Financial software and the Rumsfeld doctrine

Mon 28 Jan 2013

We've been thinking lately that, when it comes to the use of planning and analysis technology, users of financial planning software can take a leaf from the book of former US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld.

Challenged about the lack of evidence of the supply of weapons of mass destruction to Iraq, Mr Rumsfeld famously described the distinction between 'known knowns': the things we know that we know; 'known unknowns': things that we know we don't know; and 'unknown unknowns' the things we don't know that we don't know.

So when it comes to the use of technology tools out there, are you using technology with the benefit of known knowns: you know you know how the software works or the way it perfoms calculations or the assumptions it makes?

For example, if a pension illustration that's been generated by a provider differs from the analysis you have generated using software like Selectapension are you sure you understand why they're different?

Or are you operating in the realm of the known unknown: you know you don't know how the technology generates the information it does?

With the proliferation of free and paid-for tools available to financial planning professionals today, it is all too easy to routinely rely on technology to take the strain without ever really understanding how it works.

But even just a little bit of legwork - otherwise known as due diligence - will help you understand what is going on under the surface of the software.

(At Moneyscope, we make that easier for you by publishing information about our cash-flow forecasting calculations.)  

It's important because the reputation of advisers and planners relies on the rigour of research, analysis and recommendations which clients can depend on.

Software can offer great aid and assistance but don't just trust it on face value - try to understand what it's doing.

So why not ask the providers of your software how it works? Probe into the calculations it performs and the assumptions the technology makes. Because, unless you know you know how it does what it does, how can you trust what it tells you?

January 2013