Intuit has announced that it is purchasing online personal finance rival Mint for $170 million. That is no small change for the free personal finance service named one of The 100 Best Products of 2008 by PC World.
Intuit has long dominated the world of personal finance software with Quicken in all of its flavors. Microsoft Money was its primary competitor, but Microsoft bailed out of the personal finance software market earlier this year.
Perhaps Microsoft saw the writing on the Web 2.0 wall before Intuit? Microsoft's statement on its site announcing the end of Microsoft Money said "With banks, brokerage firms and Web sites now providing a range of options for managing personal finances, the consumer need for Microsoft Money Plus has changed."
Intuit has been the largest player in retail personal finance software pretty much since the inception of personal finance software. Quicken is virtually a household word. Quicken.com has been another story, though. Intuit has been clumsily trying to figure out how to embrace the Web and adapt its products and services to evolve with the times.
While Intuit stumbled along with Quicken.com, startups like Mint and SmartyPig sprang up online and have grown quickly. Mint claimed to have skyrocketed from 3,000 users to over 800,000 users in a matter of months--a claim that Intuit challenged as false.
Ultimately, though, Intuit could not ignore the success and popularity of its free, Web-based competitors. By purchasing Mint, Intuit acquires a successful Web-based personal finance service to help catapult its online efforts. It doesn't hurt that the purchase also eliminates its biggest competitor at the same time.
There are distinct advantages for Intuit and Quicken users, but the value of this merger to Mint users is less obvious. Quicken does have an established relationship with an extensive network of banks and financial institutions, which could benefit Mint users, though it remains to be seen whether the company will extend those benefits to non-paying customers.
Should Mint users be prepared to start paying for the services they are used to accessing for free? Not yet. Diane Carlini, an Intuit spokesperson, has stated that "there are no plans to change product pricing for either offering."
In the official statement, Intuit states that it will retain both Quicken.com and the Mint offerings "with each serving separate and equally important purposes." I think that may be temporary while the two entities iron out the details and formulate a game plan for moving forward.
Carlini clarified the immediate vision of how the two entities will work together. "Mint.com will become our primary online personal finance management service. Quicken Online will connect Quicken customers across desktop, online and mobile so we can deliver easy, anytime-anywhere access. We believe this will help accelerate our ability to deliver ease and great money outcomes to all our customers."
When the dust settles, I wouldn't be surprised to see one Web presence for both services. I also wouldn't be surprised if that single Web presence is called Quicken.com (since that is the brand that Intuit has established itself on), but with the content and functionality of Mint (since that is the Web 2.0 service that has proven successful and wildly popular for online users).
Ultimately, this is a great deal for Intuit, and it will probably yield benefits for Quicken users with more innovative online services and features. Mint users will have to hold their breath and keep their fingers crossed to see what becomes of the free service they love so much.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.