REVIEWER: Timothy M. Steffen, CPA, CFP, financial planning director for Robert W. Baird & Co.

BACKGROUND: Robert W. Baird & Co. (RWB) is an international wealth management, investment banking, asset management and private equity firm servicing clients in the United States and Europe through more than 80 office locations. More than 2,600 Baird associates, including nearly 800 financial advisors, fulfill diverse roles and provide a multitude of investment brokerage and advisory services.

PLATFORMS: Baird runs AdvisorDecide from netDecide Corporation on IIS utilizing the NT 4.0 Service Pack 6.0 operating system. RWB is also utilizing MS SQL Server 7.0 Service Pack 3.0 with the WIN NT 4.0 Service Pack 6.0 operating system.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Baird was looking for a way to enhance the services provided by its financial planning department. We had previously been using an internally developed program, but we were looking to upgrade this in a number of ways. We wanted to provide a more comprehensive plan for our financial advisors, yet keep it modular so as not to overwhelm those users who didn't need a full plan. The program also needed to allow the financial advisors and the planning department to collaborate on plan preparation. In the past, all plans had to be prepared in the home office, which led to inefficiencies. We wanted a software package that could retrieve client account information from our internal client databases and pre-populate much of the required planning information. The AdvisorDecide program was able to meet each of these three objectives.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: We have recently completed our second upgrade to the product since our initial rollout, and the product continues to meet ­ and in many cases exceed ­ our expectations. Each of these upgrades has included fairly significant enhancements, and we have adopted nearly all of these in our production environment.

STRENGTHS: The ability to work with our internal databases is something we were unable to find with any other product we reviewed. The importance of this feature cannot be overstated. This feature saves an incredible amount of time and has significantly added to the adoption rate of the program. The ability to customize the product ­ on a firm level, not a per-user level ­ is also important to us. While other firms may be using this product, we don't want this to be obvious to our clients and prospects.

WEAKNESSES: The user interface of the program is sometimes non-user friendly. They are going through a redesign of this now, and it should be ready with the next release.

SELECTION CRITERIA: netDecide was the only company we reviewed that was able to meet our three primary requirements as identified in the "Problem Solved" section of this review. The biggest of these was the interface with our client databases. The ability to collaborate on plans with our users has also made this product much more efficient than other products we researched.

DELIVERABLES: The product produces results that can be reviewed on screen. The user can then create a compliance-approved report for client delivery. These reports can be significantly customized at a firm- wide level, although there is not much room for customization by the end user. The reports typically contain a summary of the basic assumptions, a brief description of the results of the analysis, and numerical and graphical summaries. In some reports, we have also added explanatory text to address specific planning situations or techniques. Reports can be printed as standalone reports, or can be combined with reports from other modules, along with a title page and table of contents, to form a composite report.

VENDOR SUPPORT: As a young, growing company, netDecide has been flexible enough to respond to our requests. As an early adopter of the product, we have had significant input as to the future development of the program. Other potential vendors we met with were not as responsive to our requests as netDecide has been. Their size has sometimes led to resource constraints when it comes to fixes or enhancement requests, but they listen to us and take our suggestions to heart.

DOCUMENTATION: The primary documentation included in the program is a help file. This file can be accessed through a help menu, which includes a search function. Help on specific areas of the program can be accessed through hotlink buttons throughout the program. Navigating the program is fairly intuitive to anyone who is familiar with Web-based or Windows-based programs; however, when it comes to specific planning situations (i.e., a particular planning technique, where to enter specific items, etc.), a high-quality training program is important. The help documents currently in the program are more point-and- click based and aren't designed to address detailed financial planning questions.

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