Financial planning software is coming to bank branches -- fast.

Banks and their mutual fund suppliers are rolling out new computer software programs to help customers plan their financial future.

In just the past few weeks, both SEI Corp. and Invest Financial Corp. have introduced interactive software. Last month, Huntington Bancshares brought out its own program, and Banc One will roll out one this summer.

"People are walking out of banks that don't have investment planning tools," said Stephen Michael Johnson, an assistant product manager at Fidelity Investments Institutional Services Co. "If you're not part of the steamroller, you're part of the street."

Two hundred banks have signed up to use Invest's "Financial Horizons Toolkit" program, according to Lynn Smelt, Invest's vice president of financial planning.

Potential to Boost Fee Income

One attraction: by enabling banks to see where customers' assets lie, the programs can help banks win business and boost fee income dramatically.

The programs are quite new on the banking scene, said Richard Ayotte, senior partner with American Brokerage Consultants Inc., a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based company that advises banks about investment programs. A year ago, few banks saw financial planning software as an important part of their investment marketing programs, he said.

He warned that banks should carefully evaluate any software before introducing it to customers. Some programs might tilt toward specific products and not adequately reflect the bank's philosophy or needs, he said.

Still, good programs are on the market, which means banks don't need to spend the time and expense to develop their own, Mr. Ayotte said. He doesn't rate these programs for bank clients.

New SEI Program

One program that has just been unveiled is SEI's "Assist," which can be run on mos desk-top computers.

Investors and their investment representatives work through the program together to identify financial targets and see whether they would be achieved under different investment scenarios, said Jack May, marketing manager for the Wayne, Pa. company.

The program can produce color charts and graphs to help illustrate the results of various investment strategies, Mr. May said.

Indeed, one big trend in the software programs is toward strong graphics, said Fidelity's Mr. Johnson. Some Fidelity clients, including 70 banks, have been using its Phase I asset-allocation program since July.

In September, Fidelity will introduce a Phase II program, with enhanced graphics, for affluent clients with sophisticated planning needs

Trading System

The next big development in the industry will be the ability to complete trades from asset allocation programs immediately after the financial plan is generated, Mr. Johnson said. Fidelity expects to complete such a system in about 18 months.

Banc One will be weighing in with a program around Aug. 1 developed by the Economic and Investment Institute in St. Petersburg.

Whatever the program, financial planning with the client is important to generating business, bankers and mutual fund executives say.

"If you don't sit down with the client, you're really going to miss the boat," Mr. Johnson said.

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