Customers bemoan changes in Quicken 2005

The new version of the personal finance program drops support for a widely used file format.

David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
David Becker
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David Becker
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Intuit customers are complaining about changes in the latest version of the company?s Quicken personal finance software, which drops support for a file format long used to exchange data with financial institutions.

Quicken users are griping in online forums and product review sites that the recently released Quicken 2005 drops most support for Quicken interchange format (QIF). QIF files have long been used to save Quicken data and import transaction records in a format Quicken can read.

Intuit has been working to phase out QIF in recent years, however, in favor of the Open Financial Exchange (OFX) format developed by a consortium of Intuit, Microsoft and financial services company CheckFree. Intuit maintains that OFX and its separate QFX implementation are much more capable formats and rapidly gaining favor as the preferred format for transferring financial records.

The problem is that many financial institutions, particularly small banks and credit unions, have yet to migrate to QFX/OFX and only offer data in the QIF format. Others charge a fee to download data in QFX or OFX, partly to recoup licensing fees Intuit charges to use the formats.

Robin Brumfield, an IT administrator from Charleston, W.Va., said he's sticking with an older version of Quicken because only one of the three banks he uses offers free downloads of QFX data. Another charges $3.95 a month for access to QFX files and the other has no plans to offer anything but QIF files.

"I have decided to stick with Quicken 2003 for now so I won't have to manually enter information," Brumfield said, adding that he's now looking at alternatives. "Even though Quicken 2003 is working for me now, my guess is that it may not operate in the next version of the Windows OS, Longhorn...In the meantime, I have been looking at other personal finance software packages."

Mitch Gardner, an accountant and chief financial officer in Brentwood, Calif., said he updates to the latest version of Quicken every year to ensure he's not stuck with outdated formats. He's using Quicken 2005 and resigned to manually inputting transactions from institutions, such as his brokerage, that only support QIF.

"I knew that QIF was being dropped before upgrading," he said. "I felt I was left without a choice...Intuit is the only game in town...the 800-pound gorilla."

Intuit spokesman Chris Repetto said such concerns represent a small minority of Quicken users, the majority of whom appreciate the ease of exchanging OFX data and other enhancements in Quicken 2005.

"We did a hundred new improvements this year solely based on customer feedback," he said. "There's millions of customers out there who love the product and think Quicken 2005 is a real improvement in their lives."

Repetto said that more than 2,000 financial institutions already support OFX/QFX and more are signing on all the time to offer faster and more accurate downloads of financial data.

"QIF was developed more than a decade ago to do something other than online banking," he said. "It really can't handle the online banking needs of today...We didn't become the No. 1 software product in this category by holding on to antiquated technology."

Other Quicken 2005 complaints have centered on Intuit's decision to switch services for online payment of bills through Quicken. Previous versions of Quicken for Windows offered a subscription-based bill-paying system run by financial services firm CheckFree. The new Quicken handles bill payment through competitor Metavante.

Repetto said Metavante provides faster processing and other advantages. But some customers have reported losing scheduled transactions and other errors in the process of switching from one service to another, a procedure Quicken automates with a "migration wizard." "Bill-pay users--watch out," warned one review on CNET's product page.

Bill Stoller, an IT consultant from Pleasantville, N.Y., said he discovered he couldn't pay off his credit card because Metavante imposes a $10,000 transaction limit on new accounts. "I was told that since I had not been a customer of Metavante for more than 90 days, they were unable to raise my individual transaction limit," Stoller said. "This despite a solid gold credit rating and transferring funds from a bank I have done business with for more than 20 years."

Repetto said migration has been "seamless and transparent" for all but a handful of customers who were erroneously categorized by Metavante. "It's been patched, and everything's working smoothly now," he said.

Intuit has been the market leader for personal finance, tax preparation and related software and services for more than a decade. The company faced a much larger customer outcry last year when it added cumbersome antipiracy technology to its TurboTax products. The company eventually removed the technology and apologized for the experiment.