Intuit sees a bright future over personal financial software

Not so fast, Microsoft Money. You thought the personal finance software business was dead, but a company here is convinced you're wrong.

Intuit intu, the company that essentially popularized personal finance tracking 25 years ago with its Quicken software, says the masses still haven't seen how computers and the Internet can help them manage their money.

Microsoft msft last month said it would call it quits with its Money personal finance software after a nearly 18-year run. Meanwhile, Intuit says the opportunity for software to help people manage their investments and money is bigger than ever.

"There's still a lot of work to be done," says Todd Stanley, 40, the Intuit executive in charge of the team partially based in San Diego that designs Quicken.

Microsoft competed vigorously with Intuit by introducing its Money software in 1991. In 1995 it attempted to buy the company — a move the government blocked on antitrust concerns.

With Microsoft bowing out, Intuit ranks as one of the few companies to take it on head-on and win. Microsoft couldn't topple Quicken largely because the software was so entrenched with "influencers," says technology consultant Leo Notenboom, a former Microsoft employee who worked on the third version of Money. Specifically, accountants and financial planners used Intuit's products and recommended them to clients. "They saw Quicken as the go-to piece of software," he says.

Now Intuit finds itself in the role of the big dog with lots of smaller software firms and websites gunning for a way to cash in on the millions of consumers trying to track their money. With annual revenue of $3 billion-plus, Intuit is the one to beat in the financial management category. Its products range from TurboTax tax preparation software to Quickbooks business accounting software.

The challenges facing Intuit, especially its Quicken franchise, are numerous. Intuit must protect its traditional Quicken business from new desktop personal software being written by small developers. Then there's the emerging threat coming from financial websites that promise to help consumers watch their money, for free.

Microsoft Money's exit is certainly a boost for Quicken. Quicken and Microsoft are working on a converter to move Money files into Quicken in time for the release of Quicken 2010 this fall. That could mean significant business for Quicken, since Money had about 20% of the personal finance software business. More than 12 million people use the desktop-based Quicken, which comes in three versions that sell for $30 to $60 a copy.

But it's not necessarily a slam dunk. Users have grown weary of bugs that have cropped up, resulting in mixed reviews of the current version of the software: Quicken 2009. Quicken 2009 only gets a three out of five star rating on as users grumble about bugs and the clumsy user interface. That's not the kind of feedback Intuit is used to for its software.

Repairing Quicken's software and online service reputation is the top job for Stanley. The 10-year veteran of Intuit moved over from the team that designed the generally well-received TurboTax software to breathe new life into Quicken.

Stanley hears the criticisms loud and clear. Intuit took its eye off Quicken, he says, and plans to fix that in a redesign. "We lost our way in personal finance (software)," he says. Intuit is overhauling many of the things that irritated old Quicken consumers and turned off potential new ones, he says. The software is being given a dramatic tune-up for Quicken 2010, he says.

Online, though, Quicken faces more challenges. Numerous sites have emerged that let consumers, usually for free, do basic tracking of their money. Many banks also offer finance tracking on their websites. "There's a generation that doesn't know anything but online," says Joseph Polverari of Yodlee, a firm that allows financial institutions to share information with consumers online.

Several upstarts hope to chip away at Quicken by offering slick online products to compete with the Internet version of Quicken, called Quicken Online. "Intuit used to be very customer-focused," says Aaron Patzer, CEO of online personal finance site Mint. "They lost that 10 years ago."

But Stanley says Quicken, famous for sending software engineers to users' homes to watch them do their taxes, is paying close attention to customers now. "We're going after personal finance for the masses," he says. "Personal finance will look very different five years from now."