Intuit Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have recast their flagship personal finance software around the Internet.
New features in Microsoft's just-released Money 98 and Intuit's Quicken 98 are sure to intensify the rivalry between them in the "personal financial manager" business, which aims at the upscale consumers coveted by financial institutions.
Microsoft has built Money 98 into a "financial suite," adding a goal planner, a pop-up "adviser" that reacts to a user's financial decisions, and a collection of articles on money management.
"The amount of development, programmers, and money that went into Money 98 are more than the previous five versions collectively," said Microsoft product manager Matthew Cone. "We expect this to be the year we close the gap."
He was referring to the fact that the 10 million active Quicken users that Intuit claims, including three million small-business users, far outnumber the 2.5 million active users claimed for Money.
Mr. Cone asserted that Money's share of the consumer market has grown tomore than 25% from 9% two years ago.
Intuit officials differ, conceding relatively little market share slippage to Microsoft in recent years. Moreover, they say, with 40% of Web households using Quicken, that brand has developed a close association with objective financial information.
"Consumers prefer to receive financial guidance and use decision tools from Quicken over America Online and Microsoft," said John Lee, a product manager at Intuit.
Intuit doubled its line of Quicken products this year. It added to Quicken Basic and Quicken Deluxe two combination packages: Quicken Home & Business and Quicken Suite (a 3-in-1 set lumping Quicken with the retirement-oriented Financial Planner and Family Lawyer software).
Quicken Deluxe added features permitting households to more easily get and store information about wills and other documents and to help prepare them for financial emergencies.
The biggest change to both product lines is the full-fledged integration of Internet-like resources with software that traditionally sat on a PC desktop and automated routine consumer banking functions.
"Individuals are logging on to the Web to get real-time information to manage their finances, making a stand-alone check-balancing product obsolete," said Mildred Wulff, an analyst in New York-based Jupiter Communications' digital commerce group.
"Both Intuit and Microsoft have noted that trend and are allowing access to the stock market, insurance information, and meeting financial goals across the board," said Ms. Wulff.
Both Money and Quicken incorporate a Web browser-Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.02. This enables users to link to the Web pages of their bank, brokerage firm, or other financial and information providers.
Although financial institutions may still let customers use a direct- dial connection for account information, most banks offering access through the Microsoft and Intuit products are expected to use the Internet with the Open Financial Exchange protocol ironed out this year by these software companies along with Checkfree Corp.
At least 112 financial institutions offer home banking through Money, and at least 54 offer the service through Quicken. Once banks are on board with OFX, customers will be able to get account information electronically through Quicken, Money, and other software.
By agreeing not to compete on the data communication standards, the competitors actually appear to have opened up new fields of battle.
Intuit has been promoting its Quicken.com Web site (also called NetWorth) as a comprehensive financial center boasting more than 600,000 registered members seeking information on investments, banking, taxes, insurance and financial planning. Next month the company will launch a section of mortgage information, in keeping with the goal of helping consumers save money on big-ticket decisions.
"Consumer Reports showed that at the end of 1996, mortgage rates differed around 2 percentage points," said Roy M. Rosin, group product manager at Intuit. "Picking the right or wrong lender for a $100,000 home loan would mean $50,000 more in interest."
Microsoft, too, is broadening its Web offerings, adding a financial news and information site called Insider to the existing Investor. Other commerce-related sites on the Microsoft Network include the travel-related Expedia and CarPoint. A home-buying site is also expected.
"Our goal all along is to create a tool for consumers to manage their financial lives," Mr. Cone said. "Increasingly, information about their financial lives resides on the Internet, at their financial institutions and other sources.
The Money software "is becoming a value-added Web browser that takes the personal financial data from your hard drive and marries that with the dynamic nature of the Internet."
One example of that integration includes a feature new to both the Money 98 suite and Quicken Deluxe for automatically downloading news and stock prices.
Looking at a portfolio of stocks, for example, a Money user could mouse- click on a security and receive a detailed stock chart. An additional click would take the user to the Investor Web site for executing a trade.
Investor also offers Money financial suite purchasers premium content- which normally costs $9.95 a month-free for six months. Intuit officials, however, boast that they offer comparable information for free.
Money 98 and Money 98 Financial Suite have been released, but only for the Windows 95 and NT operating systems. They cost $30 and $55, respectively.
Dropping previous version numbers in favor of the Microsoft-style "year- model," Intuit's Quicken 98 products are expected to be available Oct. 23 for Windows 95, Windows 3.1, and Apple's Macintosh. Quicken's price is $40, and Quicken Deluxe is $60.