Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Veritat Advisors: A Customer's Review - Part I: Trial and Free Assessment

"There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know." - Donald Rumsfeld
I've slowly come to realize that, in regards to my finances, I have no idea what I'm doing. Yes, I scrimp and save. Yes, I max out the company match on my 401k. But beyond the basics, I have many questions. Worse yet, the more I learn the more I realize that I know nothing.

So I seek advice. And after a long, grueling internet search for local financial advisors, contemplation about fee-only advisors and advisors from an investment house, and the idea to just ask on some intelligent financial forums, I decided to try the online firm Veritat Advisors.

I'm wary, though. While there are many articles covering Veritat's introduction to the internet, I was hard-pressed to find many reviews by actual customers*.

Veritat had piqued my curiosity, though, and the initial financial review, at $250, wasn't going to break the bank. So I decided to give them a shot and write about my experience as a paying customer. So, without further ado, part one of my review of Veritat Advisors:

14 Day Free Trial

Veritat asks a few simple questions before setting up
your free, introductory financial assessment, covering
goals, income, assets and investment experience.
If you don't write a lot in the free text boxes it's
probably a 5 minute exercise. 
Veritat welcomes potential customers with a 14 Day Free Trial. This is a time for the user to get acquainted with their website, submit some extremely basic financial information, pick an advisor and set up a 15-minute call to discuss the financial assessment they created based on that basic financial information.

The Website

There's not a lot of complexity to Veritat's website, and that's a good thing. The sections are broken down into Messaging, Tasks, Vault (which is a place for you to receive documents from your advisor and upload documents to your advisor), Fact Finder (where you'll add all of your financial information), and the Learning Center.

During the free trial, the most interesting thing you can do is to browse Veritat's Learning Center. I was pleasantly surprised by the documents there. They struck me as easy-to-understand jumping-off points for the topics they covered. They are organized both by topic and by life event. Covered topics include things like "How Much Life Insurance Do You Need" and "Alternatives to Using Long-Term Care Insurance." Covered sections include "Starting A Family"and "Caring For An Aging Parent." The articles here aren't particularly deep discussions of the topic, but I think many people will be able to find some good helpful hints in this section.

Financial Assessment

During your initial account setup, you'll be asked some basic financial questions in preparation for your free 15-minute financial assessment. If you're like me, warning bells go off when you read about the 15-minute financial assessment after entering only very limited information. It sure sounds like it's going to be a sales call.

I was actually pleasantly surprised. While the financial assessment document was not useful in itself, it was a good jumping-off point for a conversation about what sort of advice I was looking for and what the company offers. I was pleased with the conversation with my financial advisor and, more importantly, I felt like he was completely open about the scope of their services. When I asked about options beyond Veritat's scope of service there was no hemming or hawing. I was informed that they wouldn't be much help with those questions and, in some cases, I was guided to a better source to answer my questions.

The meat of the Financial Assessment. 
Before your financial assessment begins you'll get a financial assessment document. There's a fair bit of marketing in the assessment, with the only real meat being a quick overview of your status for a few key goals, like Retirement, Investments, Education and Insurance.

Honestly I would have liked to see Veritat go farther with the assessment. Obviously they can't make amazing judgements based off of the limited information they collect during the free trial period, but I would think that they could do a quick "you might benefit from..." or "you might try to avoid..." section. These sections could be personalized to discuss some of the common pitfalls people encounter while striving to achieve the goals the client picked during the assessment.

The Story So Far

After the free assessment I had a choice to make: did I want to pay Veritat to develop a full financial plan or did I want to be done with them? I was still curious and satisfied enough with my initial conversation with them that I decided to move forward and purchase the Financial Plan (a one-time cost of $250.) In Part II, I'll write about the process of coming up with a Financial Plan, including entering data into the Fact Finder, the Financial Plan I received, and the Execution Plan I've been asked to follow.

My summary of the free trial:

The Good

  • Learning Center documents are helpful overviews of financial topics.
  • The initial conversation with my advisor was direct and honest when he talked about what Veritat could and couldn't do for me.

The Bad

  • The free Financial Assessment document seems like a waste of time. I'm certain they could do something better, even with the limited information they have.

The Ugly

  • That worry that you're going to spend 15 minutes getting a hard sell.

*: I was able to find these reviews but, frankly, they hit on too many of Veritat's marketing points for me to trust. And this Go Girl Finance review gives a bit more information but is still marred by the free financial plan they received and their advertising relationship with Veritat.

Update: As I've been writing this review, Veritat has announced that they are being bought by NestWise LLC, a subsidiary of LPL Financial Holdings Inc. There's not a lot of information available, yet, on what will change along with the ownership, but in a letter sent to customers today we were informed that service will continue and our financial advisor will remain the same.

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