The Quicken Death Rattle

The personal finance software program Quicken has served me well for 10 years when it easily supplanted my rudimentary spreadsheet system. Unfortunately, it looks like Quicken’s days are numbered.

Mac Compatibility

In switching from Windows to Mac last year, Quicken was the one program that held me back. There is a Mac version of Quicken, but it is the unloved, red-headed step-child. It is an entirely separate code base, not compatible with anything, has a clunky UI and is missing half of the features of its Windows brethren. To be honest, it shouldn’t even be called by the same name. Of the many lacking features, the missing support for multiple currencies was the show stopper with our our impending move to London.

I spent some time last year reviewing a number of different personal finance options for Mac including, iBank, Liquid Ledger, iCash, GnuCash, and Moneydance. Many weren’t suitable alternatives though a couple showed promise. Not ready to make a jump, I was saved by the release of Parallels which would allow me to run the Windows version of Quicken on my Mac. While not ideal, it has worked well enough and I’d probably continue on in this setup if it weren’t for the other developing problems.

Sheltered At Home

The Windows version of Quicken does support multiple currencies, but I have come to find out that it doesn’t handle them very well. The program choked when trying to import data in Pounds reporting that it was expecting Dollars (despite the fact the account was in Pounds). Reports always default to Dollars and can’t show mixed currencies. However, the most glaring problem that I encountered is their budgeting tool.

All budgets must be in US Dollars. This is a bit of a challenge when we are earning and spending in British Pounds. At best, I could perform the tedious process of translating our budget from Pounds to Dollars, but reading the reports would be like trying to decipher secret code. And the practicality of it is that it is impossible because a change in the exchange rate throws off the entire budget.

Playing Nice With Others

Intuit decided not too long ago that they would stop supporting the file format that has been used for years to import and export data from Quicken and other personal finance programs. While this upset many people, it was replaced with a newer, slicker, standard file format that was supposed to eliminate many of the problems with the older QIF.

That sounds great. Unfortunately, they changed the standard OFX file slightly, dubbed it QFX and only allow importing from this guarded file type. To make it worse, the file format has codes that represent various financial institutions, and the program only allows imports for banks that have paid the annual subscription fee. To make matters worse, there are separate fees for Mac and Windows and apparantly by country. So, my bank may pay the Windows fee, but not the Mac fee. Or they may pay the US fee, but not the UK fee. Or they may pay the fee one year, and not the next. Or they may decide not to be blackmailed by Intuit and not pay the fee at all.

While I learned about this a couple years ago, it didn’t really affect me that much as most everything kept working. The only exception being our credit union, which reports that the annual fees required by Intuit are not even related to the number of people that use the software, but the value of the banks assets! With our move abroad, the number of financial institutions that have paid the fee matching what I need to import my data has dropped significantly thus eliminating the ability to import from a good number of accounts. Keep in mind — I can still download the data in the correct format from the banks, but Quicken just isn’t “unlocked” appropriately for me to import the data. And there is nothing I can do about it.

Equals Not So Quick

The result of all of this is that Quicken is not so quick any more. In fact it has become a big fat burden as evidenced by the last four months worth of receipts and bills piled up on my desk. I now hate dealing with basic tasks that used to be so… quick. Budgeting and budget reporting now have to be done manually, expenses have to be entered manually, accounts have to be reconciled manually. It is tedious and I don’t want to do it, so it piles up on my desk. As a result, the data is always out of date making the reporting worthless.

It has started to become a real problem now. Being on such a tight budget (reduced to one income, additional school expenses and moving to one of the most expensive cities in the world) it is important that we keep a handle on what we are spending, and keep up with our bills. The bank fees are outrageous for even the smallest slip up and we’ve had some close calls in the last few weeks.

So now it is only a matter of time. The question is, who will be the successor and when?

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