The personal finance software market, already crowded with big names like Intuit's Quicken, Microsoft Money, and Meca's Managing Your Money, has a new entrant.
Home Financial Network - the brainchild of the people who founded Meca Software - has set out to provide an alternative to the companies now on the inside track for combining financial management and banking services through personal computer software.
To differentiate itself, the Westport, Conn., start-up is eyeing consumers who may be less interested in complex budgeting and planning than in simply paying bills and managing basic accounts.
The company may indeed be breaking new ground by playing to the supposed majority of consumers who do not even balance their checkbooks.
U.S. Order, the home-shopping company that works closely with Visa International on interactive banking opportunities, has given Home Financial Network a nod of approval. U.S. Order paid $5 million for a 40% stake in Home Financial Network shortly after the company's inception last September.
Eric T. Jacobsen, Home Financial president and a founder, said the software will have mass appeal even though - or perhaps because - it lacks the bells and whistles of other programs.
For the average customer, he said, using Intuit's Quicken or Microsoft Money for banking "is like using an atom bomb to kill a flea."
The new software, still under development, allows for account inquiry, bill payment, and funds transfer. Mr. Jacobsen said the company hopes to incorporate a smart-card reader to enhance security and, through the stored-value function, provide an "ATM for the home."
"We believe they've got some good ideas," said David Weisman, an analyst for Forrester Research of Cambridge, Mass. "But we're not too sure they know what they want to be."
Mr. Weisman questioned whether Home Financial Network seeks to paint itself as a software developer, a systems integrator, or a reseller of financial services.
He also asked what the company could bring to the table to attract banks. He noted that Checkfree Corp., Visa, and the NYCE electronic banking network are among other companies developing stripped-down software.
Mr. Jacobsen formerly worked for Meca Software, developing that company's Managing Your Money personal finance software. In early 1994, after Meca was acquired by H&R Block, he moved over to head the unit's tax software division.
While he was at Fairfield, Conn.-based Meca, Mr. Jacobsen said the company had sought to work with banks but found it "very difficult (to attract) the technologically savvy, financially sophisticated customer."
Mr. Jacobsen left in February 1995 to join his former associate, Daniel Schley, who had founded Meca and served as its chairman and chief executive until shortly after the Block acquisition. (Meanwhile, last May, Block sold Meca - minus the tax division - to BankAmerica Corp. and NationsBank Corp.)
Mr. Jacobsen said Home Financial Network moved ahead so quickly that it did not even have a company bank account to which U.S. Order could wire its investment. Although Mr. Jacobsen claimed Home Financial has received funding offers from a number of financial institutions, he said the company declined, wanting to avoid any biases.
Home Financial Network hopes to test a product by February.