Five questions for: Aaron Patzer, VP and GM, Intuit; founder, Mint.com

Five questions for Mint.com founder Aaron Patzer, now VP and GM of Personal Finance at Intuit after the company's $170 million acquisition of Mint.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

As the circus of the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show settled down in Las Vegas, I got a chance to kick back and chat with Mint.com founder and former CEO Aaron Patzer, now VP and GM of Personal Finance at Intuit after the company's $170 million acquisition of Mint.

It's been a wild year for 29-year-old Patzer, who is tasked with the formidable challenge of uniting two distinctly different personal finance software brands -- the downloadable, established desktop-oriented Quicken and the cloud-based, two-year-old Mint.

Here were my five questions for him.

1.) What's on your plate with regard to Quicken and Mint? Where are we going with these products?

Quicken Online will be going away, and we'll be migrating to Mint. There are 8,000 banks on Mint today, and another three or four thousand on Quicken. That's 12,000 banks in total, which is almost every bank and credit institution in the country.

Right now we're thinking about manual entries of transactions -- check and cash transactions, which currently can't be tracked. We're exploring data entry through an iPhone, using the Mint app. Other than add my bank, that's the top user requested feature -- tracking cash and checks.

We're also looking at building out the financial goals section for April 2010. We're looking at adding incentives to the goals -- so if you have some extra money, you can see how much more quickly you'll be able to take that vacation, or how sooner you'll be able to retire.

You budget for a reason. You have money for a reason. Money is a tool for living -- it's not just a number.

We're also going to be releasing a new version of Quicken for Mac that leverages our online database. Whether it's online or desktop, it doesn't really make a difference.

2.) Quicken and Mint stand for different things and appeal to different audiences. How do you unify these groups? How do you convince Quicken users that Mint's cloud is a safe place?

The average user of Mint is 30. The average Quicken user is 47. You will have desktop products for at least another five years simply due to comfort level more than anything else.

You know, a lot of investors told me this [Mint.com] will never work. Our whole job is to keep things secure. My VP of Engineering [David K. Michaels] is a veteran of PGP and Sun Microsystems. Another person on the team comes from Akamai.

It's not just network security, either -- it's physical security. Our servers are located in an undisclosed facility. We have what we call a "man trap." You have to scan your hand to get in using a biometric scanner, and once you do, you enter a 50-yard corridor. One door won't open until the other one's closed. You certainly can't tailgate.

Rumor has it that if they think you're faking the system, they can keep you there indefinitely.

We don't share physical space with anyone else, either. We've got 24/7 video surveillance on the cage itself and the power supply. Within that, the cages are locked and hard drives are encrypted.

We've had a lot of growth recently -- fifteen to twenty thousand new members a day since New Year's Day, mostly thanks to New Year's resolutions -- along with taxes, it's the season for finance -- and a ton of press.

Mint -- it's four letters and it's spelled unambiguously. That's important.

We position Quicken as a more precise tool where everything is penny-perfect and you can track all of your stock lots. Quicken handles that stuff, if you have a more complicated financial life. Mint doesn't. Mint is more like, "I need to get control of my finances in 10 minutes and Mint makes it simple enough to do so."

One day we may merge into one code base, or explore add-ons to Mint or Quicken.

3.) Mint and Quicken have both gained popularity as mobile apps. This week at CES, Intel CEO Paul Otellini said that the smartphone would be at the center of everything because it's so personal. What's the future of mobile personal finance?

There are lots of potential features on mobile. The long-term look, a couple of years off, maybe you could ask Mint which card to use in a purchasing situation and if you can get discounts at a particular vendor. So if you get a discount using your Chase card, you don't pull out your Capital One card instead to pay.

The bigger we become, the more power we have in the industry. Perhaps we could offer special rates or APRs to Mint users.

We're also looking at expanding internationally, to Canada and other countries. What makes it challenging, however, is that in the U.S., the banking industry is so competitive. There's incentive there. Canada really only has five banks -- that marketplace doesn't really make sense for us right now.

In Europe, the U.K. is more like us, with 200 banks. But Italy only has seven banks.

In India, we may explore having a bank pay for Mint as a service to their customers.

Intuit has a division called Digital Insight, which it bought a couple of years ago. With their help, there will be a version of Mint [technology] for all these banks one day. (*see editor's note for clarification)

There are advantages of using Mint [features] through a bank website in that you already trust them with your money and you've already got several of your accounts preloaded in. The disavantage, however, is that the banks want to show you their own products -- they're not going to tell you what's better for you like Mint.com does. They don't have that independent, objective view.

But it's possible we could have a savings engine for a bank, where we pull in information for all banks, and display to the user just in-house ways to save. That way you figure out ways to save from the bank you're with.

4.) What has been your most formidable challenge this year?

The biggest challenge has been cultural, and making sure the team changes over. All of the management is staying on, which is remarkable. Our retention rate is really high. We've actually been hiring people.

>>Mint and Quicken collect a lot of financial data. What can you do with that?

Well we already issue reports about collective trends over time. For example, we can see that Blockbuster spending has really tanked recently.

The bigger the user base, the more precise we can get. We can eventually let you compare your finances to others within your zip code. That could work in big cities like New York and San Francisco, but we've got be careful in less densely-populated areas. We want to make sure that people's habits can't be figured out in less populated areas. We want to preserve that privacy.

We could look into offering real-time data reporting for these habits -- there's a whole different business model that could be created from this.

5.) Finally, for what mobile platforms can we expect Mint next?

The iPhone app continues to do well -- there are 421,238 downloads so far. We're looking to offer an Android application next, in late Q1 or early Q2.

Updated, Jan. 12, 2009: The sentence, "With their help, there will be a version of Mint for all these banks one day" is misleading. A product with Mint-like features, called FinanceWorks, already exists for financial institutions. Patzer meant to say that Mint features, such as a "Ways to Save" engine could, in the future, be incorporated into the FinanceWorks product.

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