Why I’ve Abandoned Quicken, But Not Intuit
Somebody at Intuit must have seen the writing on the wall. Last September, the Mountain View, CA, software company, which has been selling PC-based personal finance programs since 1983 via floppy discs, CD-ROMs, and downloads, paid $170 million to buy a two-year-old Web startup called Mint.com. If you believe, as I do, that almost everyone who uses a computer to manage their personal finances will be doing so using a Web-based service like Mint.com within a few years, then you have to conclude that Intuit got a great bargain.
In essence, Intuit (NASDAQ: INTU), by acquiring the one company that had the potential to destroy its personal finance business, bought that business an indefinite life extension. Imagine how much stronger Microsoft’s position would be now if it had bought Google when the search company was two years old, back in 2000, and you begin to get a sense of what I mean.
The move was unexpectedly insightful. Few companies have the wisdom to recognize that they’ve been superseded, let alone the courage to admit that they aren’t competent to reinvent themselves from within. As a result, Intuit, the maker of Quicken and TurboTax, has won back at least one customer, namely me.
I used Quicken for years, probably starting around 1996. At home I have an ancient Dell Inspiron laptop computer, purchased in 2004, that I have kept around far past its point of obsolescence—and long after switching the rest of my life over to my Mac—solely in order to run Quicken. (Until very recently, there wasn’t a decent version of Quicken for Mac.) But even that use tailed off around 2008, as I ran into more and more difficulties with the aging version of Quicken that I was running, and as the online alternatives grew more attractive. Finally, in the middle of 2009 or so, I stopped using Quicken altogether.
I haven’t missed it in the least, because the combination of Mint.com’s free service and my bank’s website give me all the information I need about the status of my savings, checking, investment, and credit card accounts. (I use Bank of America, which has pretty good online tools.) But now that Mint is part of Intuit, I’m back in the fold.
I should say up front that I was never an advanced user of Quicken, and neither do I make use of all of the features of Mint. Also, my financial situation isn’t very complicated—I’m single with no kids and no mortgage. Mainly, I just need to see all of my updated account balances in one place. I don’t care much (though I probably should) about comparing the performance of every fund in my 401(k) to the broader market. Plus, being a natural-born skinflint, I don’t need help from software to make sure I’m not spending too much in categories like travel, restaurants, or groceries. Both Quicken and Mint have great tools for doing these things, for people who like them; I just don’t use them myself.
Which is why, at a certain point, Quicken just wasn’t worth the pain. The problem with the software—and I’m referring now to the 2007 version, so things may have improved since then—was that it still smelled so strongly of 1993 or so, when the Web barely existed and going online meant opening a dial-up connection to a service like AOL. That’s exactly what getting the latest account balances from my various financial institutions felt like. All that was missing was the scratchy modem static. Even after Intuit added a “one step update” feature to Quicken, getting updates was a glacially slow process that seemed to fail about a third of the time, for no obvious reason.
This wasn’t entirely Intuit’s fault. Quicken had to be able to connect to many different data sources, and in the days before the ascendancy of Web-based standards like HTTP and SOAP and REST and SSL, it was much harder for everyone to stay on the same page. That said, however, Intuit and its partners in the financial world also had a nasty habit of changing things just enough from year to year that you if you didn’t keep buying new versions of Quicken, you’d eventually be unable to accomplish much. I guess that’s what happened to me.
Once I explored Mint and realized how easy it was to set up an account there and connect it to my bank and my other financial institutions, switching was a no-brainer. (I also tried Quicken Online and Geezeo, an online personal management system offered by a Tolland, CT, startup that we’ve covered here at Xconomy. But in November 2009, Intuit wisely announced that it planned to dump Quicken Online and shift all of its users over to Mint. And I felt that Geezeo’s emphasis on twenty-something users with little or no experience managing their own money wasn’t quite right for me.)
What makes personal finance feel so natural on Mint is that the Web is all about connections. When you log in, even before you tell Mint to do anything, it communicates with your bank and your investment firms behind the scenes and gets your latest balances. There’s also a slick iPhone application that brings you the same account updates and—if you’re into budget tracking—lets you edit the details of each bank or credit-card transaction.
There are a few important things Mint doesn’t do, and that longtime Quicken users might miss. The biggest one is probably bill paying. For a fee of $9.95 per month, the PC version of Quicken lets users pay all their bills electronically, which is obviously a huge time saver. I pay most of my bills this way, but I have to do it through the Bank of America website, or through the websites of the individual payees, like my electric utility NSTAR.
I’d love it if Mint added some kind of bill paying system, since this would save me from having to go back and forth between different sites to manage my finances. That’s something I’d probably be willing to pay for, which—since Mint hasn’t earned a dime off me to date—would be good news for Intuit as well. (With the number of people willing to pay $60 or $70 for a new version of Quicken every year likely to keep dropping, the company certainly needs to figure out additional ways to monetize Mint, beyond the commissions Mint earns for recommending financial products.)
The bottom line: For anyone who doesn’t have an enormously complicated financial situation and just wants to know how much money they have or owe, I think Mint is a perfectly suitable (and obviously much cheaper) alternative to Quicken. Intuit was smart to put Mint founder Aaron Patzer in charge of its personal finance group. Fortunately, as one blogger put it a couple of months ago, “It seems like Patzer is having more of an influence on the Quicken team at Intuit than Intuit is having on him.”
Briefly noted: Amazon has been promising for months now to bring out a Mac equivalent of the Kindle e-book reader software that it released for Windows computers back in October. Yesterday, that happened. I’ve tested the app and it works great—I’m now able to read all of my Kindle editions on my Mac as well as my iPhone and, of course, my Kindle. This just might be fodder for a future column, so please feel free to send me a note at email@example.com if you’ve also given this program a test drive.
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