It’s like Quicken, except it has features.
Investments: pretty good
My main reason for trying iBank initially was the fact that, unlike Quicken Essentials, it offers a respectable level of support for investment accounts.
You won’t find any super sophisticated investment features in iBank, but you’ll find the basics: decent reporting, cost basis tracking, and the ability to enter transactions like buy, sell, dividends, etc. You know, stuff you’d expect to find in a personal finance application—and stuff you won’t find in Quicken Essentials.
Account organization: great
As I moved more accounts into iBank, I came to really appreciate the interface. My favorite feature is the way you can group any combination of accounts into folders (and subfolders). The total account balance for the folder group is shown in the side bar. You can mix credit cards, checking, investment accounts, etc.—any combination that’s meaningful to you.
I really appreciate software that naturally molds itself to the unique needs of its users.
Reporting: all the basic needs are met
You’ll find the usual types of reports in iBank: income and spending through time, portfolio summary, net worth, and more.
One nice surprise was a cash flow forecast graph that takes into account scheduled transactions. Very useful for ensuring you aren’t going to overdraw your checking account in the future.
There are a number of options for report customization. You can even create custom reports based the folder groups I mentioned earlier. I’m using a custom net worth report to track my non-retirement savings (a mix of bank and investment accounts) through time. Works great.
Scheduled transactions: easy to use
I never liked how Intuit implemented scheduled transactions in Quicken Essentials because editing them required several steps, and it was a tedium I had to endure at least twice a month. In iBank, updating a scheduled transaction amount is as simple as pasting a value into the transaction. No popup windows or anything.
The iBank mobile app: icing on the cake
The iBank mobile app ($5) syncs with the desktop software. So far, it's worked flawlessly for me, but I haven't used it much. The biggest advantage of having a companion mobile app is being able to enter bank transactions (e.g. written checks) on the go. Sync options include Wi-Fi, MobileMe and WebDAV. I've only used Wi-Fi so far. (It'll be interesting to see if iCloud can be used in the future.)
How I moved
No sugar coating: Any time you move your financial household to different software, it’s a giant pain in the ass. And Intuit has done their best to make moving out of Quicken Essentials even more difficult than usual. That’s because you can’t export to a QIF file—the format every other personal finance application supports.
Quicken Essentials only supports two formats for export: QXF (a proprietary format) and CSV. Some people have successfully moved out of Quicken Essentials by jumping through a lot of hoops to convert CSV to QIF.
Me? I decided to keep it simple (though rote) and export my Quicken Essentials accounts one at a time in a CSV format. Importing CSV into iBank was very straight forward.
Dear Intuit: I don’t love you
I wanted to believe that Intuit was serious about developing a new native personal finance application in Quicken Essentials, so I bought in when it first came out in February 2010.
Almost a year and a half later, Quicken Essentials is essentially the same: a toy product marketed to a demographic of adults. If all you need is a check register than can talk to the internet, Quicken Essentials is for you.
But if you want even the most basic reporting, you’ll be disappointed. Instead of conventionally useful reports like a running income statement, you’ll get useless and inelegantly designed “reports” like the “Spending Cloud,” a haphazard cluster fuck of textual tags that convey about as much actionable information as a Windows registry error.
If you have any investments at all and you use Quicken Essentials, hopefully all you care about is today’s value. Because that’s all you’ll get. Even though Quicken Essentials supports direct download (OFX), it doesn’t capture any transaction history in those files. No cost basis reporting either.
I’m no marketing guy, but I highly suspect that people who care enough to track their finances in the first place want better reporting and basic investment support. If you don’t want those things, why not just go to your financial institution’s web site directly?
A good personal finance application tells you where you’ve been so you can take control of where you’re going. Quicken Essentials is all about today, and it’s going nowhere.
The future of personal finance software
Intuit is clearly not invested in the Mac platform, despite the eye-popping growth rates in recent Mac sales. I believe, based on Intuit’s actions, that they’re more interested in the cloud (Mint.com).
Intuit is even reporting that Quicken for Mac 2007 (the aging and more feature-rich predecessor to Quicken Essentials) won’t even work in Lion. Their instructions for how to deal with the problem may actually be some kind of off-April Fool’s Day joke since it’s hard to believe they’re serious:
- Downgrade (my word) to Quicken Essentials
- Dual boot between Lion and an older version of OS X
- Move to Windows
- Move to Mint.com. “…ideal if maintaining your transaction history is not important to you,” they say.
Mint.com is the most viable of all those options, but I think that people who use native or desktop personal finance software do so because it allows them to maintain transaction history, not sporadically trash it.
I did give Mint.com a chance last year, but I just couldn’t make it work for me. It was very inconsistent in the way it updated my credit card accounts, and there was no way to add accounts for assets and liabilities that couldn’t be screen-scraped from a web site. In other words, it only offered me part of my financial picture. I want the whole thing, and desktop personal finance software remains the only means to that end.
If you’re a slave to a Quicken desktop application and you’re a Mac user, it’s time to start planning an emancipation strategy. Either figure out how to make the cloud work for you, or try an app like iBank that’s developed by people that seem interested in supporting the platform their customers use.
Update 3/5/2013: iBank 4.7 has added the ability to import data from Quicken Essentials and also the ability to get automatic downloads from vanguard accounts.