After putting several free online personal financial management (PFM) tools to the test last year, I became a regular user of Mint.com. I found that it provided the best package of features with the greatest ease of use. Recently I had a chance to talk with Mint founder Aaron Patzer to get an update on the service. Here’s a summary of the main points.
End of the Road for Quicken Online
Quicken, the main player in the budget software space, was surprisingly slow to offer an online version. Not so surprisingly, now that Mint is owned by the company that makes Quicken (Intuit), Quicken Online’s days are numbered. The service is still available to current users, but is closed to new users. Patzer says it will be shut down in about three months, with users ported over to Mint.com.
Cash Tracking. The main complaint I have had with Mint is its method of dealing with cash transactions. If you take money out of an ATM and then want to categorize your use of that cash, you have search for that ATM transaction and then split it into the right categories. So, I was happy to hear that within about a month Mint will add a cash account into which ATM withdrawals are transferred. That will make it easier to categorize the use of cash.
Support Forum. Starting today, when users click on “Get Help,” they will see a new forum where they can more easily ask questions of other users or the Mint support team.
Comparative Analysis. Right now if you want to see how your grocery spending compares to that of the average Mint user, you can do so. An improvement that’s in the works will enable you to compare yourself to people who share similar demographics.
Personally, I’d rather compare my spending to people who earn the same income as me and who have proven themselves to be wise money managers – people who don’t carry a balance on their credit cards, who save and invest regularly, etc. Patzer said there are no plans for such a service.
A New Way to Save. Under the “Ways to Save” tab, where Mint makes its money, its newest feature is an auto insurance savings engine. It looks at how much you’re spending on auto insurance, compares it against the averages in your area, gives you some idea as to how much you could save, and then provides a link where you can request a quote.
Bill Pay. I was surprised to learn that Mint is planning to enable users to pay bills using the service, perhaps as early as the second half of this year. To date, whenever asked about Mint’s security, part of the standard response has been that Mint is “read only,” meaning that users are not able to move money around, so neither could anyone who stole your password. However, Mint has always gone to the nth degree where security is concerned, so I have confidence that the service will provide the proper levels of protection.
Mobile. Patzer said mobile functionality is “hugely important” to Mint since mobile users tend to be twice as engaged as other users. Currently, Mint has an iPhone app, and is working on one for Android users, which should be available by the end of March. No word on the timing for a Blackberry app. All mobile users can get e-mail or text messages regarding credit card bill due dates, unusual charges, a low balance in your checking account, overspending in a budgeted category, and more.
There has been some shakeout in the online personal financial management space, with players like Geezeo and Wesabe seemingly more focused now on serving as the so-called “white label” behind the scenes engines for bank and credit union personal financial management (PFM) tools. But new competitors are emerging. The newest player is called MPOWER. The service tracks and categorizes your income and expenses like Mint, but MPOWER also offers added services like bill pay, funds transfers, and more. MPOWER is a fee-based service, charging users either $19.95 per month or $59.95 per month depending on the service level.
I plan to take a closer look at this service in the near future. However, for now I have a hard time believing it can offer enough value to attract very many paying customers. I can’t see anything on its list of features and benefits that would motivate me to pay $20 per month.
When asked about the competitive landscape, Patzer said, “I don’t think about the competition. At the end of the day what matters is not the competition; it’s what value you’re creating for your users. The way we design is we look at what the customer needs. I only care about building things that are valuable to people. You never get revolutionary improvements unless you think from a clean piece of paper about how you would solve it from scratch if no competitors existed.”
It’s a philosophy that seems to be working well. According to NetBanker, Mint had 1.7 million unique visitors in January of this year. That’s 600,000 more than it had in January of 2009.