How's your money doing?

We check out five free Net trackers to assess how well they follow your money.

By Kamya Jaiswal        Print Edition: July 26, 2007

So you invest. But do you follow-up on where that money is going? Just buying the best is no guarantee that returns will be best too. Money has the uncanny ability to reach unthought-of destinations from the same starting point. You bought a fund which gave stupendous returns in the past three years. But seven months after the great idea, you realise an unexpected downturn has wiped out all profits. The big picture can be hazy too. You believed that your portfolio was equity-heavy and it turns out that majority of your investments are in fixed deposits and National Savings Certificates bought years ago.

The point is, money can’t be invested and forgotten. Keeping tabs on exactly how it is performing, what stakes are piling up and how well it is distributed across all asset classes, is a must. Agrees financial planner Amar Pandit: “Reviewing a portfolio once every quarter works well for most investors.” Others might feel the need for updated inputs at shorter intervals. As Dhirendra Kumar, CEO, Value Research, puts it, tracking investments is a function of personality. Only one shouldn’t overdo it. Don’t monitor, or worse, react to every blip in your portfolio.

Remedial measures ought to be made only when investment performance veers drastically away from your original financial goals. But how do you track investments? The magnetic sticker on the refrigerator door doesn’t appeal, not when you would rather keep such “intimate” details under wraps. Diaries went out of vogue sometime back. Financial planners aren’t always on call. Most important, you aren’t equipped to update your equity returns as and when desired.

Tracking trackers

What you can do is, outsource this function to the Web. Internet trackers are fast becoming the first choice for investors who want to know what their money is doing for them. Their services go beyond mere book-keeping to include customised alerts, reports and even portfolio analysis. And the best part is you don’t have to pay for it. While there are paid sites for the purpose, quite a few track portfolios for free. All you need to do is register, key in your investment details and you are on.

We did the same. Having created a dummy portfolio comprising stocks, mutual funds, fixed deposits and insurance schemes, we put in the details in five popular free Web trackers belonging to Value Research, Moneycontrol, Myiris, Sharekhan and IndiaInfoline. For nearly a month we monitored the changes in portfolio, checked out various features, updating and analysis tools, calculators etc. The idea was to assess their services from the perspective of a tracking tyro.

A user-friendly interface goes a long way in making loyalists of firsttime trackers. No one wants to feel incompetent with his own money. Forced to struggle with the basics like putting in details of investments or hunting down a link your financial planner recommended and you are already put off by the tracker. Value Research’s tracker scores above others in the simplicity of its inter -face. You don’t even need to dig out the net asset value (NAV) of mutual fund investments. Tap in the date of purchase, scheme name and total amount, its database takes care of the rest.

Unnecessary details only clutter the limited screen space and confuse users. For instance, Moneycontrol has fields such as folio number and Amfi registration number (ARN) to be filled in while adding mutual funds to your portfolio—information irrelevant to the computation of the current value of your funds. Calendars that take 15 minutes to wind back to the date of purchase (Sharekhan) or scrolling through lists of funds when you know the exact scheme name (IndiaInfoline) can be tedious. Equally frustrating is poring all over the screen to look for a link. The faded “add stock/scheme” in Sharekhan or the minuscule “login” in IndiaInfoline suggests little thought in designing the tracker.

Unfamiliar nomenclature is another no-no. The trick here is gauging how comfortable are the average users with financial jargon. While terms like “current market value” shouldn’t be shown as “current close” as in IndiaInfoline, few would relate to Moneycontrol’s “moving average”. Says Kumar, “We regularly check where most users are getting stuck and exit the tracker. This helps in identifying the links that need to be further simplified.” Sorely missing from all these trackers is a do-it-yourself tool that directs you to the next step and gives an idea where to get investment details from. The flexibility of configuring the home page would be a huge plus too—a limited option in Sharekhan and IndiaInfoline only.

In terms of presentation, Moneycontrol comes up with many aces. You can check your daily, weekly, monthly and half-yearly profits while looking up the portfolio summary. Each stock and fund is accompanied by their weightage in your portfolio, so that you know when you should refrain from binging on a particular stock or fund. Accessing company reports, balance sheets, etc is easier too. All trackers have links that swamp you with such information but Moneycontrol, Value Research and Myiris have weeded out the irrelevant parts.

Comprehensiveness of tracking is essential for knowing your overall asset distribution. Moneycontrol and Value Research are the only two trackers which track all asset types. Of these two, Moneycontrol is little more than a ledger of these details. Only Value Research gives you the current value of all investment categories. But strangely neither factors in cash adjustments like Myiris. So if you use the “cash enabled” portfolio in Myiris, the tracker automatically updates cash available for investments. In case you wish to enter a fresh purchase exceeding the available balance, the tracker records your source of extra money.

Direct equity is the most volatile of all holdings. Not only do stock values change every minute, declarations of bonus or split can swing returns either way. Obviously, a tracker must be able to automatically update such inputs from their database. Our dummy portfolio had a tiny investment in Siemens dated before a split was declared last year. While Sharekhan, Moneycontrol and IndiaInfoline did not provide for these changes at all, we had to input the date and ratio of the split for Valueresearch. Only Myiris automatically updated the information. One click and the required adjustments in the value and quantity of the holding were made.

Tracking accuracy apart, these portals have other frills to attract and retain users. Myiris has an array of financial services ranging from retirement corpus calculators, monthly savings and capital gains tax calculator to take up your time. If that doesn’t keep you hooked, you can even chat with other users of the tracker. From the hottest stock of the day to a company’s prospects and impromptu advice on a particular listing—these chatroom conver -sations have all the spice for an avid investor. Moneycontrol, Value Research and IndiaInfoline put a lot of premium on customised alerts, watch lists and scribble pads to give a personalised touch. Senior vicepresident of Sharekhan, Pomesh Momaya knows that his tracker has a lot of catching up to do: “Additional tools for detailed analysis reports and dynamic asset allocation are being planned.”

Many users expect these portals to analyse their portfolios too. Though armed with a lot of information, trackers can’t and shouldn’t attempt to do so. Contrary to common perception, even if you key the last of your investment details, important factors like financial goals, debt and bank entries, total family income, monthly expenses, etc are not entered. Any advice that does not include these particulars is bound to be incomplete. The best a Net tracker can do is give a detailed diagnosis by computing different permutations and combinations of an investment basket. The prescription has to come from the user’s knowledge or a financial planner.

So which of these five qualifies for the star rating? Unfortunately none. While Myiris is clearly packed with the best features, inability to track fixed-income investments and a not-so-friendly user interface steal away the top position. We recommend Value Research for beginners. Easy to use and understand, it tracks and updates data across asset classes. A sophisticated investor will be more satisfied with Myiris. IndiaInfoline, Moneycontrol and Sharekhan fall somewhere in between these two and can be avoided until new features are added to their portals.

However, there’s no stopping you from using these portals to enjoy a varied set of facilities. Whatever you choose, one thing’s for sure. Given that these services are freely available on the Net, you now have no excuse for not knowing what your money is doing.

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