Long before apps told people too much of their monthly budget was going to lattes, there was Quicken, desktop software that helped people manage their finances.
Now, more than three decades after Intuit launched the software, the personal finance pioneer has a new owner and an aim to reclaim its groove in a smartphone era.
"We're back," said Quicken CEO Eric Dunn, who coded some of the program's original software as the fourth person to work for Intuit.
Quicken's journey from the last days of diskettes offers an example of how a company can go from cornering the market to trying to figure out its future amid a slew of slick new competitors. And as the pace of innovation accelerates, disruptors are more apt to become the disrupted.
Whether Quicken — a company that still needs to develop a mobile-first app like many banks must — can redefine itself in an era of automated savings, advanced analytics and chatbots remains to be seen.
As it stands today, Quicken sells desktop software designed to help consumers budget, pay bills and analyze their portfolios. The 2017 product line includes six options, ranging from the $39.99 Starter Edition for money management needs to its $164.99 Rental Property Manager for apartment owners who want to manage their personal and rental property finances in one place.
The company says it needs to build a stand-alone mobile app. Its current app is a companion product to the desktop software.
However, since being spun out from the company that created it, Quicken is getting resources it desperately needed to grow. Since Intuit — a company that owns competing products like Mint — sold Quicken to the global investment firm H.I.G. Capital in April, Quicken has more than doubled its team to over 100 employees, moved into new Silicon Valley digs in Menlo Park, Calif., and recently announced updates to its mobile app as it seeks to grow its user base with those 30 and older.
Still, the once-standout is now part of a personal finance management herd. In recent years, scores of banks and fintech companies continue to simplify tasks like goal-setting, bill pay, easier loan shopping experiences for mobile phones, desktops and tablets. Unlike Quicken, many are free.
"It was a liberating force back in the day," said Mark Schwanhausser, director of omnichannel financial services at Javelin Strategy & Research.
The software, after all, allowed people to sit down at their desks and get a grip on their money, including their investments. "It was a great product for a different era," Schwanhausser said.
Quicken was also the first internet financial portal site to deliver electronic bills.
"The whole PFM, personal financial management, they invented that whole category," said Jim Bruene, founder of the fintech showcase Finovate.
"It started with a piece of desktop software that was an electronic ledger."
The company, which eventually had limited resources under Intuit's helm, didn't do enough to stay current, especially with the rise of the smartphone. Now, observers say it will be tough, perhaps impossible, for Quicken to regain its dominance.
Schwanhausser said the uphill battle is too steep in a mobile-first era. Despite the endurance of a great brand name, Schwanhausser says he is skeptical the budgeting software can update itself significantly enough and fast enough to achieve meaningful growth.
Quicken is hoping to differentiate itself by targeting people in their late 30s, a demographic often filled with babies, mortgages, wealth building and a need for help managing it all. Most other PFM platforms tend to target millennials.
Quicken also has something elusive to most fintech companies: millions of active users — defined as those who have used the software within the last 30 days.
"The brand recognition is still very strong," said Dunn, who — with two children and investments — is a quintessential example of a user of the product. "We benefit from the decades of work Intuit did."
As Dunn sees it, many of the firm's customers appreciate the convenience of managing their finances from both a desktop and via a mobile app. Where they like to do detailed budgeting and analysis from a desktop computer, he says, they also want to be able to see their spending on the go from a mobile device. Appeasing this group is why one of Quicken's first priorities was to update its companion mobile app.
Still, Dunn said Quicken's mobile app needs more refining in a world where many approach mobile first in everything they do. But accelerating mobile enhancements is one of his company's top priorities.
"We'd be wearing blinders not to enable mobile-first for Quicken," said Dunn, who has personally invested in the tech company. "It's a little bit of a balancing act," he added.
Because of its strong brand name, a sizable base to work with and nostalgia working in its favor, Finovate's Bruene is of the belief Quicken can revitalize the software. "They have been around. That's the key thing," he said. "The trust issue is so huge."
After all, consumers are handing over their bank credentials in order to get advice.
Quicken is used to competition, Dunn said. In the 1990s, Quicken went up against Microsoft Money (which ended up dead in the water in 2009), for instance. And it hit the market when a couple of dozen personal finance products already existed.
"It's not an unfamiliar feeling for Quicken to have alternatives," Dunn said. "It makes us better to have alternatives."
And there is certainly a market for services catering to the over-35 crowd — who have taller order needs than a typical mobile banking app or website addresses — up for grabs.
But as Quicken seeks to grow its user base by appealing to young families, it will have to overcome a challenge that all personal finance apps do: inertia. Even in a day of Digit and Moven, there are industry members who still believe people are too lazy to manage their money — even when it's automated.
But Dunn is ready for the challenges ahead. With the divestiture, he says, Quicken "feels like a tech company with momentum," just as it did in his early days at Intuit.
"It felt good then and it feels good now."