The other day, I participated in a preview of the new Quicken Online product, scheduled to launch on January 8. This new product is intended to compete with some of the existing money management web tools currently existing, like Mint, reviewed by Sasha here , Geezeo, and Wesabe. Intuit has spotted a need for a more robust solution for managing cash flow, and the targeted audience, “young and responsible,” is increasingly turning towards the web for software.
As an aside, arguably the best (and free) money management tool is Personal Capital . It tracks and categorizes all spending and both retirement and taxable investments. But back to Quicken.
The philosophy behind Quicken Online is that people are living beyond their means and need help managing short-term cash flow. The most pressing question for many younger earners is whether they will have enough money to pay their bills. Therefore, they haven’t built in tools yet to manage investments. Quicken Online will track your checking, savings, and credit card accounts.
Right away I saw that Quicken Online is very different than the traditional Quicken desktop software.
The purpose of Quicken Online is not reconciliation or tracking your full financial situation. There is no manual entry of financial data once you’ve set up your accounts and entered your passwords.
Once you sign up for an account on Quicken Online, you will be asked to set up at least your primary bank account by providing the username, password, and any other information you would normally use for logging into that bank’s online interface. Quicken Online will use the same multi-factor authentication (MFA) used by the participating bank. Rather than connecting to the banks through a third party service like Yodlee  as many of the other tools do, Quicken Online fosters Intuit’s existing relationships with over 5,100 financial institutions.
It’s fairly easy to find your bank when adding an account. Here’s an example of how you might add a Bank of America account to your profile. You can click on the thumbnail for a closer look.
Rather than entering your transactions manually and matching them with information from the bank as you would do with the desktop version of Quicken, all information is retrieved directly from the financial institutions each night.
Since you are not maintaining your own financial records, Quicken Online will not know whether you have any outstanding checks. To solve this, Quicken Online allows you to manually enter any checks written but unposted. The software then calculates your RealBalance, which is shown alongside your bank balance when viewing your accounts. This will help you visualize how much money you will have available, possibly saving you from overdrawing a checking account.
Once the check clears, Quicken Online will automatically match the downloaded transaction with the one you entered.
Like Mint, Quicken Online will automatically and intuitively rename your payees based on the naming habits of all other customers, but your own changes will always take precedence. The new software will also categorize your expenses through the same community-based technique. Every day, Quicken Online will be smarter about suggested payees and categories than the previous day, and Intuit expects this feature to be much more accurate and intuitive than both their own desktop software and the competing online software.
As I mentioned, the primary goal of Quicken Online is to help people organize their bills. There are features in place to build awareness of your financial condition into daily life. Once your bank information is saved, Quicken Online will retrieve activity for the last 90 days in each account. From this data, the software will suggest a list of recurring bills. You can edit these bills and activate settings for bill reminders, which can be sent via email or text message. Unfortunately, when the software launches, the bill payment feature will not be ready.
The main portal or home page of Quicken Online looks very much like the desktop software’s cash flow screen. There is an area on the left in which all of your accounts and balances are listed, but the main focus is your income, expenses, and what is left over. You can use the pie charts to drill down into your data for more information. Here is an example of my account’s home page in the beta version of Quicken Online. (My list of accounts disappeared during this session; I can attribute this to the instability of unreleased software.)
Quicken Online also provides special features for iPhone  users. If you have an iPhone, you can log into your account to view your latest balances and 5 latest transactions in each account, all downloaded nightly.
An important feature missing right now, but planned for the future, is the ability to pay your bills directly from the software. I see this as an important part of fulfilling Intuit’s stated goal of managing short term cash flow. Also planned is the ability for your information to tie into TurboTaxOnline . If this connection is seamless, then it should save significant time and effort when preparing to submit tax returns for 2007.
For those of us who have grown comfortable with the Quicken desktop product, remember that Quicken Online is a different product. This isn’t a replacement; in fact, the software is targeting individuals who are not currently customers of Quicken. I don’t believe the pricing is finalized yet, but the fee for the initial year will likely be $2.99 per month or $29 per year, although there will likely be a free introductory period. Other online services with the same features are currently completely free.
Quicken Online has some positive factors that will help its success. They have the power of their brand name, a trusted direct relationship with banks, strong multi-factor authentication security, and 80% market share of the desktop market (according to Intuit). The “intuition” features rely on the behavior patterns of the entire community, and this software has the potential to attract more customers than other online software. As time passes, Quicken Online’s intuition will only continue to improve.
Personally, I haven’t been a fan of what’s been offered for online money management tools so far. I’ve grown comfortable with desktop Quicken, and cash flow is not my biggest issue at the moment. I am concerned more with asset allocations and investing for the future. Due to these issues, I am not the primary demographic Intuit is targeting for this software. However, I like exploring and experimenting with financial tools. I will use Quicken Online occasionally, as long as it doesn’t require any effort beyond the time I already spend managing my finances. This is where the software shows a strength: I could refrain from visiting Quicken Online for months, but as long as I don’t sign up for any new accounts, I can come back to Quicken Online and view current information.
For software I will likely not use often, for me it will come down to price. $2.99 per month is actually a very competitive price for an online service, but the other offerings are currently free (though full of advertising). For the intended audience, the planned features of Quicken Online should put it ahead of the other choices.