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REVIEW: Mint’s A Personal Finance After-Banking Treat

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mint.gifIf you’re like me — tired of old-school personal finance software à la Quicken, you’re in for a treat. Mint, one of the best online personal finance startups I’ve seen, launched yesterday at the TechCrunch40 event. (It was the winner of TechCrunch40’s $50,000 award.)

I’ve been using the beta version for a few weeks now, and I am impressed with what the site has to offer. While competitors Geezeo and Wesabe are reasonably adequate for money management, Mint gets online personal finance right.

First off, the site makes it easy to connect checking, savings and other non-investment accounts. Sites like Wesabe require a software download for automatic updates, but Mint automates the entire process without any extra download hassles. The entire sign-up process for Mint took a few minutes, whereas it took me a good half an hour or so to get started on both Wesabe and Geezeo.

Once signed up, I really noticed a difference. Given design doesn’t matter much in the success of a startup (have you seen MySpace?), when it comes to a company that needs to earn the trust of an online banking audience, a clean, well-designed site could be its ticket to success. Mint not only has a better name for branding than its competitors, but a clean and easy-to-navigate site design to boot.

While Geezeo focuses mostly on mobile access to data and Wesabe is keen on providing a social networking experience, Mint’s site is geared at providing the best user experience possible in terms of breaking down where money has been earned and spent. The site makes spending patterns easy to track by automatically creating graphs displayed on a privately accessed site.

According to Mint, 65 million people in the U.S. use online banking today, and the average American has more than four bank relationships. It’s nice, then, to have one place to go to view spending on all of these accounts. Of course, not all of the 65 million online bankers in the U.S. will trust an online finance site with their banking passwords. Will enough of them trust Mint for the site to be successful? In this age of identity theft paranoia, I’m not so sure.

Mint will try to persuade those users to sign up for the site with a bunch of nifty features. Besides the graphs, my favorite feature is a weekly e-mail that reminds me of my balance and latest purchases on my various banking cards. If my account balance dips below a certain amount, they’ll send me an e-mail to let me know I need to be careful not to overdraw it.

And here’s where online advertising and user value fit nicely hand-in-hand: Mint partners with various financial firms that will offer users savings on their accounts. For instance, Mint informs me that I can save $403 a year just by signing up for its recommended offers, such as American Express (AXP) credit card or an E-Trade (ETFC) CD with 5.05 percent APY interest.

Mint, Wesabe and Geezeo have yet to make it possible to link up access to investment accounts. It seems Mint plans to eventually offer the ability to link monthly bills to the online account as well, as there is a grayed-out “monthly bills” graphic which leads one to believe this is a feature on the way. Mint is backed by First Round Capital and other angel investors. It was founded in 2006.

53 Responses to “REVIEW: Mint’s A Personal Finance After-Banking Treat”

  1. After seeing the coverage of Mint, I signed up and exercised it to see what they had. Overall, it’s a sweet idea. Execution and interface was always a bit off for me, though, is a bit lacking (why does it ask me for every possible combination of security questions to add an account?!).

    This motivated me to signup for the Quicken online beta to see how they compare. The Quicken online is light on features (no brokerage accounts supported, for example), but man do they have the UI and experience down… it was positively intuitive to use and they’ve made some welcome simplifications over the desktop version (especially around item categorization).

    It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out – I’m still not sure how either will practically make any money.

  2. Aggregation service is a double edge sword.
    Typically it’s a whitelisted ‘bot’ that scrapes the bank website for details and provide a more meaningful representation of the data

    Errors typically occur:
    1. When bank changes the user interface or is using a dynamic asynchronous process aka AJAX for more responsiveness
    (Errors that you folks are seeing now)

    2.Multi factor authentication… Typically neural network based fraud detection system weeds out ‘scraping’ requests although the IP generating it is whitelisted. Neural nets usually generate a large amount of false positives

    I prefer to be agilent with my account management and NOT outsource it to an mint, wesabe or any other website.
    As they say, as process can be trained to think like humans but a cannot emulate a human’s brain.

  3. Why not just use Yodlee – works great, handles all my account (including IRA/401k). Basically looks like a pretty front end on Yodlee with some categorization tech. But I agree with everyone else – the failures right now are killer.

  4. I’ll echo a comment in the “Problems adding accounts” forum:

    “Makes sense that it’s free because it doesn’t work”

    And I don’t know what you guys are doing different, but if you go there, sign up and enter your uname/pass for three different banks (and not some podunk bank, AmEx, CapOne, Wachovia, explicitly) and all three fail, what does that say?

    Sounds more like some eastern europeans collecting info than something serious.

  5. I work for a huge federal credit union in the U.S., and I have asked our website department over and over again when we are going to be compatible with Quicken. Well, Quicken was asking for too much money so I don’t know that we are going to be working with them anytime soon. However, if a company like Mint can allow our members to create budgets for their money for free, then I think Mint will come out on top.

  6. Mint in fact is using Yoldee’s aggregation service beind the scenes … check yoldee’s customer tab on their web site.

    Also I wouldn’t be comfortable to share my banking credentials outside of the bank portal. I work in the area of fraud detection and such sites are targets to fraud no matter of the fact and claim that they are the most sucure.

    My ID and password stays with me :)

  7. I’ve been a beta user for Mint for the past week or so. The implementation is done very well, and covers savings and spending very well. However, I don’t have a complete financial picture of myself because Mint doesn’t (yet?) cover investments (401k, IRA, stocks, options, etc…). I can see Yahoo! or someone similar buying these guys out.

  8. A big drawback of Mint righ now is that is works in the U.S. alone. Wesabe on the other hand has no such limitations for a Canadian like myself.

    Considering the press that Mint is generating from TechCrunch40, it seems a bit odd that International users like myself, eager to try it out and spread the word are turned away for the lack of a zip code.

  9. hey Om,
    hope you enjoyed the event.
    I followed the event through TC live blogging and I must say there was some interesting startups there, but I would never thought Mint would be the winner.
    That just prove that sometime execution is the key in success.