BMO Harris Tests Portal for Special Needs Clients
By Miriam Cross May 11, 2021, 3:38 p.m. EDT4 Min Read
Daria Placitella ran PNC Bank’s wealth management division for eight years. She also has a son with special needs. Those two experiences helped her identify a gap in financial planning that called for a digital solution.
In 2018, she co-founded Hope Trust, a fintech in Holmdel, N.J., that helps people with special needs and their families craft digital plans detailing medical, legal, financial and other priorities as well as budget for a lifetime of care. Chicago-based BMO Harris Bank — which included Hope Trust in its inaugural women’s fintech mentoring program in 2020 — will be the first bank to offer Hope Trust’s services to its customers, starting with 20 complimentary one-year licenses for current and prospective clients.
“We’ve taken the body of knowledge that an individual has about their loved one and brought it all together, financially and healthwise,” says Daria Placitella (left), co-founder and CEO of Hope Trust. “We’ve had multiple conversations with clients where they have a child with special needs and they are terrified of something happening to them,” says Amy Griman, national head of trust & estates for BMO Wealth Management U.S.
One other company, a challenger bank called Purple, is also taking a tech-oriented approach to helping individuals with special needs preserve their government benefits by integrating tax- advantaged ABLE savings accounts into its product. But BMO Harris and Hope Trust appear to be the first to offer an automated trust portal to help people with special needs and their families handle their financial lives and other aspects of their care.
Both Placitella and Amy Griman, the national head of trust and estate services at BMO Wealth Management U.S., say families tend to store key information about a loved one’s special needs in their heads or on pieces of paper, where the information can quickly grow stale.
For BMO Harris, a $154.3 billion-asset unit of BMO Financial Group in Toronto, the portal will help it avoid the pitfalls of this specialized market; if financial accounts are not handled carefully, the beneficiary’s government benefits such as Medicaid may be put at risk.
“This is a very close-knit community, and they talk,” said Placitella. “If you can offer a solution to help these clients plan for the future, it’ll help you retain the assets and open up a market to acquire new clients.”
The service is also likely to stand out.
“There are only a small number of banks or trust companies that have the expertise needed to manage special needs trusts and even fewer that have invested in the staffing and technology necessary to serve beneficiaries in a meaningful way,” said Shana Siegel, head of the elder law and special needs group at the law firm Norris McLaughlin. She said she’s unaware of any other institution using a similar platform.
Administering special needs trusts, as BMO has done since late 2019, is complex, with different programs, rules and types of trusts.
Special needs trusts are estate-planning tools designed to preserve assets and wealth without disqualifying an individual from eligible government benefits. A misstep by the trustee, perhaps due to insufficient knowledge about a client’s conditions and needs, can mean the beneficiary doesn’t receive proper support or loses government funds.
Hope Trust provides trustees such as BMO — along with others supporting a person with special needs — with a full picture of the individual’s financials and care needs. The parent or caregiver will log into the Hope Trust portal and fill out a questionnaire that addresses medical, behavioral, legal, financial and psychological needs.
The thousands of questions are linked by decision trees to trigger relevant follow-up questions; for example, if parents mark down that their child has Down syndrome, they will only see applicable questions. Families can also store a list of medications, daily schedules and documents in the portal, and list preferences as granular as a child’s favorite color or food. (The tool does not focus on the senior population.)
Another component, called MYTO for Meet Your Trust Objectives, delves into the financial planning aspect of caring for a relative with special needs. The tool can help the family decide how much money it needs to fund the trust to provide for loved ones, running calculations with and without taking government benefits into account. There is also a concierge service, where for a fee special needs users who live on their own can request help ordering groceries, paying their bills and more, guided by the budget established in the life care plan.
“We’ve taken the body of knowledge that an individual has about their loved one and brought it all together, financially and healthwise,” said Placitella. “Today, most of that information is in a parent’s head or in a drawer.”
Users can also customize access to information for care providers, financial advisors and attorneys; for instance, they can allow advisors to see financial details but not health matters, or divorced parents to see different slices of information.
Placitella notes that factors change frequently for these families, from which medications they need to whether a child has moved to a new group home. They can update these details at any time to keep them current, another feature that was appealing for Griman.
“The Hope Trust platform is such a gap filler,” said Griman. “We’ve had multiple conversations with clients where they have a child with special needs and they are terrified of something happening to them. No one else has the information and details that they have to care for their child.”
Hope Trust works with 41 financial services firms since launching in January, including life insurance providers and registered investment advisers. BMO is its first bank partner.
The fintech is also the third graduate of a BMO accelerator program to partner with the bank.
In 2018, BMO announced partnerships with SpringFour, an online tool that curates local, state and national financial resources across the U.S., and Genivity, an artificial intelligence software company whose algorithms predict how long clients are going to live and how healthy they’re going to be to help plan for retirement and future health care costs.
Tech Reporter, Arizent
Original Article: https://www.americanbanker.com/news/bmo-harris-tests-portal-for-special-needs-clients