iBank 4 vs. SEE Finance:
 Buh-bye Quicken

Quicken iBank SEE Finance

With Mac OS X 10.7 Lion now shipping, I am in process of upgrading. But I am one of those poor unfortunate souls that use Quicken for Mac. It came with some of my Mac's way back so I started using it. I'm not particularly fond of it, but it generally worked, Inertia speaks. But as many of you know, Intuit failed to update Quicken and has relied on Rosetta which no longer ships on Lion.

A large part of my Quicken usage is to track investments so Quicken Financial Life or Essentials is not an option for me. I am also still too paranoid/resistant to online services that track everything in one place, so I don't use those. In a nutshell, I have started looking for a replacement. My requirements mostly center around finance and investment tracking. I don't really need budget planning features.

I ruled out Moneydance which I have read many good things about, mostly because I generally dislike using cross-platform Java UIs. Also, I am concerned about how hard it will be to run Java on Mac in the future.

After reading a lot of reviews and opinions, it seemed that only iBank 4 met my criteria.

iBank 4 seems to have hit critical mass and seems to be the most popular of the Mac personal finance software programs. I just downloaded the free trial, and it seems to meet most of my requirements. But there was one feature that really irked me. Their Direct Connect feature which automatically contacts your financial institution and syncs account data does not work with The Vanguard Group. 

According to iBank's forums (apparently, there are already users already complaining about this), this is because Vanguard uses OFX 2 (an open standard for financial data exchange) instead of an older OFX 1.1. iBank has not updated their software to support OFX 2 and they seem resistant to the idea, with suggestions that it is not worth their time since Vanguard is the only institution using it. Never mind the fact that Vanguard is now the largest mutual fund company. Also, dragging their feet on supporting a newer version of an open standard strikes me as reminiscent of Intuit not updating Quicken to get off of Rosetta…this is the mentality I am trying to flee.

Other than the Vanguard issue, the iBank seemed really nice. The user interface is polished, my data imported without serious incident, and there seemed to be a lot of interesting features. I also really liked their forums because I was able to find a lot of information about the specifics of the product, from what it can and can't do, to how to actually do stuff.

Originally, the lack of Vanguard support wasn't necessarily a deal breaker for me, but then I realized that working around the issue would cause me to do a lot of work. I tried the web download feature and discovered that because I have more than several funds in Vanguard that generate frequent events, using this feature would create more work for me than doing manual entry. I started to realize the lack of Vanguard support was actually quite devastating for me.

So being on the brink of purchasing iBank 4, I continued my search for alternative software. I discovered a relative newcomer called SEE Finance. They are still not at version 1.0, but the software is very impressive. It imported all my Quicken data without problems and also seems to support most of my requirements. And unlike iBank 4, it does support Vanguard. And it is half the price ($30) of iBank 4 ($60).

This is not to say SEE Finance is perfect. While at half the price of iBank 4, the user interface lacks some of the refinements and aesthetics of iBank 4. For example, you cannot edit a register directly in SEE Finance and must edit in a separate UI at the bottom of the splitview. Another example is transfers among accounts in SEE Finance must use a special menu option so both accounts are correlated and if you later change the amount in one account, you must manually remember to change the other. Another minor example is both programs allow attachments to be connected to transactions, but iBank 4 has UI to allow you to activate the iSight to take a picture of something or launch the attachment in the default app (e.g. a PDF in Preview.app).

Also, the report generation seems very limited or non-existent in SEE Finance. I didn't play with it much in iBank 4 either and the forums implied that iBank 4 itself was still lacking compared to Quicken. SEE Finance seems to be even more primitive than iBank 4 in this regard.

I probably can live without these refinements for now, but these are the trade offs I must decide between. But right now, I think the Vanguard synchronization is far more important to me. And the developers behind SEE Finance give a strong impression that they know how to prioritize features. Considering how young the product is, but how well it picked the feature set they would support first leaves a good impression. Time will tell whether this impression is correct.

iBank 4 is available through the Mac App Store, retail box, or other online distribution channels. SEE Finance is not currently available on the Mac App Store and is only available online through them and uses registration keys. I was unclear what their license terms because they describe both 'single user' and multi-user. In addition to the lack of reg keys, another thing I like about the Mac App Store is that the terms allow you to use the software on multiple computers you own. I do most of my work on a desktop, but occasionally want to do stuff on the road on my laptop. Mac App Store (which iBank is available through) terms work for me. I contacted SEE Finance and learned they are only selling 'multi-user' licenses which covers my case. I still have to deal with reg keys, but they said users will get a free upgrade to 1.0 and there will be a Mac App Store version in a couple of months.

Anyway, I have 28 more days left in my iBank 4 trial. I may not wait that long to make a decision/purchase, but I am interested to hear what other people's opinions are.

Update (2011-09-05): I purchased SEE Finance. See my Top 4 Reasons here.

iBank 4

SEE Finance

Copyright © PlayControl Software, LLC / Eric Wing