The new Intuit: rethinking financial software for challenging economy, fast-moving technology

The new Intuit: rethinking financial software for challenging economy, fast-moving technology

Summary: Now that the dust has settled from the season of overindulgence, the goals for a new year are kicking in. For many folks - and businesses alike - the first call to action is to get the finances in order.

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TOPICS: Software, Banking
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Now that the dust has settled from the season of overindulgence, the goals for a new year are kicking in. For many folks - and businesses alike - the first call to action is to get the finances in order. And for many, that means tracking the dollars and cents in a piece of financial software.

As 2010 was coming to a close, I sat down with Intuit founder Scott Cook to chat about the mindset of a company whose products - Quicken, Quickbooks, TurboTax, Mint and others - are some of the biggest and most widely recognized names in personal and business financial software.  Specifically, though, I was interested in knowing how Intuit was adapting its strategies to face two big challenges: the high-speed pace of technology changes and a turbulent economy that affected everyone from individuals to large companies.

After all, helping customers "manage their books" has been Intuit's claim to fame over the years. But that's not enough anymore - and the execs at Intuit know it. The world moves in real time and money changes hands faster than ever -  with the click of a button, the swipe of a card or even the tap of a smartphone from the back of a cab.

Today, that means there's an approach to technology today that's different from just a few years ago, Cook said. The company has shifted away from a top-down way of thinking and instead is committed to letting the folks on the front lines - the ones who are working directly with customers - do more tinkering and experimenting.

"You've got to let them run their experiments," Cook said. "We're freeing people to innovate... to give them the free time to work on the next invention."

A mobile app, for example, isn't enough. Consider GoPayment, a multi-platform app designed for mobile workers such as plumbers or electricians that allows them to process credit card payments remotely. As breakthrough as that technology was for some industries, Intuit took it a step further by partnering with a company called Mophie to bring actual credit card swiping to the iPhone.

It's all part of Intuit's push to shift its focus. No longer does that company want to focus on what was - that is, to help a customer track what's already been done. Instead, the company wants to look forward, to use that data to offer scenarios of what the future might bring and how to use that information to help customers save time and put more money in their pockets.

"It's somewhat of a right turn for us," he said about the shift. But he stressed that changes couldn't just be a directive from the top, that it would involve getting everyone - from developers to executives - on-board with a new approach. One way to do that was to take folks out of their comfort zones with new approaches, such as the company's "reverse trade show" event.

The event put the executives in the "booths" and allowed the company's team of "innovators" to roam the floor and listen as the execs tried to pitch their projects and persuade the innovators to come and work on them. It was a far cry from the days when a developer might have an idea on how to improve a product and then try to get the attention of a project manager for consideration.

At the end of the day, though, the goal is still to give customers what they need - even if they don't know they need it - so they can work through the sometimes painful financial tasks, such as filing an income tax return.

Sure, Turbo Tax has been around for years - but that doesn't mean that it's reaching every potential customer. Older, established taxpayers - business owners, stock traders, homeowners and even parents - might need a powerful piece of software that can handle the cumbersome details of their financial year. But what about the 20-something who has no dependents or no deductions and can get away with filing a simple 1040-EZ form?

A year ago, the company introduced SnapTax for Turbo Tax, an iPhone app that allows users to snap a picture of their W-2 forms, answer a few questions, file electronically and track the status of their refunds.

"We want to target that younger group, the ones with the simple tax return," Cook said. "They're a try-it-and-see-if-it-works audience... If we exceed their expectations, they love it. If we don't exceed, they won't tell their friends."

For a company that relies largely on word-of-mouth marketing, it's not enough to do the job right. The bigger challenge is doing it better than anyone ever expected.

Topics: Software, Banking

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  • Intuit would be better served fixing whats already broken first....

    As a long time user of Quicken and Quickbooks I have to say that my biggest concern with Intuit is their lack of attention to details when it comes to their software line. It's been years since Intuit allowed you to scan and attach documents to a Quicken transaction, yet they still have not fixed the bug that crashes the scanner driver if you try to scan more than one page, even though the software is "supposed" to allow for multiple pages to be scanned. Once a document is scanned you get all of 2 views - tiny, and way bigger than the window showing the document. Can you pan the document around by dragging it so you can navigate this over blown up document? Of course not, you have to use slider bars. Try searching a giant document using only up/down and left/right slider bars - very tedious. How about a user defined zoom? Can you search the documents text? Of course not. Yet for some reason Quicken says it is OCR'ing the document. I wonder why?<br><br>Can Quicken share information with mint.com? Nope.<br><br>How about Quickbooks? I manage several companies and we use the SDK to integrate data from other applications into Quickbooks. The SDK allows us to import invoices from another app and mark the invoices as "to be printed" or "to be e-mailed". Funny thing is, there are 3 check boxes as the bottom of invoices in QB 2010. The third one is "mail invoice through QB". A feature I had subscribed to. But when they added this new option they did not add a way to select it using the SDK. Over a year now and still no fix for this so I no longer pay QB to mail my invoices for me. It just took forever to select each invoice one at a time and check the necessary box. Ridiculous.<br><br>I feel that Intuits mad dash to add new features is simply leaving many previous new features incomplete and in some cases just plain broken.<br><br>I could give many more examples but alas what is the point. Until Intuit decides that there is some value in shoring up all the loose ends they leave with each new release they will just keep steaming ahead and I will keep looking for an alternative solution.
    darren@...
  • Intuit's bread and butter

    I knew this article would bring out gripes about Quicken. To be fair, I'm glad that they're looking ahead the way they are, but I do agree that their flagship product line has stagnated. They need to get back to making Quicken on Windows and Mac premier products that offer online accessibility and integrate up-to-date information from the Internet. It seems like once Microsoft stopped making Money they just declared victory and allowed themselves to get complacent and lazy.
    the.ksmm
  • &quot;Sam Diaz plays softball with Intuit&quot;

    A few days ago, Quicken stopped getting transactions from my bank. Searching their site for the error code, and the only result told me that I needed to upgrade to 2011, which has zero features worth paying for. I did the upgrade. Problem remained! Their tech support tells me, "we don't support that, talk to your bank".<br><br>Excuse me?<br><br>
    This is how they've operated for years... adding features that don't work, treating their customers like garbage, mandating upgrades every two years, and not even offering upgrade discounts. Anyone over the age of 10 knows how bad Intuit treats their customers.
    Meanwhile, Sam Diaz gets these jerks on the phone, and instead of calling them out on how bad their products were (Microsoft Money was a LOT better than Quicken... easier to use and zero problems!), he plays pattycake with them.<br><br>Good, hard hitting journalism at its finest.<br><br>J.Ja
    Justin James
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