As I mentioned briefly, I was in San Francisco for a few days to meet with software developers and strategists from NetworthIQ, ExpensR, and MyStrands. The companies are working together to develop web-based personal finance management software, with the intention of meeting customers’ needs that are not met by Mint, Geezeo, Quicken Online, and others. The companies invited a number of bloggers who write about personal finance to share their experiences and needs with each other.
This workshop gave me the perfect opportunity to meet many of the writers I’ve been working with for several years. Not only did we discuss financial software, but we also got to know each other quite a bit and share blogging tips and tricks. However, the main questions of the day pertained more to financial management software.
I would have to say that personal finance bloggers are not the typical consumers. For example, I track my finances in great detail — though less detail than I did six years ago — using Quicken’s desktop software. Several times a week, I update my transactions and reconcile my accounts against information downloaded from my banks, and once a month, I review my reports to get a good handle on the bigger picture. I do not want to spend any more time than I do now, especially if it involves categorizing my expenses. Software like Mint (reviewed here by Sasha) and Quicken Online (previewed by me) will connect directly to your bank for downloading your transactions and attempt to categorize your spending based on patterns, but this system is not perfect and requires significant manual correction.
Additionally, for most people, the information downloaded from banks does not create a full picture of spending. Although more spending takes place through electronic transactions, cash still plays a large role. Software must include a way to enter cash transactions, not downloadable from any bank. In order to save current Quicken users from expending more effort, I suggested allowing the new web software to “plug in” to existing desktop software. This would allow users like me to take advantage of some of the planned “Web 2.0” features, like “social networking” and cross-segment comparisons.
All the bloggers had great suggestions for what we’d like to see, but the big questions are how to make personal finance mainstream and what would the most people want to see as the 21st century brings technological advances. So this leads to one question for readers, particularly those of you who think outside the box: What do you want your personal finance software to do and how does that differ from your existing solution?
Updated March 21, 2011 and originally published March 31, 2008.