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Professional Assistance Reccomendation
Old 07-20-2017, 08:36 AM   #1
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Professional Assistance Reccomendation

Wasn't sure where to post this. I trust the mods will move it if it belongs elsewhere.

So I have built a fairly sophisticated/complex/robust Excel Spreadsheet that details a year-by-year, account-by-account ER plan.

While I built it, my professional planner from Prudential spent many hours sitting with me and assisting on the strategy. He is not Excel capable.

I think I have it nailed as well as possible, but would now like to hire a 3rd party to review my work (strategy, assumptions and mechanics of the spreadsheet).

I have checked with about a half dozen firms on my request. Some said no way right off the bat. Others took a meeting with me but then once they understood the ask, declined. One firm said they might have someone who could help me. I am waiting to hear back from them, but am not optimistic.

I'm surprised how all these pros all basically rely on proprietary software (with limited flexibility/capability) for their work.

Wondering if anyone knows of any pros who might be willing to take on what I described.

I am live in Eastern PA but work in North Jersey, but would think that the pro could be anywhere.

Thanks in advance for any recommendations.
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Old 07-20-2017, 09:02 AM   #2
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I think the reason you're getting turned down is the potential liability associated with your request. Every cell would have to be carefully reviewed, since even one erroneous entry could invalidate the results of your entire spreadsheet. The time involved for a person billing his or her time at hundreds of dollars per hour likely wouldn't be something you'd want to pay for.

How about entering your data into Firecalc and/or Fidelity's Retirement Income Planner tool? That could give you some comfort. Or if you really want an opinion from a person, I'm sure most financial planners would be happy to run your data through a model they trust and review results with you.
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Professional Assistance Reccomendation
Old 07-20-2017, 09:35 AM   #3
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Professional Assistance Reccomendation

I agree. I think the big firms have liability concerns. Paranoia. But also seems like a lack of Excel capability.

I'm willing to pay, but of course we all have our financial limits. Was thinking/hoping it would cost me around around $1K.

Have already used FIREcalc and similar tools, but none offer the level of flexibility I need. Also looking for strategy to be reviewed, not just the Excel validation.

Thanks.
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Old 07-20-2017, 09:56 AM   #4
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I am surprised someone from a big firm, like Prudential, got involved with it in the first place. I doubt they are supposed to do that.
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Old 07-20-2017, 10:03 AM   #5
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You might have better luck if you looked for a Registered Investment Advisor who would be willing to do a plan for you based on your financial situation and future needs. This would give you a completely independent view of your situation and might be very enlightening. Or, it might just ratify your current approach.

Remember, too, that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. IMO the value of spreadsheet exercises is in doing them/thinking through the issues. At that point most of the benefit has happened and the thing can go into the trash. A year into retirement it will be trash anyway.

Look for someone who is Series 65 or Series 66 licensed. These people are legally fiduciaries and are not permitted to be paid for selling you stuff. CFAs are also bound by their CFP contracts to act as fiduciaries but it is a private deal with no legal teeth. Since CFPs can work for sales-commission-paying organizations like the various storefront retail brokers I am skeptical. A CFP on top of a Series 65/66 would be fine IMO.

Finally, I would be a little skeptical that Prudential would create an unbiased plan. They seem to be in the news every year or so being sued for breach of fiduciary duty or annuities issues and, from poking around the web, compensation appears to be commission-based. You can check your Pru guy's credentials here: https://brokercheck.finra.org/
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Old 07-20-2017, 10:10 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by ivanl3 View Post
I agree. I think the big firms have liability concerns. Paranoia. But also seems like a lack of Excel capability.

I'm willing to pay, but of course we all have our financial limits. Was thinking/hoping it would cost me around around $1K.

Have already used FIREcalc and similar tools, but none offer the level of flexibility I need. Also looking for strategy to be reviewed, not just the Excel validation.

Thanks.
You are re-inventing the wheel. And $1K is only going to get you ~ 10 hours of a pro's time (edit: or more likely 5 hours, as cathy63 posted later, I was being overly rounding-off-happy ). You need someone fluent in Excel and fluent in financial planning. While those should go together, I bet the financial planners are relying on their companies pre-packaged tools, and really aren't all that familiar with some complex formulas in Excel.

And it takes time to understand what someone else has done. It is often easier to start from scratch. Ten hours won't go far.

That said, I do use spreadsheets to do some validation on my own. I keep them simple, or at least focused so they aren't both complex and wide-reaching. I've done some 'gut check' sheets, just assuming my portfolio does nothing but keep up with inflation, keeps it simple. The only adjustment I need is to 'deflate' my non-COLA pension. Sometimes I do this in 5 or 10 year steps, then adjust for xyz, and look at the next 5-10 years, so I don't have a lot of complex adjustments. Like take the time before I collect SS, then the time after, etc.

Bottom line, no, I don't think you will find anyone who can do this to the level of really checking every formula and assumption for anywhere near $1K. Nor should you.

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Old 07-20-2017, 10:14 AM   #7
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WADR - what are the odds you've developed an Excel spreadsheet that's more "sophisticated/complex/robust" than anyone in academia or the financial services sector who have millions in resources? I am NOT saying the odds are zero, but...

A few Bogleheads have attempted it, and even shared their unprotected spreadsheets for free.

And what would a skilled 3rd party stand to gain by reviewing your work? If you find someone truly capable, it would cost you a small fortune.

Your Excel and financial skills are probably better than mine, though mine are at least above average. I have a pretty complex spreadsheet I use to track our asset allocation and performance. I have another that tracks our budgets and spending with lots of output (pivot) tables and graphs. And there are several others. A few years ago I attempted to build one spreadsheet to track our retirement spending that included our income with returns from our taxable and TIRAs and Soc Sec and outflows in spending, federal and local taxes, RMD's, etc. It was exciting/rewarding at first. There are a myriad of assumptions and all the inter-dependencies are mind boggling, some iterative. Modeling the Soc Sec tax torpedo or the Roth conversion decision tree alone is tough enough. After a few weeks I concluded it was beyond my perseverance or abilities - or both.
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Old 07-20-2017, 10:18 AM   #8
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Some one like yourself needing 190K a year in retirement is probably beyond their scope. They want a guy like me who thinks he is rich living on 50 grand.
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Old 07-20-2017, 10:24 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by ivanl3 View Post
I agree. I think the big firms have liability concerns. Paranoia. But also seems like a lack of Excel capability.

I'm willing to pay, but of course we all have our financial limits. Was thinking/hoping it would cost me around around $1K.

Have already used FIREcalc and similar tools, but none offer the level of flexibility I need. Also looking for strategy to be reviewed, not just the Excel validation.

Thanks.
First of all, at ~$200/hr, you're only buying 5 hours of time. I'm an Excel expert (I occasionally make money writing MS Office apps), and I wouldn't be able to analyze something I would describe as a "fairly sophisticated/complex/robust Excel Spreadsheet that details a year-by-year, account-by-account ER plan" in anything like 5 hours. Depending on how many accounts/tabs/formulas/macros, I'd think that's more like 40 to 80 hours of work.

Secondly, you're looking for a skill set that probably doesn't exist. You are looking for a professional financial adviser who is also an experienced software engineer skilled at reverse engineering.

If you raise your expected cost to more like $10K and post on upwork.com, you might get a hit there. It's not likely that you'll get a CFP, but you may get someone like a tax accountant/engineer who could check your work for errors and maybe give you some recommendations for improvement.
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Old 07-20-2017, 11:11 AM   #10
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Thanks for the thoughts....
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Old 07-20-2017, 11:22 PM   #11
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Investment advisers don't provide software engineering. Their E&O does not cover that. A software engineer cannot validate the financial assumptions. Their E&O does not cover that. Anyone using excel at an advanced level can identify pitfalls for you.
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Old 07-21-2017, 12:15 AM   #12
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Boss and I built an Excel spread sheet - quite complicated - to handle some data that each of our project reports needed to have. It seemed to work well for several weeks and then I caught it doing something really funky. Couldn't figure it out so the boss looked at it. Took about 15 hours of his time and maybe 5 of mine to find a simple error that only cropped up in a relatively bizarre situation. We almost scrapped the whole thing for fear there might be another pitfall someplace. We checked it 6 ways from Sunday and finally decided to just keep an eye on it and do some occasional spot checking. Never found another bug, and then I FIRE'd. YEAH! YMMV
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Old 07-21-2017, 12:16 AM   #13
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I think OldShooter had good suggestions re looking for third party validation. Nothing wrong with getting an additional view re your strategy and assumptions to ensure you haven't missed anything significant. Just don't expect them to validate your spreadsheet.
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Old 07-21-2017, 12:51 AM   #14
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Was referred to a fee only based fiduciary who is both a CFP and EA in NYC area. Spoke with her for about 45 minutes over-the-phone. Explained what I was looking for....She claims she is also an expert level Excel user. Sounded to me like she is...

She said that she would consider the job but wanted to take a cursory look at my work and then confirm/decline her interest in the job. She would also get me a quote at that point too.

I will get her my work over the weekend. She will get back to me next week. She could not start the actual project for a month or so.

Sounds promising, but we will see.

Thanks again for the comments....
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Old 07-21-2017, 12:52 AM   #15
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Good luck! Sounds like you may have a solution.
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Old 07-21-2017, 03:59 AM   #16
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Sounds like you're trying to go 9 decimals out under 10 different scenarios for several years. (An engineer with a minor in accounting?)

As anyone on this forum will attest, no matter how sophisticated your planning is, retirement just doesn't work that way or that predictably.

I started out myself with hundreds of pages of Excel sheets. Finally created a one page sheet that looks out for a one year period at a time. The tab next to it is titled "Roll With It" and it's empty.
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Old 07-21-2017, 05:11 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by ivanl3 View Post
So I have built a fairly sophisticated/complex/robust Excel Spreadsheet that details a year-by-year, account-by-account ER plan.

I think I have it nailed as well as possible, but would now like to hire a 3rd party to review my work (strategy, assumptions and mechanics of the spreadsheet).
You are looking in all the wrong places.

Post the task on a project-based freelancer's forum like upWork.

Or, post it here and you'll get hundreds (thousands) or people looking at your request and likely a few looking at your spreadsheet for free.
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Old 07-21-2017, 06:48 AM   #18
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Well aware that the plan will change daily once I pull the trigger. Not a reason not to have one though.

Monumental decision to be made.

It's worth the time and money to be as confident as possible before pulling the trigger.

Definitely don't need an Engineer for this work. Just a good CFP/EA who is an Excel guru.

I think I found her. We'll see what she is going to want to charge me...

Thanks for the input...
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Old 07-21-2017, 06:55 AM   #19
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Having had to diagnose many complex, client developed spreadsheets during the years that I was working I can tell you that it is an arduous task and it will be hard to find any firm willing to do it (as you are finding out). We would not have touched such a project with a 10-foot pole.

In most cases, I would review the spreadsheet and the results.... in some cases we would create our own spreadsheets that do a parallel simulation of the calculations and if the results were materially the same declare victory.

I also have a similar year-by-year spreadsheet that projects taxable account, tax-deferred account and tax-free account values given assumed spending, returns, and taxes (taxes is the tricky part since the projections include an annual tax calculation) that I review each year and even I have trouble following it if I haven't picked it up for a while. I compare the result to the results of Quick Lifetime Planner and they are broadly similar so I declare victory.

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Old 07-21-2017, 07:33 AM   #20
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I hope you have it well documented. I know many like to say code is self documenting. If I were taking on such a task to validate something of such, I would really want to know know the strategy explicitly before looking at any code.
I tended to use macros in many of my spreadsheets over the years. It really helps to have documentation as to what I was trying to do... especially when I came back years later to modify it. And finally having error detection/correction... what if external data is not available? what if a number comes up negative when it must exist in [0 inf)... will iterative processes converge?

If it is really all that complex, I would not mess for 1k... especially if I had no rights afterwards.
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