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Thoughts on TMF Money Advisor

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By TMFCheeze
September 6, 2001

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Hi Everyone.

I thought I'd offer my thoughts on the ongoing discussions of TMF Money Advisor now that the Community has had a day or so to look at it, absorb this new idea, and, perhaps, even to consider buying it. I think the thing that excites me most is how much genuine interest there is in this product -- the only major complaint we've had is that we haven't gotten information about it to you fast enough. This post is an attempt to address that, and some other general issues, and I hope you'll indulge me as I speak at some length about it. Given the level of interest we've seen on a variety of boards here, I'm guessing that you'll welcome my attempts to bring you some more information and consideration to these issues. Some of what I'm going to say has already been repeated elsewhere, but at this point I think it's important to be comprehensive, and to address as many of the issues raised in one place as we can.

First, and perhaps most important, is the question I've seen raised asking whether TMF Money Advisor represents a departure from the bedrock tenet of Fooldom that people should make their own financial decisions. We are, after all, offering advice in exchange for money. Does this mean that the Fool is turning Wise? Are we abandoning our ideals in order to chase a dollar?

That's an excellent question, one I'm in fact pleased to see raised, because it strikes at the heart of The Motley Fool's mission not only as a company, but as a social force. The fact that this question has been raised means that people are thinking for themselves. To ask that question is to behave Foolishly because in asking that question you are recognizing that you, and you alone, are ultimately responsible for the financial choices you make. From the beginning of Folly we have told you that the best person to manage your own money is you, and that still stands. TMF Money Advisor is designed to reinforce that ideal. Our job is to provide you with tools that make your own efforts to manage your own money easier, and to help you make your financial decisions with greater confidence, and with greater prospects for success.

TMF Money Advisor is all about increasing your command over your own finances. It's about giving you an array of resources that clarify and direct your thinking so that the choices you make in managing your money can be achieved rationally and carefully. The better we are at providing you with these kinds of tools, the better we are going to do as a company. If you will click on my screen name above this post, and check out the quote in my profile, you will see that this is exactly the vision I see for this company:

Every human being on the planet in command of his or her own financial life, using The Motley Fool as their primary guide and resource.

Now that is going to be a world truly worth living in. I think TMF Money Advisor is the biggest step we've ever taken in that direction.

A lot of questions are being asked for clarification on the various aspects of TMF Money Advisor membership. I think that we have WAY underestimated the amount of interest people would have in the details of this package, and I want to apologize for not having the most comprehensive information available to you sooner. The two aspects of membership that are drawing the most questions are the DirectAdvice online financial planning tool, and the telephone access to Ayco's financial advisors. Let me talk about each company a bit.

DirectAdvice's main business is providing just the sort of service that we are offering you as a Money Advisor member. What you get with their service is access to a comprehensive online financial planning tool, which you'll access online via your web browser. You are asked a series of questions which explore your financial situation in detail: your income, your assets, your goals, your obligations -- and brings them together in a comprehensive analysis that tells you what you need to do to reach your goals and how likely you are to achieve them, given your current resources and behavior. I've tried these tools myself, and I'm very impressed with the analysis it gives -- in fact, the results are so comprehensive that I'm going to have to set aside some time to absorb and digest them. In other words, you are really getting an extensive consultation with this service. DirectAdvice charges $75 per year to individuals who sign up for it on their own, so in your own calculations, when you add up the value of what TMF Money Advisor Membership would mean to you, take that number into consideration.

People have been asking for screen shots of the Direct Advice tool so that they can have a better idea of what it offers and how it works -- I'm told that we're working on bringing that to you as quickly as we can. As for a demo version of this software, that's something that's quite a bit harder to do, especially in a way that really demonstrates its capabilities in a secure and meaningful way. Instead, let me direct you to the FAQ page.

Just look to the bottom of the field and you'll see a link that says "TMF Money Advisor FAQ."

We'll also be bringing you a link to the User's Guide as quickly as we can -- this will give you a broader idea of how the DirectAdvice tools are going to work.

A lot of people have had questions about the telephone access to Ayco's financial advisors that is also offered as a TMF Money Advisor member benefit. There have been questions about who Ayco is and the nature of the service. I'll try to address some of those issues here, and also refer you again to the FAQ page, which has been expanded to help answer these kinds of questions.

Frankly, I'm surprised that Ayco isn't more of a household name. It's a company that has been around for decades, providing financial advice to the employees of dozens of Fortune 500 companies. Their clients, to date, have mostly been corporate, which means that employers typically offer the Ayco Answer Line as a benefit to their employees, brought to them as an element in their employee benefit packages. If you were an employee of a company that is a client of Ayco's, you could call their Answer Line and get answers to your questions about a variety of personal finance issues, including all of those we've been promoting along with TMF Money Advisor. Because of the volume of members an employer can bring to Ayco at once, Ayco is able to sell that service at a price that is lower than individuals would be able to obtain on their own. The Motley Fool, essentially, is acting as an agent to bring Ayco's services to the general public, and that's why we're able to deliver this package to you at such a low price.

There has been some apprehension about the 4-hour time limit to these services. Users should know that Ayco, in their decades of experience in serving these kinds of clients, have assured us that this is enough time to serve the vast majority of the clients who call their Answer Line. Moreover, be assured that the people who answer the phones at Ayco work efficiently -- they know how to get you the answers you need and deliver them to you in a way that will help you maximize the value you get from the period of your consultations. The needs of those members who reach the 4-hour limit will be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Ayco advisors will not make stock picks for you, and the final decisions about your money management will still fall on your own shoulders, exactly where they should be, Foolishly. I do hope that that is well understood -- TMF Money Advisor is an advisory service, designed, again, to put YOU in greater command of your financial life. That is what we are selling here, and for $149 per year, I think we are obligated to be very clear about the value proposition we are bringing to you.

I'm guessing that most people who decide to buy a membership in TMF Money Advisor will make their decision based on these two aspects of the service. I could be wrong on that count -- for a lot of people, getting something like $240 worth of seminars for $149 might be enough reason to become a TMF MA member all by itself. The point is, ultimately all of you will have to find your own reasons for deciding to become a member. For the complete package, though, I'm not at all surprised at the degree of interest that has been expressed, and I do hope that this post has made things a bit clearer for those who are considering this product.

Please let us know if you have more questions. We'll do our best to answer them.