Aug 19, 2008

[Web] The Dearth of Personal Online Finance Services

Quicken 2005 Premier Home & BusinessImage via Wikipedia Recently CNET's Webware did a pretty in-depth review of the personal online finance service Mint.com, and given the many features described, a geek like me was pretty excited about the prospects of trying it out. Of course when I checked out their FAQs, there stood the blazing warning that they did not support financial institutions outside the US at this time. Bugger.

I applied myself into more Google-searching and checked the info pages for other online services like Quicken Online, Wesabe and Geezeo and all of them clearly stated that they did not support non-US banks at this time, although at the very least Geezeo promised to do so one day and even lets you file a support ticket requesting your bank. Ah yes, the illusion of support and the promise of things to come.

The lack of such services frustrated me. I'm used to things being different here than in the US and not getting access to a number of things like the webcasts of various TV shows the day after their originally shown or access to the Olympics on YouTube and so on and so forth - the list goes on and on. However given today's global economic climate, why don't we have a local solution for this yet?

I expanded my web searches to look for local solutions using a variety of keyword combination to no avail. Bugger that. Thus that left me with sending an inquiry email to my bank's online support team asking if (a) they supported any such services, (b) if they were in the process of coordinating with any service like this or (c) if they had any alternatives to recommend. I doubt I'll get a meaningful response, but then just sending the email made me feel a little bit better. Again, the illusion of being able to do something about the problem, hehe.

The main draw of such services is not just the ability to plug in the details of your finances and have them help you plan things out - frankly you can do that with any spreadsheet program like MS Excel, OpenOffice Calc of even Google Docs. No, the real benefit is their ability to link up with various financial institutions like your bank or your credit card company, pull up information on your spending and present informative charts and analysis based on that. At the same time, they also give you options for paying your various bills and services online from one central location. Who wouldn't want that?

Then again, online services in the country still have quite a long way to go before they become anywhere near useful. Most banks have horrible websites and they only get better in most cases when they are linked to larger international banks like HSBC and Citibank. Most companies have horrible online representation with very shoddy homepages and very minimal online services.

My one consolation at this time is that my bank at this time, BPI, has a pretty robust web portfolio in their BPI Express Online site and a good range of online services. I have all my BPI services accessible from one online account and from there I can pay my bills, move funds around and check on my credit card balances. It's pretty nifty that way. I wish they'd be more aggressive about expanding their online features and options but then I really shouldn't complain about what I have now.

Is this about the lack of online penetration in the country or is this just the result of big companies assuming that majority of the country is not web-savvy enough to utilize online portals effectively and thus the time and resources needed to develop robust web platforms is not yet beneficial to them? Frankly if that is the case, such thinking is outright negative and pessimistic and we really won't get anywhere until we start believing in our ability to develop and to ultimately be more entitled in terms of services like this.

In the meantime, I'll content myself with what I have and continue to monitor my expenses using my Google Docs hosted spreadsheets and perhaps send a few more emails here and there to add to the hopefully growing number of voices requesting for a regional presence by some of these online services.


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1 comment:

precipice said...

Hey,

Wesabe supports any financial institution that provides a data export in OFX, QFX, QIF, or OFC formats (basically anyone that allows you to download transactions for Quicken or Microsoft Money). We also do automatic currency conversion between over 100 currencies around the world. We have many happy non-US users and would love for you to be one of them.

The only limitation I know of for international users is that we are currently an English-only site.

Hope this helps. Drop me a line at marc@wesabe.com if you need help.

Marc Hedlund, CEO, Wesabe

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