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Need a financial plan? MoneyVista may be able to help – review

big problem with planning for your financial future is that it’s hard to imagine what it will look like. Occasionally we get glimpses: a quiet beach, a couple dressed in loose, white cotton, walking hand in hand – they should be in their late 60s but don’t look a day over 45. They’re happy, care-free, secure. The whole scene is bathed in a soft golden light.

There’s a dog…

Hang on, I’ve never owned a dog!

Oops, that’s the cover of a pension sales brochure – it’s not my retirement at all.

A new view: MoneyVista

MoneyVista is a free financial planning website that offers another way of looking at the future, through the lens of hard numbers and pastel coloured graphs.

It enables you to feed in your finances today and plot how that might look tomorrow, next year, a decade from now, when you retire, when you die…

MoneyVista fuses decent web design with various number-crunching tools to help you understand whether your goals can be met. And, if not, what you can do about it.

It’s a helpful, hand-holding experience of the kind that is increasingly replacing expensive human beings with a series of online prompts.

How does MoneyVista work?

You input a piece of your financial life at a time – income, expenses, savings, investments and so on – and by the time you’re done, MoneyVista has rearranged the puzzle into a picture that you can grasp.

In a sense, it solidifies the nagging questions that haunt the back of your mind. Can I pay my mortgage? When can I retire? What will my income be? The ‘what if?’ wraiths are dragged into the light and either banished or warded off with a financial prescription and some nice charts.

MoneyVista shows you what’s left of your life as an Alpine cross-section of peaks, plateaus and plunging valleys.

MoneyVista - your financial lifeline

It’s an odd experience to see the dip in the graph that marks your entire estate passing into the hands of your beloved – followed by the moment two years later when he or she doesn’t need it anymore either. (At least according to the life expectancy figures served by the software!)

From now till then you can account for all the other milestones of life:

  • Paying off the mortgage
  • The round the world trip
  • Retirement
  • Buying your own Lamborghini / Super yacht / Death Star

By telling Vista what you’ve got, what you’ll earn, how much you’ll put away and spend, it can compute the outcomes like some computer game Sim Wealth.

Playing with your future

If you don’t know where to start with your finances, then MoneyVista is an excellent base camp.

And if you’re already well on your way, then it’s a good staging post to help you take your bearings.

What if I change my retirement date? What if returns aren’t as good as I hope? If I want to travel the world, how far does that set back my other goals?

Your financial lifeline is shown in terms of your net income and your net assets (the green graph and the black dotted line in the pic above).

Goals show up as little pins – green means done by your target date, red equals falling short.

As your cursor traces your event horizon, little commentaries pop up to explain what’s happening:

In October 2038 the State starts to pay you a pension of £147 before tax.

It’s like a little text adventure game, although you definitely never want to go south.

Sections such as Insurance enable you plan for unpalatable scenarios like what happens if I die tomorrow? Would my existing protection policies and estate really secure Mrs Accumulator’s future income?

If not then how much would need to be diverted from other sources, and how much damage would that do to the master plan?

Actually, another possible benefit of using MoneyVista is that it’s a relatively user-friendly way of encapsulating your plans for the benefit of a partner who couldn’t give a fig for how it all works.

In your absence, your significant other could log in and get a coherent view of what you’ve stashed where and how it hangs together.

At a glance you can see:

  • Your net worth
  • How much you owe
  • How much you’ve put away
  • Whether you’re on track to hit your goals

Sound good?

Not so good

The downside is that MoneyVista is a lot of work to set up. It doesn’t ask for the keys to your data kingdom – unlike say mint.com – so there’s less fear of cyber mugging. But you do have to input all the data manually.

And MoneyVista wants to know everything. It’s a big picture-planning tool but it draws upon every pixel of your financial life.

It took me hours to type in bank account details, investment holdings, insurance policies and budget lines – and I already had everything recorded on spreadsheets. If you’re starting from scratch then I shudder to think.

No doubt some will find the internal examination cathartic and others will turn and flee, but at least MoneyVista’s ruthless rummaging is for a purpose. It’s comprehensive and finances are complicated.

Or – to put it another way – you don’t get something for nothing.

Speaking of which, as the website says: “Right now MoneyVista is completely free.”

Which implies that at some point in the future it won’t be. MoneyVista is owned by Royal London – a big financial services provider, especially in the pensions sector.

The maxim “If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product” seems apt here as you’re handing over a lot of data in exchange for a good planning tool. It must have taken a sizeable investment to produce something this detailed that doesn’t distress the eyes.

Personally I wouldn’t pay for it because it doesn’t replace the sheaf of spreadsheets and notes that currently document my financial plan.

  • MoneyVista doesn’t allow me to track the amount I spent in January versus February for example, so it won’t replace my budget spreadsheet.
  • It doesn’t show me how my investments performed last year versus the year before, so it won’t replace my portfolio tracker.
  • It doesn’t even tot up my savings and interest on a separate line – even though it obviously knows those numbers.

Every section left me wishing, “If only I could customise that bit,” or “If only it did that, this would be brilliant.”

And because MoneyVista shields you from its internal workings, it can be difficult to know how to fix a result that doesn’t make any sense. You can end up pulling levers at random rather than just popping open the top and rewiring the problem yourself.

Moreover, MoneyVista doesn’t save you the trouble of educating yourself. Just because it says you can pay your mortgage in 2031 doesn’t mean you will.

You need to know how to interpret the results, which built-in assumptions you should play with, and what you’re walking into if you choose an adventurous asset allocation. Automated answers aren’t a substitute for fully understanding those answers.

Try it

That said, the section on risk is one of MoneyVista’s strongest points. I’ve seen few portfolio comparisons more intuitive than its bald match up of the chances a balanced investor will suffer a 10%, 25%, or even a 50% loss versus the much higher odds of loss for an adventurous investor.

Meanwhile, it’s also fun to see how your expenditure compares to the rest of the country. It seems I spend 20% more on food than the UK average.

MoneyVista will email you when you need to take action, and it regularly sends me links to well-written and useful financial guides.

There’s a list of other features here.

The fact is that it’s the most powerful financial planning tool anyone’s ever offered me for free.

MoneyVista for nothing

MoneyVista is reasonably user-friendly and has something to offer novices and masters of the universe alike. If you would benefit from a single snapshot of your financial present and future then give it your time.

Take it steady,

The Accumulator

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{ 18 comments… add one }
  • 1 Fiona H April 27, 2014, 12:39 pm

    I love the idea but after 15 minutes on the MoneyVista site, I have already hit 3 major problems with the data entry options. It’s like a beta version with a lot still to be ironed out. So rather than set myself up for a day of frustration I’m going to give this one a miss for now and hope an improved version turns up later.

  • 2 dearieme April 27, 2014, 12:48 pm

    But, but, but: what about “Mr Accumulator has stroke and goes into care home” followed in due course by “Mrs A gets Alzheimer’s and ditto”? I’m at the age where prospects like these are the biggies – some ups-and-downs of shares don’t much matter by comparison, unless they provoke the third biggy: D’s final salary pension scheme goes belly-up and so he loses almost all the index-linking on that pension.

  • 3 dearieme April 27, 2014, 12:50 pm

    Where are my manners? Thank you, A, for that post.

  • 4 Ric April 27, 2014, 2:48 pm

    I feel that in some ways it is not until you have gone through the pain of building and maintaining your own financial model in spreadsheets that you can really understand how your own financial life works. Also, when you have your spreadsheets working, using them from month to month is very rewarding and motivating. I’d recommend this exercise to anyone who is spreadsheet literate, regardless of if they also use an industry web site such as the one reviewed. If fact if you are not spreadsheet literate, it is worth becoming so. The web site reviewed could still be valuable to provide a check & balance on your own spreadsheets, and to provide another opinion on your own assumptions.

    Thanks The Accumulator for the post, nicely written and informative as usual!

  • 5 Dylan April 27, 2014, 4:08 pm

    Is it just me or have they changed the website to Royal London Financial Planner?

  • 6 Jon April 27, 2014, 4:48 pm

    @Ric, good point. I only started tracking my expenses and investments since last year and it’s been a real eye opener. End of each month I go through expenses and investments and you can immediately see where you are over spending. Good to show to the wife & kids to keep them on course for my early FI plan. As you alluded, I look forward to the end of each month to review my status and count those lovely dividends and coupons. Don’t know why I didn’t start years ago. Thanks for the post TA but I feel my own spreadsheets are adequate for me.

  • 7 BeatTheSystem April 27, 2014, 7:27 pm

    Had a go, didn’t put detailed investments in just total pensions and equities and isa’s etc.

    Correlated with spreadsheet quite closely up until retirement age.

    Unfortunately there is one huge drawback, it assumes you will take an annuity at the chosen retirement age which thank god none of us have to now.

    Useful too for non excel experts.

  • 8 Jonathan April 27, 2014, 11:45 pm

    MoneyVista has an odd idea of one’s total net worth. Even though it can project defined-contribution pension plans forward into retirement income streams, so presumably could reverse that computation to give a current capital value for defined-benefit schemes, it doesn’t: the value of one’s defined-benefit pension plans is ignored when computing net worth.

    Even worse, to compute net worth, the site simply adds together pension fund values (that’s capital which has yet to be taxed) with savings and non-pension-fund investments (that’s post-income-tax capital). This is awful bookkeeping — pay £80 from an ISA into a pension fund (where it’ll get tax-relieved up to £100), and MoneyVista creates an extra £20 of networth out of thin air. Yuck.

  • 9 ermine April 28, 2014, 8:04 am

    Data and graphs are not the same as understanding and wisdom. This probably works great for TA because he has done it the hard way first, so it gives a useful heads-up if it agrees with his own computations at a high level.

    Sadly for someone who actually needs the function but doesn’t want to bother with the detail they’re at the mercy of the assumptions behind the tool. BTS and Jonathan have already found two whoppers!

    TANSTAAFL Understanding is bought at the cost of effort

  • 10 FreeDom April 28, 2014, 1:10 pm

    Fantastic site which I’ve only recently stumbled upon.

    I’ve read many inspiring stories from Financial Freedom Fighters (FFF) on this site and many of you have created Excel templates which you use to calculate and predict.

    Rather than rely on a corporate body to produce something and no doubt ultimate charge for or potentially “data mine”, would it not be very useful to pool the talent and create a Monevator Financial Review spreadsheet that could be filled out with dummy data.

    I appreciate that could involve a heap of work, but we all may be able to contribute in some small way to help us on the road to Financial Freedom.

  • 11 TrustyOven April 28, 2014, 5:55 pm

    Thanks for pointing out this website.

    It looks pretty and fancy, but has a number of bugs:

    – It doesn’t know that my OEIC funds are equity
    – seems to mix gross and net income figures
    – seems to make assumptions about pension being invested in my investments at retirement

    I may use it as a basis to setup my own spreadsheets in the next few weeks.

    (BTW, I discovered your blog 2 months ago and I must say, I really enjoy reading it and thanks very very much for posting and keeping the blog alive)

  • 12 Jonathan April 28, 2014, 9:16 pm

    How unfortunate. A day after you review the site, it gets the full rebranding to “Royal London Financial Planning”, and a watered-down colour scheme (the garishness of MoneyVista’s graphics was one its attractions).

    The URL http://www.moneyvista.com now redirects to https://planner.royallondon.com.

  • 13 The Investor April 28, 2014, 9:40 pm

    Indeed. Very frustrating!

  • 14 Luke April 29, 2014, 9:35 am

    With the exception of work shirts, I don’t think that I’ve worn white cotton once in my life, far too easy to spill sauce on it! 😀

    While I appreciate the review of what sounds like a useful tool for some, I very much go with the apparent consenus that understanding your own finances and ‘owning’ your own tools is essential.

    That said, I’m light on spreadsheets, can’t have more than 2-3. As long as we have a budget, I save something every day, the bank balances go ever upwards and we pay into our pensions….

  • 15 Soti April 29, 2014, 4:24 pm

    Excellent post. I’m tempted but am a dab hand at excel & have created my own bespoke sheets. I’d hate not to be able to configure exactly what i wanted.

  • 16 Cowboy April 30, 2014, 8:09 am

    I am with Soti on this one, and as I know Excel very well it allows for fine grained control over my calculations. I can also look at optimistic vs pessimistic assumptions, impacts of unexpected withdrawal/windfall and any other wrinkle I can imagine. It helps to work in IT, but the best Excel person I know just works in an accounts team as the bottom of the ladder process guy…

  • 17 The Accumulator May 1, 2014, 6:56 pm

    @ Jonathan – Can you explain the point about net worth a little more for me? I might not have understood what you’re saying correctly or don’t know enough about bookkeeping but when it comes to defined contribution pensions as part of net worth, I thought they were treated as assets without any deduction made for any tax rate you may or may not pay in the future i.e. the value of my assets is known today but my future income is not.

    @ All – the bulk of these comments would suggest that most of Monevator’s readers are clued up spreadsheet jockeys who enjoy managing their finances and aren’t going to sub-contract to any pretty app. No surprise there. Still, I think this tool, or something like it, could set many novices on the right road as long as you don’t treat it as a driverless car.

  • 18 The Investor May 1, 2014, 9:51 pm

    @The Accumulator — I’d say the bulk of the comments suggest that the bulk of the *commentators” are spreadsheet ninjas. 🙂 Several hundred times more people have read your piece than have commented on it.

    The irony of writing passive articles is I suspect the bulk of your natural constituency is a silent majority!

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