Lookin’ for the Next Quicken

Quicken for MacintoshFor more than a decade, I’ve been using Intuit’s Quicken for Macintosh to manage my personal finances. Once upon a time, it was an elegant piece of software engineering — for anyone who’d ever balanced a checkbook, Quicken’s user interface, at least in the early days, was eminently intuitive. It worked exactly the way you’d expect it to.

Nowadays, it’s arguable whether the application has successfully retained that ease of use, or whether it’s driven off the cliff of bloat and accretion. But I know a few things for sure: for me, the Quicken franchise feels neglected, even while, as a user, I feel continually taken advantage of.

To begin with, I don’t think anyone would argue the fact that the Macintosh version consistently lags behind the Windows version in development and sophistication, and it only barely feels like a truly well-behaved software citizen on my Mac. In spite of this poor state of affairs, I feel regularly bamboozled by what I call ‘the Quicken tax,’ a combination of additional online fees that my bank charges me for accessing my account via Quicken, and the regular, forced software upgrades that Intuit demands I purchase from them every few years when they cut off support for older versions.


Now Auditioning Replacements

Still, using Quicken has been the secret to my continued financial solvency (such as it is), and I need something like it, if not Quicken itself, to help me keep track of where all these dollar bills disappear to. I count myself lucky that I was born into the age of digital tools, because I’m sure that balancing a checkbook by hand would have driven me into the poor house and/or the mad house.

So I’m casting about for a replacement. Finally. I’ve been unhappy with Quicken for some time, but it took me a long while to get to this point. As much as I dislike Quicken, I’ve always felt very comfortable with the fact that I was trusting my financial data to a company — Intuit — that’s going to be around for a while, even if they do rather abuse me as a customer. For good or bad, they’ve shown they have legs.

I’ve been reluctant, therefore, to consider any alternative from a company that doesn’t have some proven track record, that hasn’t already demonstrated that they can last. The trouble is, there are precious few competitors out there for the Macintosh — especially for the Macintosh — and insisting on a well known software publisher seems like a luxury I can’t afford if I truly want to extricate myself from Quicken.

I Bank with iBank

With that newfound open-mindedness, I’ve looked, briefly, at Moneydance and Liquid Ledger. Neither caught my eye as well as did IGG Software’s iBank, which is satisfyingly Macintosh-like, well-constructed and seemingly reliable.

Below: Bankability. The iBank main window — showing sample data, not my accounts.

I’ve been using iBank for about a week and find it pleasing, though it has its small drawbacks. It lags behind Quicken in many subtle interface behaviors, like being able to click on a pie chart of your spending and automatically calling up a list of the transactions behind the data. It’s a young product, and simply can’t benefit from Quicken’s years of debatably effective interface refinements.

iBank

The problem with new entrants to this market, I suppose, is that Quicken (and, on the Windows side, Microsoft Money) are so successfully entrenched that it takes truly brave — or naïve — companies like IGG to take a chance on throwing their hats in the ring. As much as I’d like iBank to succeed, I find it hard feel optimistic about a desktop application’s chances for long-term survival against these other giants.

Web 2.0 Forgot This

And I can’t help but wonder why there isn’t a truly robust, easy to use and popular Web application competing for this market. It would seem like the logical way to defuse the Quicken monopoly: an Ajax-rich interface for managing one’s personal finances that’s available from any modern Web browser. Who wouldn’t like that? And, with enough momentum, such a service can accrue the customer base necessary to build the kind of relationships with major banks that would allow users to connect directly to their account data — without the monthly access fees that my bank charges me for using Quicken to do the same.

Of the many industries that Web 2.0 startups have tackled with greater alacrity and success than the first generation of internet innovators, it strikes me that personal finances is not one of them. During Web 1.0, we got Etrade and a host of appallingly bad online account tools from consumer banks like Chase Manhattan, but the market has remained relatively stagnant since then — none of the major Web 2.0 successes deal in financial services. Not one. To me, anyway, this looks like a ripe opportunity for a startup.

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  1. Wesabe looks like a pretty interesting place, and it’s gotten some buzz around the community.

    I really struggled with iBank as well, some inconsistencies and such, and them being such a new company, I’m with you, it’s hard to trust that they’ll be around forever.

    Really, I’ve been waiting around for the wow factor, you know those companies that make a press announcement about their new product that is so good, it just wows, you. Sort of like Parallels.

    I’m actually surprised that MS Money doesn’t have a good mac port, given the good amount of market share they have with Windows users and the relatively poor competition on the Mac side. I’m also a little surprised that Quicken doesn’t just make their next version a web based app, imagine how much money that would save them, supporting one platform (the web) instead of 2. Granted, there are browser issues, but still small in comparison of developing an app for both Windows and Mac.

  2. Well, there’s that Wesabe thing that launched the other week. Although, honestly, it more about managing your spending that really providing what a financial application like Quicken does.

    And I opened my account the day it launched and haven’t logged in since (I was afraid to go back and try to reimport my bank records with all my new transactions)

  3. I’m a college student new to managing money, and I’ve honestly got to say that Quicken has been the most painfully unusable program I’ve ever come across on the Mac. MS Word is bad, but quicken takes that floating windows & meaningless tabs thing to a new extreme.

    I recognize how powerful it is and what a great resource it can be, but can you guys help this very OSX-centric kid get a grip on managing finances on his laptop? Is there a place to learn about Quicken for the Mac? And iBank, it looks so – slick.

    Thanks so much for taking up this cause, Khoi – I haven’t even known where to start.

  4. What happened to the classic spreadsheet? I recall loading Quicken a number of months back and quickly quiting and trashing the application. It just didn’t feel right on OS X. I toyed with iBank for a week and felt that despite the attractive interface, I was using my mouse way too much.

  5. Hey, I’m one of the founders of Wesabe. Our designer will be sad to know you think he doesn’t exist. :) We’ve been spending almost all of our time on reducing the number of steps it takes to get something done, and we all agree that the aesthetics of the site could, and will, be better.

    If there’s something you get from traditional apps that you would want to get from us, let me know. In addition to tracking where your money goes, we’ve made a strong effort to extract aggregate data from everyone’s uploads that allows us to recommend better values for you. Do people go to this restaurant once and never come back? Probably not a great value. What’s the auto shop with the lowest average price and the highest average satisfaction? If people are fans of places I shop, where else do they shop that I might not know about?

    The aggregate information and community aspects are early yet — we’re only about two weeks old as a site. But I think those ideas are potentially extremely valuable. Think of them like a reverse credit rating — instead of scoring a consumer as a credit risk, we’re scoring merchants for the value they’ll provide to you as a consumer.

    Anyway, give it a try and drop me a line if you have suggestions or requests. marc@wesabe.com.

  6. The problem with a web2.0 style interface is that while it’s completely doable (I do interfaces like this all day for work) the data *really* doesn’t fit a web model. It’s both very private and generally only needs to be accessed from a single location. The only people online I’d trust with my financial info is my bank. I’m certainly not going to store it on some startup’s servers and I’m not willing to route it through their servers, either. I don’t think I’m alone in this. This leaves a couple different models.

    The first is the offline javascript model. You could do this as a XUL app/Firefox extension (which would probably be the best option) or you can use the public WHATWG storage. This leaves you basically with a cross-platform desktop app that can self-update easily. I suspect doing a pure js app would be tricky due to cross domain sandboxing and having to parse everything in javascript.

    The second is for the company to do a standard web architecture and shop the finished app around to banks.

    Either the XUL client or selling to the bank could be a profitable business, but I’m not surprised that no Web 2.0 startups have taken it on. I’m also not surprised that we haven’t seen a Flickr for medical records. ;]

    Now what WOULD be cool is if one of these cash management programs would do a high quality phone service for inputting receipts. You could then call in and say “Emma’s Pizza four-twenty” and get the appropriate entry “Emma’s Pizza – Food $4.20″ in the program and you wouldn’t have to save your receipts. It’s not like you don’t have a cellphone at all times anyway…

  7. The bigger question is why don’t the banks invest in a beefing up their online services to include the features of desktop banking software. After all, they already have the transaction history, online bill pay, etc.

    I use iBank too, but sometimes find myself simply relying on the banks online system. With debit/credit cards, I rarely write a check anymore and almost never go to a mac machine.

  8. I was really excited to read this post – there are some of we web-types out there working on financial services – http://www.billster.net/ is something that me and a couple of friends came up with. Admittedly it was originally developed as a site to track communal bills, but as so often happens, people are using it in ways we didn’t expect – personal finance being one such thing.
    It’s still early days – we’re not yet in beta (due early next week), but it’s there and people are using it.

  9. Quicken is the only application that I use exclusively on a PC. The Mac version lags behind the PC version, and even the PC version doesn’t live up to its potential. The 2007 got a hideous makeover, and many of the new features are not essential to why I need Quicken.

    Where’s the financial app for 80% of the users out there? I haven’t tried iBank, so I can’t say if it’s the answer, but surely there’s a marketspace for a strealined, easy-to-use financial application that does the basics.

  10. I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Mvelopes when talking about a Web-driven financial management package.

    The demos for the tool look stellar. Breaking with the traditional view of how financial software should work, it uses the mental model of envelopes to sort transactions that it automatically downloads from your bank on a regular basis. The result is very little hand entry of receipts.

    Adobe featured them in their last issue of Edge because the use Flex for the Flash-based interface development.

    I probably would have tried the service by now, but I cannot imagine paying a subscription fee of $129.60 a year for personal finance software and I’m not sure how safe I feel inputing all of my banking information into another person’s server for “safe-keeping”.

    For now, I am using Moneydance on a Mac after years of using Quicken on a PC. I don’t like the reports or graphs in Moneydance–and I find it irritating that I have to right a python script to bulk move items in one category to another–but its basic interface is easy enough to use.

    I’m sad to say it, but for reasons of longevity alone, Quicken still seems to be the best option for this particular market.

  11. Michael: As a college student, I can say I probably speak for many of us out there around my age:

    What exactly is the basics?

    I can’t really accurately grade a software or web application for finances because I don’t even really know what it’s suppose to do. As far as I’m concerned, Wesabe looks hot: For someone my age, I’d love to hear where I can get cheap(er) beer or better car insurance. And as long as it does the same thing as my bank’s online service (let me know how much I have left in my checkbook and pay my cable bill online), sign me up.

    The security intuition scares me though. Karl G said it best: Do I trust keeping so much vital, personal information on a start-up’s servers with not much insurance involved?

  12. Coincidentally, I’m doing some fishing for the same type of application. And so are a lot of others. Unfortunately, I have yet to hear of anyone finding a solution.

    Discussions much like this one have circled many times in the past few months, and the only two solutions put forth are 1) put up with Quicken 2) use a infant product (a la Cha-Ching, iBank, or Wasabe).

  13. There is a German application called Bank X by Application Systems which does pretty much everything I need for banking. Unassociated with them as I am, I find their software much better than Quicken.

    Problems: Available only in German (and I really do wonder why), and doesn’t work together with US banks at all (who are also behind technological possibilities much more than European banks it seems to me).

    So for my US account I am still stuck. Sucks.

    Why is this so difficult?!

  14. 3rd Party Online money management – NO THANKS!

    I know that Wells Fargo now has built-in management features for their online banking customers.

    Personally, I bank with Compass Bank. Compass offers free integration with Quickbooks, and also free online billpay. I’m not sure if billpay is free when using it inside Quicken. Their online billpay allows recurring payments. So far I haven’t had any screw-ups with the billpay either.

    I think Wells Fargo has the right idea, and I think some other banks offer the same online banking services that aren’t as powerful as quicken–yet, allow money tracking all the same.

  15. As a user of Quicken for several years, I’m absolutely joining the chorus calling for change. I manage personal finances and a small real estate business and it’s WAY TOO COMPLICATED. I had to get the Peachpit visual quickstart book for it.

    IN THE MEANTIME, you can quit paying the monthly fee by downloading the QIF files from most banks’ online sites. If you go at it from the bank and put it into quicken instead of through Quicken, you can save your 8 bucks each month.

    I felt so cheated by their sneaky charge that I got my bank to refund my money and scold Quicken for me. It might work for other folks.

  16. I really would not dismiss online finance management out of hand so quickly.

    I travel a lot, my work takes me out of town for periods of 1-2 weeks for about 270-300 days a year.

    Being able to spend idle time to manage my expenses and finances would be ideal.

    For that, I would trust a company like 37 Signals – if they are running Open Source and thus I can see what they do, and so can the community.

    37-Signallers: Make this your next easy application project will you?! Thx.

  17. does anyone know of a package that i AND my wife can use to access/enter transactions online? i use quicken, but that’s a desktop app, so she can’t use it whenever she wants because i am always on my mac. quickbooks online is decent, but i don’t know of a personal version with web interface and multiple permissions. i am with khoi on the state of it all – blech.

    g

  18. I’ve been using open office calc sheets to keep track of my banking. It’s worked both for my accountant and myself. Considering the success I’ve had with Lineform thanks to your recommendation however, I might give iBank a serious look.

  19. In response to Joshua, I have been using mvelopes for more than a year now. The functionality it provides is stellar. It is the only envelope-based budgeting system that will download your financial information from literally anywhere (if they don’t currently have a script to pull data from your instutution, they will write one).

    Unfotunately it’s a bit klunky, and the adobe flash plugin being slower than molases doesn’t help any. For me, it’s an essential. I do wish they would clean up the interface, make it speedier with ajax instead of flash based, and add keyboard shortcuts ala gmail.

    In the end though, it’s the only solution that provides the functionality I desire, so I stick with it. Hopefully in the future the quality and number of options will increase.

  20. What about
    Cha-Ching?

    NB: Preview seems to be busted. I get:

    Build error in template ‘Comment Preview Template’: Error in tag: Can’t find included file ‘includes/footer.html’

  21. Wow – thought i was the only one who felt this way. How could these apps be so bad, and out of touch with what users need?

    I am mac centric, but use a pc for work. Read horrible reviews for new quicken on Mac, so I use Microsoft Money on my work laptop. That program is insanely bad – doesn’t even play nice with other Microsoft apps (the export to excel is hard to use, and only works from one area).
    It’s buggy, It cant seem to intelligently remember categories, its slow, and has horrible use of screen real estate. Low on features to make the daily entry of data easy, and tons of stuff most people will never use. Budgets are a pain in the ass.

    It had one feature I liked called sidebar, it let you surf your bank site on the web, right in the money app – made it very easy to look at your on-line register next to your money register within the program itself, smart use of combining apps – and they discontinued it 3 revs ago!

    Hope we find something soon!

  22. With products like Parallels and VMWare, I’ve begun to use some specialized Windows apps more and more– like the Garmin products for interfacing with my GPS. I guess one could also consider using Quicken for Windows, running on one of these virtualization products.

  23. One more vote here for GnuCash. The installation process is completely intimidating to the everyday Mac user, but if you’re comfortable with Fink and don’t mind compiling some things, what you get in the end is an incredibly powerful accounting system that scales nicely across a wide spectrum of needs.

  24. Here’s another tap on the OO.o Calc option. I have three sheets in my workbook:

    - receipts I enter
    I include the date, check nuber (if any), description, amount, whether it’s cleared or not, and a category. I tally everything so I know both (a) what the bank thinks my balance is and (b) what my true balance is once everything clears.

    - .csv download from bank

    - pivot tables (“Data Pilot”)
    I pull by category, and simply hit “Refresh Data” to see where my money’s going.

    I looked at GnuCash, but since what I need is basically simple accounting, I didn’t feel like breaking into some special application paradigm. Also, I prefer to have my records separate from and parallel to the bank’s records, and while some applications want to ease that process, the openness of my system outweighs the few extra keystrokes.

    I have considered going to gnuCalc, though, since it’s supposed to run more tightly than OO.o Calc, but that’s as far as I’m likely to stray. And I tried MoneyDance, too.

  25. I’ve been using iBank for a year now and it’s a perfectly capable app for basic financial needs – which in my case are to watch how much on spending on things.

    It works well with the QIF format that HSBC UK use for giving you your transactions based on which I can set up useful graphs and budget monitors. That’s not to say that other apps can’t do it, but for the money, ibank has proved to be a reliable and hassle-free solution for my basic needs.

    Before I started using a Mac as my personal machine, I used MS Money quite extensively, which when I look back now just feels bloated and a vehicle to push MSN Money.

  26. Jesse Mecham at You Need a Budget has basic excel based software, and also standalone version called YNAB Pro. They are worth a look, but I think YNAB Pro may be PC only.

    It has limitations… doesn’t link directly to your bank account, but I use and highly recommend YNAB Pro!

  27. Sherwin: yes, I’m still using iBank and I still like it. It hasn’t been without its problems, though. I had a minor mishap where I lost a day’s worth of data entry and couldn’t really pinpoint why that happened, but since then things have been okay. I’m sticking with it for the time being.

  28. I use clearcheckbook.com. Its a new product with strong emfasis on development. I have used it for six months and I havent found a better web 2.0 app this far. I use it from my personal mac, from work pc and my wife use it from her pc. Its free.

  29. I use clearcheckbook.com. Its a new product with strong emfasis on development. I have used it for six months and I havent found a better web 2.0 app this far. I use it from my personal mac, from work pc and my wife use it from her pc. Its free.

  30. thanks for the good post and comments – i’ve made the jump with iBank (after too many years of quicken, and too many cuts) and it seems to be pretty good so far.