plan’s overall vision and goals.”