Insurance

Living Balance Sheet: A Review

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Living Balance Sheet® is a financial planning platform created by the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.  Guardian makes the software exclusively available to its career salesforce.  Living Balance Sheet purports to help both individuals and business owners organize their financial lives, uncover uncommon knowledge, and provide correct advice that traditional financial planning often gets wrong.

The Living Balance Sheet platform borrows several ideas from other insurance-focused planning software such as Leap Systems and Circle of Wealth.  Built on the eMoney Platform, the software does provide a comprehensive aggregation of financial data as well as modeling for future scenarios.

Providing Mission Control for your Finances

Living Balance Sheet offers a one-stop master location to review your entire finances from a zoomed-out perspective.  Together with your Guardian agent, you can populate a personalized account that will give you a running tally of your assets and liabilities.  You can access this information from anywhere at any time via the internet.  There’s even a Living Balance Sheet app available to at least iPhone users–though it hasn’t been updated in several years.

While a financial picture aggregator may not seem like a huge deal in today’s environment of planning services that do much of the same thing, Living Balance Sheet was in a small collection of options over a decade ago when Guardian first rolled it out.

This feature also allows you to store digital copies of important documents with arguably higher security than placing such documents in a more widely used cloud filing system like DropBox or Google Drive.

Lastly, the system intentionally prohibits transactions to/from your financial accounts.  This ensures that if anyone gained unauthorized access to your account, he/she cannot process any transactions with the accounts listed.

The Right Advice

While Living Balance Sheet is planning software, it’s also a sales tool Guardian agents use to support their brand of financial planning.  This brad is heavily skewed to favor life insurance, and more specifically whole life insurance.  Living Balance Sheet comes loaded with several “modules” designed to help Guardian agents explain their philosophy of a “protection first” financial plan, which uses a lot of graphical stories to cast doubt on more traditional/mainstream financial advice.

If you are going to work with a Guardian agent who uses Living Balance Sheet you are likely going to sit through hours of presentations designed to warm you up to whole life insurance as a major component of your financial plan.  You can certainly use the software without this, but given the fact that Guardian agents are the gatekeeper to accessing the software, be ready for a lengthy sales pitch.

This isn’t to suggest that it’s necessarily bad advice.  The software definitely helps create budgets, seek out tax efficiency opportunities, and model retirement income scenarios to give you a better picture of where you are and where you are going.  And it is a much more comprehensive guide than simply deferring an arbitrary percentage of your income to your 401(k) et. al.

Uncommon Knowledge

Years ago, Guardian launched a website and created several marketing materials focusing on what it claimed were unique discoveries it made studying the retirement planning landscape.  The company also commissioned a study by insurance consultant Dick Weber, and put together a web site dedicated to talking about life insurance as an asset class–the web site now just directs you to a page on the Guardian Life main site that tells you the site is not available at this time.

The “uncommon” knowledge that Guardian talked about held many similarities to the ideas originally organized and discussed in Bob Castiglione’s Lifetime Economic Acceleration Process (LEAP).  Again, a paradigm that seeks to build the case for why cash value life insurance should play a major role in someone’s financial plan.

While some of this advice is at least worth a listen, it’s healthy to approach it with a touch of skepticism.  I’m not…repeat…NOT saying it’s all bad.  It’s just skewed in a direction that places a lot of importance on whole-life-insurance-friendly constructs that may…at times…over emphasize cash value life insurance as the knight in shining armor.

Living Balance Sheet Pros and Cons

Having access to a financial aggregator that syncs your account balances across multiple banks, brokerage firms, etc. definitely helps capture your overall financial picture.  Putting this up against equally synced debts to arrive at your actual balance sheet at any given moment provides a unique insight that would benefit a large segment of the population.  Having this sort of data at the ready on any given day of the week potentially helps a lot of people make informed decisions by reviewing their entire financial lives while on-the-go and guides decision-making that many of us are likely more in the dark about than we care to admit.  Attempting to put this all together is a herculean task and LBS deserves serious kudos for tackling this objective.

The Living Balance Sheet also deserves high marks for its ability to allow advisors and clients to review scenarios and strategize on plans to build a more secure financial future.  The platform additionally deserves praise for being one of the most comprehensive resources assisting agents to explain the benefits of cash value life insurance.

But the software hasn’t aged all that well and what once stood out as an industry-leading technology now gets lost in the crowd of options that certainly caught up to many of the features LBS exclusively boasted at one time.  While a mobile app technically exists, it hasn’t been updated in three years and several reviews mention it pales considerably in comparison to the desktop web version of the software.  Here’s a screenshot of the version history from the Apple App Store as of the writing of this blog post:

Is Access to LBS Worth it?

In order to have access to Living Balance Sheet, you must work with a Guardian Life Insurance Company agent.  The software is not available to licensed investment or insurance professionals who are not career sales agents of the company.  This means if you make use of this software, you’ll likely face a lot of pressure to buy life insurance from Guardian Life through the agent who provides you planning through LBS.

This may or may not be a great option for you.  While Living Balance Sheet does provide a number of useful features to help you organize your financial life, it is by no means the only software that can accomplish similar goals.  You can actually get very similar functionality (sans the focus on whole life insurance) through any financial planner who uses eMoney’s financial planning software.

And there are many other financial planning software options that came about after the launch of the Living Balance Sheet that handles similar or in some cases much more comprehensive planning features than LBS.

So if you find a good fit with a Guardian agent and you happen to like the feature of the Living Balance Sheet, by all means, use it for all its worth.  But you’ll likely find you can live without it if you choose to buy insurance elsewhere or work with a different financial planner.

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