Friday, January 9, 2009

Quicken Online & Mint

Quicken Online's recent failing for me led me to go off looking for other solutions. I started looking for a desktop app to replace the ancient Quicken 2005 I have installed. After some searching and trials I found a lot of pretty poor apps that were either free or shareware. 

Eventually I found iBank which is trying to be the replacement for Quicken on the Mac. Its not free and one thing that really bugs me in app trials is where they limit you based on content versus time, especially when the content has no online effect. For example, I can see Evernote limiting you on content as they're paying for the space online to cover your free capacity. But with iBank all the data is local, there's no reason to limit the number of transactions. Just limit my trial period so I can really try the product. With the demo version they limit you to 75 transactions in a single account. I suppose for many that will be a sufficient trial, but my test was to load in 3 months worth of real data for all my accounts and see how it does. I hit the limit and couldnt do the test. Sure I could pay and then use the 30 day money back guarantee but thats a pain. Anyway, thats no way to do demos, give them the full product and then limit by time or online (i.e. stuff that costs the developer money) capacity ONLY. 

So now you're probably wondering, ok so its a lousy demo but how was the product otherwise? Its a decent desktop money management application. But in using it I came to a couple realizations:

1) Whether its online or offline you still have to categorize your downloaded transactions and fix payee names. None of the solutions out there get this right for you. And even though you can remember a classification to automatically rename VendorX or categorize it on import that generally doesnt work with real and electronic check payments as they all come in as "Check" and "Uncategorized". This means you have to do some data entry (even if its just drop downs). This means all services collect some data from you that has some value for you. Mint, Quicken Online and the offline apps. That means its harder to use more than one and it means its harder to jump between them.

2) With local financial management apps you have to find a place to save your data thats secure, back it up, etc. With the online apps you either trust them or not.
3) With the local apps you're limited in how fast they update the application and roll it out whereas the online ones evolve much more quickly. 

The above led me to back to the online side, I tried again and found they had fixed my Citizens bank support. This means I really got to try Mint for the first time. 

Mint has some nice features like the automatic alerts, and even the "ways to save" area I found interesting and potentially useful (although their data was skewed). The interface was nice and clean. The had a nice investment section which Quicken Online doesnt have. They seemed to have some issues connecting to some of my financial institutions and I got intermittent results there.

Along the way having used Quicken Online for a few months and now using Mint I noticed one glaring difference. Quicken Online lets you enter transactions yourself, Mint doesnt. This means if you're trying to use one of these services as an electronic checkbook to know what your balance is etc, only Quicken Online meets that need (assuming it doesnt lose your transactions). 

I went back to Quicken Online and found they had, at least for now, fixed the lost transaction bug and my balances were correct once more so i'm back to using Quicken Online.

I think the local financial management apps are doomed and the competition by Mint and Quicken Online and others (I did look at Wesabe but wasnt interested in its approach) will be interesting. There are a few core use cases and features that must be there and be reliable for the service to win. Neither Mint nor Quicken Online has the perfect set yet. Quicken needs more reliability and investments (eating into their desktop products which is probably why it isnt there). Mint needs more reliability and the ability to enter your own transactions. 


icycle said...

I use and recommend Moneydance as a cross platform local finance application. I personally don't want my complete financial picture hosted by an online site and would prefer this data live locally.

Rob said...

Thanks, that one didnt pop up on my searches. I took a quick look at it. It has similar capabilities to iBank but iBank has a better interface to me. Its online banking direct download capabilities didn't work for me.

But you are correct online versus app comes down to whether you trust your data online.

To me its all online anyway although perhaps not centralized.

icycle said...

Just saw this:

I figured I'd post it here b/c it's relevant, despite the Linux focus in the review.