Mint Makes a Quick Mark on Intuit

Four months after Intuit (INTU) bought personal finance Web site, the company is preparing to phase out its Quicken Online software, moving Intuit's Web users to Mint. The software company plans to combine its technology with Mint's, making it easier for users to toggle between the Web and their home computers while managing money. Intuit plans to discontinue Quicken Online, its Web-based money management product, sometime between April and June, and move those users to, Intuit Vice-President and Mint founder Aaron Patzer says in an e-mail. Patzer was expanding on comments he had made in an interview for the NBC Bay Area program Press: Here. "Quicken Online will be end-of-lifed in the next few months," Patzer said on the program. "We'll transition those users over to," while preserving their historical financial data, Patzer's remarks indicate that Intuit is moving swiftly to reshape its software to more closely resemble the Web-based service that gained users at such a brisk clip that it started threatening Intuit's dominance of the personal finance software market. Patzer had hinted at the plans in an early December blog entry. In the on-air discussion, Patzer said Intuit plans to keep selling desktop versions of Quicken for Windows PCs and Apple (AAPL) Macs for perhaps five years further. That's mainly to appeal to "older" users who "feel more comfortable" with their finances on a personal computer, he said. Within about two years, the company plans to combine the software code of and Quicken into a product that would let users readily switch between desktop and online modes. Will older Quicken users adapt?Patzer said he and his team from Mint have been given lots of leeway to shape Intuit's personal finance products. "They want to learn more from us than us from them," he said. The Mint team possesses the necessary "intellectual capital" to sell customers on third-party financial products that can lower their interest rates or fees, says Cathy Graeber, an analyst at Forrester Research (FORR). Yet it's not clear that long-time Quicken users will warm to new features on the Web. "It will be really hard for older Boomers and seniors to feel comfortable with something that's a hybrid of desktop and online [software]," she says. Intuit's $170 million acquisition of Mint, announced on Sept. 14, propelled the $3 billion software maker's personal finance software into the Web 2.0 era. Mint has proven especially popular among Web users in their twenties and thirties because it avoids a lot of the data entry that characterizes much financial software and that many users find off-putting. Mint uses software algorithms to automatically categorize expenses and help users create budgets. Quicken boasts 10 million to 12 million customers and brings in about $100 million a year in revenue, according to Intuit. But Intuit hasn't managed to attract younger users to the brand while Mint has garnered more than 1.5 million users since its 2007 debut. Intuit also sells QuickBooks accounting software and a tax preparation package called TurboTax. Quicken Online failed to thwart MintDuring the TV interview, Patzer got in a dig at Quicken, whose cumbersome operation he has said helped inspire him to create Mint. Quicken appealed to an "anal-retentive-type personality who wanted to make sure everything was penny perfect," he said. Patzer, who took charge of Intuit's personal finance business after the acquisition closed last November, said the company plans to combine Intuit and Mint software code into a single "code base" that could run on a PC or in the cloud, letting users switch between the two modes. Future desktop versions could use Adobe Systems' (ADBE) Air, Microsoft's (MSFT) Silverlight, or open-source HTML 5 technologies to pull information from the Web while running on a user's desktop, he said. Meanwhile, Quicken Online will be dropped. Intuit introduced the Web site at the beginning of 2008 in order to compete with Mint. Quicken Online never took off and Intuit said after acquiring Mint that it would stop promoting the site and instead steer new Web users to Mint. At the time, the company said it planned to keep the Quicken Online brand alive as a service for desktop Quicken users to get alerts and updates about their investments. Now Mint will be the primary source of that information while connections between the desktop and Web products are developed. Mint is expanding its purview as well. Patzer said Intuit plans to launch a Mint feature later in 2010 to help users manage their mortgages and determine the best time to refinance. Down the road, there's scope for Intuit to create a "Mint for health care" product that lets consumers track their medical spending, Patzer said. Health-care software is a new area of investment for Intuit. In 2009, the company began offering customers of UnitedHealth Group (UNH), Cigna (CI), and Medical Mutual of Ohio software called Quicken Health Expense Tracker that lets consumers decipher insurers' "explanation of benefits" documents and see how much they owe vs. their deductibles. Insurers pay Intuit for the software, which is free to members of those plans and which has reduced the number of customer service calls the plans receive, Intuit President Peter Karpas says in an interview. Intuit also sells Quicken-branded accounting software for doctors.

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