If you're like most finance techies, then you've tested a plethora of personal finance management tools hoping to find an all-in-one money management suite.
One popular deal breaker is the inability to connect electronically to the bank and download all transaction information. Most personal finance tools lacking this option rarely gain meaningful and long-term traction with their users. This is because most users want to connect and download information immediately as opposed to downloading statements themselves and then uploading them to the tool.
Most account aggregation tools without this feature rarely gain the traction Mint.com has over the last few years. Who wants to bother with downloading a .csv file from a bank website, save the file and then upload it to the program? Most do not. If you're in the grocery store and need to check how much you have left for spending, then you simply want to be able to log on and have all your transactions and balances updated automatically in real time. This is especially true if you need to check accounts on the go. Like most, you may have transactions almost every day so it is important for you to be able to see up-to-the minute information on demand.
Here are four features to look for in account aggregation and online budgeting tools:
Great design and intuitive user interface. This is a must. Tools must win the user interface design game if they want to gain any traction. Mint.com continues to win this battle for obvious reasons. Its user interface is a huge change from Microsoft Money that most used shortly before switching over to Mint during early adoption. HelloWallet does a nice job in this area as well but not as good as Mint, especially when it comes to an intuitive user interface.
In this department, Yodlee can use some help. Its interface on the mobile end hasn't been updated in a few years, and the online interface can be clunky at times. So while its tools are robust and enable users to slice and dice information 50 ways to Sunday, the website and Android app design needs major work. They rely too much on the fact that its tools are solid and neglect the user interface and design.
Cash flow forecasting. None of the above-mentioned systems excel in this area. In fact, this feature seems to be almost nonexistent in most apps. HelloWallet does this but more so provides an overview of the monthly cash flow and not day by day. It would be nice to be able to understand cash flow at any point in the month based on what transactions are planned on a given day. Is that too much to ask? Rudder did a really good job with this, but it tanked not too long after launching.
Envelope budgeting. This is the holy grail of all budgeting plans. Essentially, users assign each envelope (or a budget category) an amount they wish to spend within the budgeting period. This is usually each month or every pay period. As they proceed through the month and spend within the envelopes, the amount spent is deducted, and the balance is then updated.
Mvelopes is well known for envelope budgeting, but the interface is outdated. It's reminiscent of Windows 3.0. Visuals are important as demonstrated by Mint’s success, so hopefully, Mvelopes will follow suit.
Planned or existing mobile application. For the most part, this option is almost always an indicator of traction. Users love the program so much they want it to be available via an iPhone or Android application. If the program doesn't have a mobile application then users aren’t likely to use it long term. Yodlee recently launched a mobile app for the IPhone and Android, and all of the above-mentioned personal finance tools have mobile applications.
Before jumping on the bandwagon and using an online budgeting system, consider these four features which can help make your financial life easier.
Ginger Dean is a licensed psychotherapist and founder of the personal finance website Girls Just Wanna Have Funds.