Friday, February 15, 2008

Misadventures in Online Money Management

I am a terrible budgeter. I usually don't have a clue where the money goes from my paycheck.

I know, I know, "Don't you work at a credit union? You should be an expert!" We all know that sometimes its hard to practice what you preach.

So, the past week I've been giving several online money management solutions a try. These include Wesebe, Mint, and Expensr.

I'm disappointed to say that I didn't find a single one that truly serves my needs as a credit union member.

I'll start with Wesebe. wesebelogo-home

Getting into an account with Wesebe is initially very easy. The big draw for me was the community aspect of Wesebe. You can tag your transactions and Wesebe will match you with advice from other users on how to save money. It seems like a great system that could help me save a lot every month.

Wesebe also includes a pretty slick mobile interface to actively update your account from a web-enabled mobile phone.

Unfortunately I hit a huge snag when actually trying to upload my account from Maine State Credit Union.

First, MSCU was not listed as a supported financial institution. Fortunately Wesebe makes it easy to manually add your institution to the list.

Second, and this is where I hit a huge road block, MSCU (like many other financial institutions) provides e-statements in the form of a PDF file. Wesebe only supports several file formats associated with Quicken and Microsoft Money (OFX, QFX, QIF, and OFC).

I sent an email to customer support and received this answer:

"Unfortunately, we don't have a way yet to read .pdf files or to convert them into machine-readable form. This is certainly something we'd ideally like to have, but it may be difficult to achieve, since many banks add formatting and design elements that make the .pdf hard to parse."

They also offered to see if there was any way they could help set up the account, but at this point as a consumer I would have abandoned the attempt and moved on. I'll continue to try and get it set up so I can talk about it more in the future.

Next I moved on to Mint.

mintlogoMint seems awesome. The fact that it automatically updates the account by pulling transaction info nightly is great I think it is one of the big advantages Mint has over Wesebe (which requires manual upload of transactions). Though, Mint does not have a mobile version of its site available.

Mint also has some social aspects to it as well. It will match up "custom" advice based on your current spending habits. The only annoying thing I found was that it will also try to suggest moving your money to other financial institutions. As a consumer, I'd like to see a higher interest rate on my savings, but it seems a bit like they are pushing a product at me. Also, as an employee of a financial institution it worries me that they are suggesting members move their accounts away from the credit union.

Once again though, I hit an impasse when trying to establish a connection with my Maine State Credit Union account. With mint I wasn't even able to add my institution to the list. I had to send an email to the support staff and received a message back:

"Thank you for requesting that we add your financial institution or financial product to our list of financial institutions we support. As we have to work with our provider to add financial institutions to the system, we did want to advise that it may take time to get your financial institution added & that all requests are based on the frequency of requests we get for a particular institution (small, localized banks and credit unions may take longer). If we are able to add your bank to our system, we will attempt to contact you via email."

Once again, as a consumer I probably would have given up and moved on to look for a different solution. I'll continue to try and work with them and report back on the progress.

Finally, I looked at expensr.

I found expensr while looking into this years Finovate Startup in San Fran. This program was the easiest set up of the group. Its as easy as signing up for an email account. It is a pretty basic finance tracking program though.

Expensr does allow you to upload a statement, similar to wesebe, but the upload screen is more difficult to navigate to. Also, the same file format issues arise. Fortunately Expensr make it easy to manually enter a starting balance and transactions. It is a bit of a chore to do everything manually, but at least it works.

Expensr also includes a tagging feature that allows you to easily see where your cash is going and how you compare to other users based on sex, age, and other demographical indicators. Unfortunately most of the information based on these tags is along the lines of interesting trivia like, "did you know that people in their thirties are the biggest spenders on housing?" Interesting, but not exactly something that's going to help me save money.

Expensr also includes a nice little mobile version to update the transactions from you phone. Which is pretty much a must for me.

The Bottom Line?

As a credit union member it is difficult to get the big guys to play. It is a struggle just to get Mint and Wesebe set up for a credit union. Expensr is easier to set up at the expense of some functionality and a community aspect that is slightly less robust than Wesebe or Mint. I'll continue to work with all three in an effort to get a real feeling for their programs and customer support.

If you are tired of buying expensive accounting software like Quicken or Microsoft Money, one of these could do the trick for free. Offering a money management solution (something like Digital Insights Personal FinanceWorks) with your home banking might just be a way to stand out amongst the competition and connect with your members's needs.


Ginny Brady said...

Andy, I've been looking for an analysis of these online tools from a CU perspecitve for a long time. Thanks for tackling it - I guess the technology hasn't kept up with the need.

Ross Graham said...

Even though the eStatement is in the form of a PDF, the financial institution doesn't provide you the QIF file or otherwise to download into your own software? That's stunning.

You should talk to you credit union to get them up to speed with the technology. Believe me, having my CU's information automatically imported into Mint is awesome. Weekly summaries of my spending texted to me from Mint are joyous. The cool thing is, that even though my CU doesn't have an online banking feature that is very robust, Mint fills the gap without them having to spend the cash to upgrade.

But at least they provide me a way to get my financial information into Mint or Wesabe or Quicken for that matter. Talk to your CU and see what they can do.

Anonymous said...

Andy, we don't you add Geezeo to your list of PFMs to try out. Peter Glyman and company are based in Massachusetts and Connecticut, have presented at Finovate, and are also coming to BarCampBank NewEngland..... if you try out Geezeo before then, I'm sure they will be very interested in hearing your first-hand feedback and wish lists!!

Jeff Hardin said...

Andy - thanks for your analysis on this!

I've had various levels of success with Wesabe and have not tried Explorer.

Mint was not a good experience for me. I had some problems uploading my account information, and then got no response from customer "help" when I emailed them. (Not "I can't help you with that," but - no response.)

If that wasn't bad enough, the "Your Money Misses You at Mint" marketing emails that came later sealed the deal. No mint for me, thanks just the same.

I know I sound like a hater with the above - but frankly, it seems as if this PFM space is still developing, and a lot of things still have to be worked out before I'll go back into the water.

Robbie Wright said...

I've done the same, tried out Mint, Wesabe, and Quicken Online during its beta. I've ditched QO and I am still using both Wesabe and Mint side by side to see which one I like better. The OIF/QFX file formats are (currently) the only standardized way of getting data out of financial accounts. I too am shocked that your online banking system can't export QIF or OFX. As far a Mint goes for auto-updating, our credit union wasn't listed either and took a few months to get added, but I can understand where Mint is coming from. Each FI login in going to be different to get access to those OFX files so most FI's are going to have to be setup by hand.

dtrautman said...

Is any one concerned about giving your passwords to Mint?

Jeff Hardin said...

@Robbie -

Glad you are having a better experience with this. I neglected to point out that in the case of Mint, both my CUs were listed in their database, but the system would not log-in to retrieve the data -- hence my email inquiry.

Andy said...


Thanks, Tech certainly hasn't quite caught up to the need. The potential is there for easy, robust, and social money management, but some things are much more difficult than the average user would like to see.


I did find out that it is possible to download the account history as an OFX file, but it is difficult to track down on the online banking program. Just figured it out today.

I tried to go into this from the view point of the average CU member. I wrote this post as soon as I decided that, if I were an average consumer, I would have quit and moved on.

In my opinion, somebody who isn't interested enough in money management to use Quiken or Microsoft Money isn't going to make that extra effort to get set up on an online program. Once I realize that it isn't any easier or less confusing to set up an online PFM than it is to set up Quicken, I'm going to lose interest and motivation very quickly. Even if it might be simpler once the account is set up.

@Everything CU

Thanks for the heads up! I can't even believe that they slipped my mind. I've been reading the Geezeo blog for quite awhile. As soon as you said it I nearly slapped myself in the face! I'll deffinatly ad that to the list and really look forward to speaking with them at BarCampBank NE!


That seems to be the general consensus. As the ever logical Ron Shevlin said to me on twitter, experiences like this are the reason there is still a horse race in this field.


I definitely see why Mint is the way it is. They have to establish a direct connection with the institution to be able to upload the transaction data nightly. Hopefully they'll be able to speed up the process in the future...and I found their customer service a bit lacking. Though it is a free program, so I can't really complain to much.


I Haven't really seen any major security concerns with Mint. Though you are providing them with access to transaction info, it is all stored very securely and I personally have no qualms about providing them that access.