Quicken Draws a Line in the Sand, Places $36/yr Value on Online Personal Finance

link to Quicken Online The two dozen online competitors of Intuit's Quicken can breathe a sigh of relief today. The 800-lb guerilla has done them a favor, levying a monthly fee for its new online-only option, Quicken Online (press release here). While the $2.99/mo fee, after a free month, is reasonable, it's much different than FREE. Look for the websites of the competition to trumpet the $35.88 annual savings very soon.  

Intuit could easily have offered its online option free of charge. While that would cannibalize its packaged version, the overall impact to its bottom line would have been insignificant (note 2). And a free Quicken would have made it much harder for Mint, Wesabe, Geezeo, Buxfer and others to gain a footing (note 1).

My guess is that Intuit doesn't feel too threatened by the startups, yet. The security issue is extremely difficult for a new company to overcome. Intuit is one of the few tech companies with a brand that has trust levels on par with a financial institution. Millions already entrust their entire tax return, which has far more personal info than an online bank account, with the company. 

Intuit will allow the startups to build a following, then acquire the promising ones and convert their users to Quicken Online. All for less than the cash it would have foregone by offering Quicken Online free.  

We'll compare and contrast Quicken Online with the startups in an upcoming Online Banking Report (previous reports here and here).

Quicken Online hompage 9 Jan 2008

 

Notes:

1. A few hours before Quicken Online went live, Mint issued a press release trumpeting its 100,000 registered users. That's an impressive number for a company that went live in September (previous coverage here). However, assuming 20% to 25% of those are active, there are still more than 500 times as many Quicken desktop users. 

2. Intuit's fiscal 2007 pre-tax profit was $670 million. 

Mint, Prosper, Zillow, and Kiva are Crunchie Finalists

Four online finance companies are finalists in the Crunchies, an awards program sponsored by three major tech blogs: TechCrunch, GigaOM, Read/WriteWeb, and VentureBeat.

  • Mint is one of five finalists in Most Likely to Succeed (here)
  • Prosper is one of five in Best (new) Business Model (here)
  • Zillow is one of five in the Best Consumer Startup (here) and Best Overall (here)
  • Kiva is one of five in Most Likely to Make the World a Better Place (here)

Winners will be determined by a tally of votes at the site between Dec. 21 and Jan 10.

Mint Lands More Press Coverage

Mint has certainly caught the attention of the nation's press. Over the weekend, I watched CEO Aaron Patzer interviewed on San Francisco's channel 5 (video here). Today, the Wall Street Journal ran a Q&A with Patzer in the Lee Gomes Talking Tech column under the headline, Financial Software Moves to the Web (p. B3, see note 1). The WSJ article itself is a throwback to the late 1990s, talking about the advantages of Web-based apps vs. desktop apps. 

The Mint press coverage reminds me of the 2000/2001 period when Yodlee and Vertical One burst on the scene with "account aggregation" services. Mint wisely steers clear of that out-of-fashion term and focuses on the benefits it provides, namely saving users from themselves by pointing out the sometimes substantial money to be earned putting spare cash to work in a higher-yield account.  

We will continue to watch Mint closely, not because its services are unique: Yodlee, Wesabe, Jwaala, Geezeo, Digital Insight (Intuit) and many others provide essentially the same thing. But Mint is the hot new kid on the block and seems to have struck a nerve, at least with the early-adopter financial junkies, which includes the personal finance press. It will be interesting to see how the company builds on its momentum and what implications, if any, its early success has on the broader banking marketplace.  

Note:

1. Thanks, Mom, for the WSJ tip. And no, the "developers conference" mentioned in the article was not our FINOVATE, it was TechCrunch 40 held two weeks earlier. Mint won awards at both.  

Using Mint (part 1): First Impressions

link to mint.comEver since receiving a private beta-invite a month ago, I've been meaning to run new personal finance site Mint through its paces. Then, after it won Best of Show at TechCrunch40 and our FINOVATE conference, I really wanted to see if the product could possibly live up to the expectations created while watching CEO Aaron Patzer give a demo (see previous coverage here, see note 1 below).  

But it takes time to really analyze a website, and I hadn't got around to it until today, when I was inspired by Ron Lieber and his team at the new Dow Jones/IAC site FiLife (press release here) as they reported on their individual results using the Mint's online personal finance tools (see coverage here).

I will file a series of reports as I use the program over the coming weeks. Today, we begin with the first impressions.

First Impressions
Homepage: One thing you notice when you visit Mint.com is that it looks nothing like a banking site (see first screenshot below). That can be good or bad. It's good because it sets the site apart from a normal financial services site. But that can also be a problem because the first, second, and third things users care about at a new financial site is whether it's secure or not. And a bankish "look and feel" can increase consumer trust.

But Mint does an admirable job walking the fine line of creating an engaging look while still reassuring visitors that it fiercely protects their data and privacy. The three large benefit statements in the middle create interest in the product, while the bank logos and the TRUSTe at the bottom provide visual clues that Mint is a serious player.

And the graphic design, leveraging the clever "Mint" name, combined with the light green color scheme, create an inviting site that should do well converting lookers into registered users (active users is another matter, more on that later).

Copy is concise, just 60 words above the fold (see note 2), and completely benefit oriented. Learn more button allows users to drill deeper, and you can't miss the call to action, Sign Up Now in the middle of the page.

Features page: Navigating to the feature page is simple, either click on the "Learn More" blue button in the middle of the page or use the "Features" tab at the top. The page does a great job laying out the key benefits with good use of headers and concise, bulleted lists supplemented with clear, attractive screen-captures of key points (see second screenshot below). Also note the prominent placement of big-name financial brands, Chase, Discover, and E*Trade, to increase trust.  

While the page does a good job highlighting features, it doesn't provide any interactive way of learning about the tool before signing up. Video and audio help goes a long way in demonstrating the features (see Jwaala/Amplify CU Money Tracker video here).

Mint.edu: A nice touch. Instead of calling it "education" or "blog" or something else no one would ever click on, Mint uses the clever Mint.edu (see third screenshot below). That's a URL that will resonate with its younger members and anyone familiar with higher education domain names. And once at the .edu site, engaging blog entries allow users to dig deeper into what is going on with the company and read about personal finance topics in general. RSS and email subscription options are clearly presented in the right-hand column.

Grade: A+

Mint Homepage (19 Oct 2007)

Mint.com homepage

Mint Features page (also accessible via "Learn More" button on homepage)

Mint.com features page

Mint.edu page (19 Oct 2007)

Mint blog page

Notes:

1. The video of Aaron Patzer's FINOVATE demo will be online within the next week at FINOVATE.com. In the meantime, you can see him on the Channel 5 SF news here.

2. Red line in screenshots 1 and 2 indicates the bottom of the screen using 1024 x 768 display on 13.3-inch laptop screen.

Mint.com Traffic = $17 billion bank

Compete's latest data confirms the spike in traffic at three-week old online personal finance startup Mint. The startup created considerable buzz after winning the $50,000 grand prize at TechCrunch in September (see previous coverage here).  

According to Compete, Mint's 200,000 unique visitors in September equaled that of $17-billion Webster Bank, the 64th largest U.S. bank or thrift holding company according to American Banker (Q1 2007). It will be interesting to see if Mint experiences a dramatic traffic decline after the publicity-driven visits slow down.   

Traffic at Mint.com (blue) vs. Webster Bank <websteronline.com> (red)

Mint vs Webster Bank traffic

Mint Attracts 50,000 Users in First Two Weeks

New TechCrunch co-editor Erick Schonfeld posted a short article yesterday (here) about Mint winning the Best of Show award at our FINOVATE conference (note 1). That post allowed TechCrunch's 600,000 readers to weigh in again on the pros and cons of Mint's model. During the past 24 hours, it attracted 72 comments, many with security concerns. Mint's CEO Aaron Patzer bravely joined the discussion and posted a half-dozen of the comments himself.

It's interesting to understand the concerns posted by TC readers. Of course, this is not at all a mainstream audience, so we take the complaints with a grain of salt. But it's still indicative of the hurdles a new financial institution, especially an unregulated one, faces when launching a new service.

Schonfeld's post also included the first metrics we've seen from the two-week old company:

  • 50,000 total registered users
  • 35,000 active users (have come at least once since registering)
  • 5,000 power users (use it every day)
  • 5,000 mobile alert users

Mint, Mortgagebot, and Prosper Win Best of Show at FINOVATE

Following is a press release we just sent out over the wires. While these three companies received the highest ratings across the 117 ballots, ratings were relatively high across the board, averaging 5.02 on a 7-point scale. Eight other companies received scores within 10% (e.g., 0.5 points) of the lowest-winning score and thirteen companies were within 20% (1 point).
_______________________________________________________________________________

Oct. 5, 2007
For immediate release:

NEW YORK(BUSINESS WIRE)On Tuesday, attendees at the FINOVATE 2007 conference voted on their favorite financial product or service from among the 20 innovations presented. Overall, the DEMOs were extremely well received with an average score of just over 5 points on a 7-point scale. The three winners (in alphabetical order):

  • Mint: A new online personal finance company launched
    two weeks ago (previous coverage here)
  • Mortgagebot’s Mortgage Marvel: A new mortgage marketplace launched Oct. 2 at FINOVATE 2007 (previous coverage here)
  • Prosper: The first U.S. person-to-person lender,
    launched in Feb. 2006 (previous coverage here)

About the Voting
One “Best of Show” ballot was issued to all 230 registered attendees. Representatives from the presenting companies were not eligible to vote. Each of the 20 DEMOs was rated on a 7-point scale with the three highest receiving “FINOVATE Best of Show” awards. About two-thirds of eligible attendees voted.

About the FINOVATE Conference
The FINOVATE conference is the first demo-based conference for the financial, banking and lending technology industries. Held annually in New York City, the conference offers a chance to explore the future of finance in a fast-paced, intimate and unique way. FINOVATE is organized by Online Financial Innovations. For more information, please visit www.finovate.com.

About Online Financial Innovations
Founded in 1995 by former banker Jim Bruene, Online Financial Innovations is a Seattle-based research company. OFI is best known for publishing the Online Banking Report, a regular newsletter featuring in-depth analysis, relevant data, and informed recommendations to financial services executives in 50 countries. For more information and free sample reports, visit Online Banking Report, email info@netbanker.com or call (206) 517-5021. You may also find OFI’s blog on the latest in online finance & banking at NetBanker.com,

Contacts
Online Financial Innovations
Jim Bruene, 206-517-5021
info@netbanker.com

Mint’s Coming-Out Party at TechCrunch 40

Update (8 PM Pacific): Earlier this evening, Mint was named Best Presenting Company at TechCrunch 40 (see here) and took home the $50,000 grand prize. A good first day in the life of the startup!    

Congratulations to Mint on being one of just two financial services startups to win a spot at TechCrunch 40, the tech-startup con-fab in San Francisco that concludes this afternoon. More than 700 companies applied for the presentation slots, and just 40 were chosen. The other financial company was Cake Financial which competes with Zecco, Covestor, and Social Picks, in the "social investing" space, i.e., companies that help users track their investment portfolios and share them with others.

Mint presented in the "Productivity & Web Apps" category this morning and received high marks, scoring a 4.0 out of a possible 5.0 from 67 voters. During the first seven sessions (35 companies), only three have scored higher than 4.0. Mint also received favorable comments from the expert panel comprised of Guy Kawasaki, Esther Dyson, Roelof Botha, and Mike Arrington (blog post here).

For those of you attending our FINOVATE conference Oct. 2 in NYC, you'll have a chance to see a live demo from Mint CEO Aaron Patzer. If you can't wait until then, Mint opened its personal finance app to the public today with a public beta version. Let us know what you think.

Online Personal Finance Heats Up: Part 1

The race to become the next Quicken of online finance is heating up this fall with several launches expected before year-end (note 1). At our upcoming new products conference, FINOVATE 2007, you will be treated to live demos of five leading personal finance apps. Three are newcomers: Geezeo, Jwaala, Mint, and two are industry veterans launching new online versions, Digital Insight (Intuit) and Yodlee. Here are brief profiles of two newcomers. We'll look at the other three in part two on Friday.

Jwaala
Jwaala, out of Austin, Tex., made a splash in March when it debuted on Amplify Credit Union's site, winning our OBR Best of the Web award in the process (see post here). The specific feature to win recognition (see note 1) was the personalized RSS feeds available to MoneyTracker users. The natural language search is also a significant improvement over typical expense manager search functions.

Jwaala, which was a finalist in the TechCrunch 20 start-up conference, has also built a simple Google-like, text-based ad server into its MoneyTracker interface. It allows CU and bank marketers to run relevant marketing and educational messages next to transaction data and query results (see screenshot #1 below). Amplify CU, which is an investor in Jwaala, has given the service considerable marketing play with several links on its homepage (see screenshot below) and a series of instructional/marketing videos accessible from the MoneyTracker landing page (here).

Mint
Mountain View, Calif.-based Mint is still in limited private beta, so we can't say much about its online personal finance manager. However, the company says this about itself:

Mint is building a free, simple, and secure personal finance web-app. Designed to be effortless, Mint consolidates your financial life in one place. Easily see how much you have, how much you owe, and where your money goes. Advanced alerts notify you before you bounce a check or forget to pay a bill. Patent pending algorithms even show you personalized ways to save and make more money. If your finances could use organization without effort, Mint is for you.

After putting our name on its mailing list several months ago, we finally received an invitation to its private beta Saturday. I am about to sign up, but since I will be sworn to secrecy, I wanted to finish this post first, so that I wouldn't have to worry about accidentally revealing a feature. As we mentioned in our previous post (here), you can learn quite a bit about the product and the company's outlook by reading the active Mint blog (see screenshot #3 below) which has published 102 articles in its 6-month history, an amazing amount of content for a company that hasn't yet launched its product.

Notes:
1. For more information, consult two recent reports from Online Banking Report: Online Personal Finance and Social Personal Finance.

2. OBR Best of the Web awards are given out occasionally for features that raise the bar in online financial services. It is NOT necessarily an endorsement of the company or its full product.

Exhibits 

Screenshot 1: Jwaala interface showing personalized "marketing bar" (4 Sept 2007)

 

Screenshot 2: Amplify CU homepage with links to Money Tracker (5 Sep 2007)

Amplify CU homepage 5 Sep 2007

Note: Amplify makes great use of video to sell the benefits. Check out the video tour of its "cafe style" branch (on the Amplify homepage here, click on the "play video" button to the right of the branch photo).

Screenshot #3: Mint blog main page (5 Sept 2007)