Q&A (2): Intuit's Cook on online selling

[Follows on from previous story]

Intuit is the company that took on Microsoft - in personal finance software - and won. The maker of Quicken is renowned for its quality of user interface design and marketing nous. In an exclusive interview, chairman Scott Cook told PCDN about his rivals, usability testing and his hopes for online financial services.

Some of the noise surrounding online banking seems to have died down recently. What's the current situation?

I'd break online financial services into two parts. One is serving existing customers; the other part is selling to new customers. Almost all the activity [so far] has been to serving existing customers. The banks will feel they have to do it but its frankly just not a giant idea. For the banks it doesn't save them money, in fact it costs them. It doesn't tend to bring them customers.

If you look at a purchase transaction like buying a PC, you search for people who have that PC, make a decision, then execute that decision. Then the computer arrives and then you pay. The basic steps are the same whatever you buy.

Has the failure of online banking services to spawn a new market surprised you?

We thought it would be bigger too and we will have it in the UK. We've had it in the US and it did not lead to gobs more users. It led to gobs more technical support but it did not lead to gobs more users. I think the banks will do it but it's not a big economic win for them. We thought we'd get a lot more users especially in the US. In the UK you have bills handled through direct debit; Americans don't so electronic banking could lead to really big-time savings but, even with that, it's not been a big barn-burning idea. There are about 40 banks up there with Quicken but it's not a killer application.

We did a package test in the US. So we show people the back of a mocked-up Quicken box and tell them: 'Circle the things you're most interested in , cross out the things you're least interested in'. The least interesting item was electronic banking. Stunning!

What was the most interesting thing?

The most interesting thing was that the least interesting item was electronic banking! Okay, I didn't think [electronic banking] would be the most interesting but I didn't think it would be in the cellar.

What about online selling?

The selling thing is more interesting. When you get people to buy things electronically you create a real win because [sellers] get the revenue without a lot of traditional selling costs, so we're doing a bunch of work in the US to make that work. Some people are nay-sayers but look at the success of [online book seller] Amazon.com.

[More follows]

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