Wealth - Play it Safe

Online “vaults” allow users to store and access important documents anywhere, anytime


Mary Anne Wallentine, a retired American Airlines flight attendant, recently sold her homes in the desert and Washington state and has ventured into the travel industry as a luxury cruise specialist. “Between taking advantage of my lifetime flying benefits and researching cruises, I travel every month for weeks at a time,” she says. She quickly discovered a major challenge to her carefree lifestyle: where to store all her important papers, including financial statements, insurance policies, legal documents, credit card account numbers, contact information, copies of passports and birth certificates, and irreplaceable photos and video recordings.

Franz Tatum Wealth Management of Palm Desert offered a solution: its online storage “vault.”

“We knew this was for Mary Anne, because you can store all your important documents in one safe, secure, and accessible online location,” explains Gloria Franz, principal and certified financial planner.  “Clients who are comfortable with computers, even if they just e-mail, like the idea that they can organize and track essentially everything they own on one website.” 

The vault is updated daily through direct links with bank and investment accounts. “Our clients can easily monitor cash flow, see asset-value updates and current net worth, and rebalance portfolios when necessary from almost anywhere in the world,” explains Nila Tatum, Franz’s partner. That’s a strong selling point for high-net-worth clients with multiple homes who often need their financial life at their fingertips.

The online storage vault surfaced as a personal finance tool over the last 18 months, primarily by investment advisers and wealth managers. Users are provided with their own website that can be accessed 24/7 with a secure password.

Most investment advisers and wealth managers set up the website for clients, scanning documents provided to them and uploading them into the personalized electronic folders. Updating folders by adding and deleting documents is simple and can be done daily. With log-on information and private passwords for individual folders, vault users can grant limited access to their CPAs, attorneys, estate planners, trust managers, investment advisers, and wealth managers. Unless they share their private password, they are the only ones who can access all folders on their sites. Online vault storage works well for seniors whose children help manage their parents’ finances from a distance.

Wallentine likes the idea that if something happens to her while traveling, her children “can get on the site and access my important information with a click.” She considers the vault a useful tool for those whose spouses handle all financial and legal matters. “This way, it is all in one place and no one has to go on a hunt. I’ve seen that happen to friends when their husbands suddenly pass away or get sick, and it is a nightmare.”

Another user-friendly feature is the ability to replace lost passports when traveling abroad. The vault user simply obtains a copy of their passport via Internet and takes it to the U.S. embassy. Art and other valuable collections can be cataloged with photos. 

Security is obviously the most important aspect of the vault. Firms that offer the service claim the system is secure because it is nontransactional. Money never moves in or out. Account numbers are not listed. Franz Tatum’s data is stored with SunGard Data Systems, a national Internet host server. Encryption scrambles data at a high security level, and data is secured behind firewalls constructed to block unauthorized data access. Franz Tatum charges an initial setup fee of $500 and guides clients on using the system. Annual site maintenance runs $300, including one gigabyte of storage.

Wells Fargo was the first major U.S. bank to offer vSafe, an online storage vault service. Prices begin at $4.95 a month for one gigabyte of storage capable of holding 10,000 Word documents. Customers receive a user guide, Flash tour, and FAQ section when they sign up for vSafe.

More and more companies are jumping into the online storage marketplace, touting their service as secure, simple, and inexpensive. Before signing on, conduct due diligence. Check with the California Department of Corporations (www.corp.ca.gov) to see if any complaints have been filed against the company you are considering.

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