Not many web startups have a pedigree like that of Financial Engines Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif. Among the three-year-old company's founders are Joseph A. Grundfest, who once sat on the Securities & Exchange Commission, and William F. Sharpe, winner of a Nobel prize in economics. The company is using Sharpe's ideas about evaluating investment risks and allocating assets so that people can meet their retirement goals. Netizens can try his analysis out at financialengines.com, which launched in June.

The site is simple to use. You sign up for free, type in your retirement goals, and then enter your existing investment portfolio. The software lets you know the probability that you'll achieve your goals. Then the company's business model clicks in. People who pay $14.95 quarterly get advice on how to handle their 401(k) funds. If you change your goals or the economy goes haywire, you can quickly size up the effect on your investments. How is this different from other investment sites? The others rarely give advice. Plus, says Sharpe, "they predict you'll get a 9% return every year. Sorry, it doesn't work that way." We're sorry, too.

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