My New Year’s resolutions often go something like this. First, I promise to lose the few extra pounds I’ve put on. That’s followed by a vow to improve my finances. These days, that means monitoring my own savings habits or making an appointment with a financial planner. But this year, for everyone resolving to do better with their money, there’s another option. That option is a new robo-planning service that’s simple, quick and affordable while also being customized to answer your specific financial questions.
This past fall, that new option started to be offered by Rona Birenbaum, and Seyon Vasantharajan. Robo-planner site Viviplan.com offers to answer your personal finance questions—and it’s all done online, with no push to buy financial investments of any kind. “I think it’s a business model that will appeal to people since it complements robo-advisor investment services,” says Birenbaum, a certified financial planner who founded the firm Caring for Clients almost two decades ago.
Viviplan lets you answer a series of questions about your money goals and questions, allowing the advice to be customized to personal financial planning experience. “We thought millennials would like this approach because they’re comfortable with technology and often ignored by the financial industry, often because they don’t have the net worth to get more personalized service,” says Birenbaum.
The Viviplan site gives a good overview of the services provided, timelines for answers and costs, but in general, the robo-planner will supply answers for everything from basic questions that require a brief answer, to writing up a complete financial plan that lists several steps and extra details. “It all starts with goal-setting,” says Birenbaum. “The service then answers questions and give details based on these goals. For instance, do you have insurance or wills? Have you filled in a Know-Your-Client form? And do you understand risk and return? We can help with all of these.”
The best part? “You get solid financial-planning advice without needing to deal with a salesperson who sells investment products in order to get that advice,” says Birenbaum.
Costs are reasonable. For $500 you can get an online financial report that addresses two major financial decisions you’re interested in—plus a half hour phone call where you can discuss the final plan (or advice) and ask any questions you may have about its contents. For a little more ($800 or so) you can get a complete financial plan—a service that often costs between $1,500 to $4,500 at most full-service planners for traditional plans done face-to-face with a fee-for-service planner, often in their office. “Viviplan is customized financial planning and much more convenient because you can do it from the comfort of your own living room,” says Birenbaum.
There have been some surprises. At first, Birenbaum expected that the $500 “standard plan” would be the most popular, but most of the clients so far have opted for the comprehensive $800 plan. “And many of our first clients are already asking how they can update it,” says Birenbaum. “The original financial plan is just a moment in time and many would like to know how they can pivot when things change.” Because of that, Birenbaum is considering giving monthly subscriptions to motivate them to stay on the track with their finances.
Expect an answer to your financial question or plan request in two to three weeks, a wait time Viviplan is aiming to reduce to two to three days. You don’t have to live in Toronto or the vicinity to use the service. You can get a fast, individualized answer to your financial questions as well as direction on financial planning goals for a modest cost—no matter what province you reside in.