An Idea to Reduce the Newbie Pain for Quicken Users

I think Quicken is a great piece of software. I did not think this at first – initially it just caused me a lot of user-pain.

Quicken, to me, is in a unique position as a consumer product. Consumers (and by that, I mean people who do not care to spend much time troubleshooting and administering technical problems) should get a simple experience. In the realm of personal finance software, there really is no market, at first, since anything that software can do can be done by people directly. So personal finance software has to give people a reason to prefer to do their personal finance tasks on a clunky old (or new!) computer. There’s going to be a certain amount of “friction” involved in that process, so vendors who produce software like Quicken need to fight a tough uphill battle to make it both easy and useful. Particularly so in the case of Quicken since the software has to wrestle with a wide variety of financial data sources which don’t necessarily play nice or communicate neatly.

It’s as if a hardware store’s mission was to sell a hammer that could drive anything into the ground – not just neat little nails. I hope this explains why I have such high standards for Quicken.

The Download Problem

A common newbie problem with Quicken, I believe (and you can get some evidence of this by reading the public or Inner Circle forums), is the “download problem”. Transactions sometimes just don’t update in your register the way you would expect. There are a wide variety of reasons why this might happen – and again, it is an extremely complex problem for the Quicken software to attempt to avoid entirely. But there are a few obvious places where some improvements can be made.

For example, there are three ways (outside of completely manual entry) to get data into Quicken:

  • Web Connect
  • Express Web Connect
  • Direct Connect

There are a lot of subtleties in the three methods, which I won’t try to explain again here. Instead you might refer to the following Intuit support article: How Quicken Connects to Your Bank.

The bottom line, as far as I can tell, is that if you really want things to work well then you need to be using “Direct Connect”. It’s not entirely helpful to say that, because usually your choice will be pre-determined by whatever your bank supports. But I think it is good to keep in mind that if you are not using Direct Connect, then you shouldn’t waste too much time troubleshooting download problems, since you are likely to have them from time to time. Of course, if you have a persistent download problem you should troubleshoot it (if you care about it) – Quicken does seem to be solid enough that any persistent problem can be resolved and at least reduced to an occasional problem. Which is a very good thing! 🙂

Consumer Software Should Hold the Consumer’s Hand – A Lot

The main gripe I have about the situation in Quicken, however, is that there could be a lot more information provided in the user interface to help a user understand what is going on. In a product like Quicken – where, again, the primary goal is to convince users that it is worthwhile to do with software what could just as reasonably be done without software – it’s no good to expect users to dig around in help files or to search out the support forums in order to get past fairly mundane software or usability glitches. But on the other hand, the problems that Quicken does attempt to tackle are complex enough so that it really doesn’t make much sense to try to completely solve them with better programming.

Sometimes all you need to do in software is know the right time to pop-up and say to the user, “Look – this part you are doing here is very complex and we just can’t make sure it works well all the time. Here are the things you should look out for. We hope it doesn’t cause you too much pain as a user.”

You know – the kind of advice that you would get from a person (if that person were being honest).

Consumer Software Should Not Be Too Quirky

What is “too quirky”?

Well, my own particular pet peeve for one of these sorts of issues is that, in certain cases, Quicken does not support the following characters in a password: “<“, “>”, “&”. It can take you a long time to figure out what is happening here, but the issue was finally written-up in the following article, which is really pretty muddy about describing what the problem is to a consumer: Unable to setup Express Web Connect or no transactions download.

Why not title the article more simply as: “Sometimes Quicken just can’t figure out what to do with your password”?

A Nice Spring Walk Can Solve Any Technology Problem!

Probably, this is just a reminder that, even though we depend increasingly on software systems to do our work and play, and often feel bad about ourselves if we aren’t as “smart” as the computer, the darned truth is – the computer is almost never right, in any kind of lasting way.

When in doubt, you are probably best off by assuming that the software (even a great product like Quicken) is just wrong. And then go out for a walk on a nice Spring day, as I am about to do. 🙂