Mint gets eaten by the Borg

By Felix Salmon
September 14, 2009
Intuit is buying Mint.com for a whopping $170 million. That's a lot of money for a company which has yet to make a dollar in profit -- indeed, it found itself in need of an extra $14 million in equity capital only last month.

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Intuit is buying Mint.com for a whopping $170 million. That’s a lot of money for a company which has yet to make a dollar in profit — indeed, it found itself in need of an extra $14 million in equity capital only last month.

So what makes Mint worth so much? The website basically has two main possible revenue sources. The first is the way it’s making money right now (or getting revenues, anyway): armed with its users’ financial information, it can act as a broker, introducing them to offers from financial-services companies which might be a good deal. And like any broker, it gets to keep a commission.

There’s also what Mike Arrington calls “a goldmine of user data” — incredibly granular information on the saving, spending and borrowing habits of 1.4 million registered users who between them account for $175 billion in transactions, and $47 billion in assets. If that information is added to the information which Intuit already holds, it could provide unprecedented insight into how Americans deal with money.

The problem is that while Mint is generally much-loved, Intuit is generally much-hated. Mint is free; Intuit is constantly trying to squeeze every marginal dollar out of its customers. Mint’s user experience is a joy; Intuit’s is gruesomely bad. (And is possibly responsible for the whole nightmare that was Tim Geithner’s tax situation.) Mint is trusted; Intuit isn’t.

The fear is that Intuit will stop showing Mint’s customers the offers which are best for them, and will start showing Mint’s customers the offers that are best for Intuit, even if those offers are predatory or otherwise unsuitable. And as for the money which Intuit might squeeze out of those users’ personal financial data — again, while I trusted Mint not to do anything evil, I don’t have the same feelings about Intuit.

I do have a Mint account, but I don’t use it very much, and it’s a bit glitchy. I think I’ll probably deactivate it now. Better safe than sorry.

9 comments

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Such a crying shame that this one had to go to the man, but am very happy for the founders. It will take a good few years before Mint turns to Quicken’ed, and I’m no Intuit hater, but Quicken seems to develop w/ a desktop sledgehammer and not a web paring knife.

That being said, there are alternatives (more cumbersome) to Mint.

Julie from Intuit here. Wow, didn’t know we are being equated to an alien race that assimilates everybody it encounters. Ouch! Recognizing you don’t agree, I do want to set the record straight.

Intuit AND Mint.com are equally excited about working together and we plan to continue offering both Quicken Online and Mint.com – for FREE – to customers after the acquisition closes.

For people who are concerned that things will change…I can assure you that’s not our intent. In fact, once the transaction is closed, Aaron Patzer will become GM of the Personal Finance group at Intuit with responsibility for Mint, Quicken Online and Quicken desktop products.

Intuit has more than 40 million customers – consumers, small business and financial institutions – who rely on and trust Intuit products to help them with their money.
Mint.com shares our vision to help people save and do more with their money and together, we think we’ll be able to make it even easier for people to stay on top of their finances.

Posted by julie | Report as abusive

Valiant defense by Julie from Intuit, even if its just the typical corporate-speak. We were an Intuit payroll customer for over 2 years but had to move on to another service provider because, for 2 years, Intuit was unable to correct their misspelling of our name on correspondence, pay stubs, reports, and worst of all, our tax returns. Two years. I believe the Borg also do not pay much attention to names. To Intuit, we probably were customer 123…00 of 40 million.

Posted by William | Report as abusive

I’ve been a Quicken user for more than 20 years, and am used to its foibles.

Mint’s not without its own, however much I generally like the service, and among them is the fact that the “recommendations” it makes to me are laughable on their face.

As a result, I think that the combination of the two is apt, I’m not concerned about one dragging the other down to its level (they’re both a solid “B” on my grading scale), and I’ve been expecting but not dreading a combination like this for some time.

Posted by Patton | Report as abusive

I just wish someone at Intuit would listen to their customers’ complaints and do something about it. I’ve owned and operated several small businesses (still own one) and used Quickbooks, TurboTax and even used Intuit’s credit card processing service for a retail gig I had. I did this for five faithful years even though I had faced my fair share of frustrations with them. But last year, I swore off all Intuit products because their credit card processing company charged me $300 to cancel their service. They basically told me in so many words, “we don’t care you’ve been a faithful customer for years, if you leave us there will be a price to pay”. It’s just such an absurd, almost malicious practice, but I could not get anyone at Intuit to see it that way. Five years..my God. I generated revenues for them month after month and for that, they thanked me with a $300 fine.

I agree with Felix, when I saw the headline about Intuit buying Mint, my first thought was to cancel my Mint account. To the founders of Mint: I really like your product so don’t take my leaving personally. It’s not your fault — it’s Intuit’s.

Posted by Elizabeth | Report as abusive

I’m amused by the comments on Intuit’s lack of response to customer problems. I don’t see how they are any different than just about any large US company – they all pretty much suck. Do large banks care about the complaints of their customers? No. Insurance companies (especially health insurance)? No. Cable TV or phone companies? No and no. They all try to sound sympathetic, but rarely do they ever do anything. None of them feel they have to. Companies strive to control their markets, and the generally accepted reason for that is so they can control prices, but the real reason is so they can ignore customers.

This attitude of pretending to care while doing nothing was first perfected in America by politicians, who say lots of great things about wanting to bring progress and prosperity to everyone (ok, some of them only want to bring prosperity), but their #1 priority is staying in office, just like the #1 priority of corporate executives is keeping their job, which means they have to make more money.

I used to think the internet would be a great equalizer, as it would enable the spread of feedback among customers, but there’s so much noise out there that it’s hard for this information to be received and processed by enough people to make a difference. Julie responded to criticism by defending Intuit and spitting out a condensed news release, rather than by trying to get the company to make changes, which is what you would expect from a large, entrenched company. Nothing.

Posted by KenG | Report as abusive

I jumped on the quicken bandwagon last year hoping to straighten out my personal finances, choosing it over MS Money. I figured, Quicken 9and other finance software) is Intuit’s bread’n'butter whereas MS Money was just another product to Microsoft.

I’m now a mint.com user and have dropped Quicken. I wanted to switch to MS Money but found out Microsoft was dropping it. Then I read about Mint.com, and after overcoming my skepticism, I tried it out. So far, I really like it!

What didn’t I like about Quicken? There are countless UI quirks where things seem to be done the Quicken-way instead of the conventional way of user interfaces. These might sound trivial, but I have to interact with it. I hate doing bills, and anything that makes it harder makes me less likely to do it.

Since I’ve joined Mint.com, I’ve been pleased with its usability (despite the intermittent bank connectivity stemming from their battle with the banks). I’m also very impressed with there very open and very personal customer support through their forums.

If Intuit can learn from Mint.com, and Mint.com can leverage Quicken’s pocketbook, it should be a win. The skeptic in my dismisses the GM position given to the Mint.com lead as an empty gesture. Rather, only time and experience will persuade me.

Posted by Brian J. Sayatovic | Report as abusive

First, congrats to the Mint.com team. It is a dream come true. Now, I am an open minded person. I want to give Intuit the benefit of the doubt here and hope that they purchased Mint.com so as to improve their own software in this arena. It only makes sense that way because I can’t believe that mint.com really affected the Quicken revenues that much.

I will say however that I have been through an acquisition personally in a different market and I known that all of the talk given by either side is just talk. The economy basically forced the company that purchased the company I worked for to do a complete 180 in terms of what they said during the acquisition. I will let actions speak louder than words. So let’s see some action. I imagine that come March we will really know what this purchase means for mint.com. If I see manual entries and matching of those entries with eventual bank entries, I might be impressed. I will stay on until March, otherwise I move on.

P.S. I only tried Quicken once and preferred MS Money. Once Mint.com came along I thought that maybe someone finally knew how to do something right.

Posted by Fred Malone | Report as abusive

Will Mint survive the Intuit acquisition?

Intuit is sales driven and is always looking for new customers. It could care less about existing customers who they abuse with forced “upgrades” of their bug ridden software.

In 1995 I wrote Quicken a letter detailing numerous, severe bugs. In 2005, having just upgraded (again) I happened to come across the letter in my files. Guess what? Same bugs. (Quicken admits this.)

In 2009, I upgraded again. Same bugs.
Sort sells were miscalculated, graphs mislabeled, and several Mutual Fund metrics are meaningless.

The benefits of using Quicken are only slightly above using no software at all.

Posted by NOcean | Report as abusive