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Slew of apps gives consumers far more power over finances

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Technology has allowed investors to take control of their finances as never before. However, as Manoa Valley-based J.R. Robinson, owner of Financial Planning Hawaii and founder of Nest Egg Guru, told me, technology has disrupted the personal finance space in ways that we never could have foreseen. For example, the consumer is no longer a captive of “experts.” Nowadays, armed with knowledge, there’s no excuse not to be engaged in the planning process.

He offered some specific examples of disruptive technologies or applications that are making life easier for investors. Here are some of his favorites and one of mine:

Take advantage of your smartphone’s apps. You can do much more than simply check your Schwab account. It allows you to take on most every financial task, from bill-paying to deposits to purchases to borrowing and lending to investing. This hand-held device is often the command center for all consumer finance activities.

Aggregation software, such as Intuit’s, allows users to link bank accounts, investment accounts, credit cards, insurance policies and 401(k)s. This gives users a 360-degree view, thus making it easier to organize, monitor and maintain one’s financial plan. It’s great for DIY planning and includes budgeting and bill-payment functionality, investment tracking, alerts and even free credit scores. Robinson gives it four stars for its ability to make connections with virtually any financial institution.

Password management software solves the problem of organizing the plethora of usernames and passwords we have to deal with. Given the dangers inherent in online transactions, particularly when it comes to your finances, Robinson says it makes sense for financial planners to offer password management apps to clients. Why? The planner’s website is often the hub of their clients’ financial plans.

Fitness watches might seem entirely unrelated to consumer finance, but Robinson is convinced that medical and long-term care expenses are among the greatest threats to financial security in retirement. His solution is to make his clients, at the very least, aware of how important improvements to diet, fitness and sleep are to one’s overall well-being. Robinson is convinced that lifestyle is key to dramatically reducing the incidence of chronic disease such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia and other age-related ailments. Leading players in this space include Apple, Fitbit and Garmin, but there are others as well. Robinson noted that some insurance companies are even providing free fitness watches to policyholders and providing premium discounts for certain levels of activity that are recorded on the devices.

Acorns is both a micro-savings app and an automated trading platform (aka “robo-adviser”). You link a credit card or a bank account, and each time a transaction is made, the app automatically takes the amount needed and rounds it up to the nearest dollar. It then invests it in a diversified exchange-traded fund model portfolio. The cost is just $1 per month or 0.25 percent per year for balances over $5,000. Robinson thinks it’s a great way to get your kids engaged in saving and investing. For those who are charitably inclined, there are micro-savings apps that, instead of investing rounded-up amounts, allocate the “spare change” to the user’s cause of choice. Apps in this space include Bstow, Drops and Coin Up.

My choice in this category is an app from big financial publisher Morningstar called X-Ray, which allows you to target your portfolio’s strengths and weaknesses. It offers an instant analysis of your portfolio, including its asset allocation, exposure to different investment styles, geographic regions and sectors. Thus, if you’re too heavily invested or underinvested in a particular segment, you’ll at least get some guidance. It also will help you with financial planning by determining how well your holdings and expenses are adding up to meet your financial goals. The basic version is free, but you’ll have to pay for the advanced tool for more detailed analysis.

Mike Meyer, formerly internet general manager at Oceanic Time Warner Cable, is now chief information officer at Honolulu Community College. Reach him at

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