Intuit Inc. says the payment services it sells as add-ons for QuickBooks customers are becoming the main attraction — and it says QuickBooks may eventually become the add-on.
The Mountain View, Calif., company made its name selling desktop software: Quicken to manage consumer finances, QuickBooks for business finances, and TurboTax for taxes. In recent years it has been branching out, adapting these products as online services and even selling through bank websites with its FinanceWorks online banking software.
As part of this strategy, Intuit has made its software more modular, allowing certain services to be upsold after customers have bought the main product. Intuit's payment services, which allow businesses to accept card payments online and through mobile devices, and its payroll services are proving such a hit that in time they could eclipse the main product to which they attach.
"We have new front doors now," said Brad Smith, Intuit's president and chief executive. "It used to be QuickBooks was the lead horse and then we would sell payroll and payments," but now, "we can lead with our online payroll product and attach QuickBooks."
Smith said this is a good thing, because its online payment and payroll products are not tied to the once-a-year refresh cycle that Intuit's desktop software is; the company can produce and sell updates at any point.
Smith stressed that the trend is in its early stages. Intuit still sells more than seven times the amount of software in boxes as it has online subscribers, he said. "It's going to be a lot of years before online eclipses desktop," he said. "We don't force the migration."
Intuit's other online services, including its FinanceWorks online banking software, are gaining a wider audience. FinanceWorks, which provides online banking users with features similar to those found in Quicken and QuickBooks, was introduced in 2008 as a way to gain back ground Intuit lost when online banking services began to steal users away from dedicated desktop software.
Today, FinanceWorks is offered by more than 550 financial institutions in both its consumer and small-business versions. Intuit said it predicts its financial services business will grow 4% to 7% in fiscal 2011.
The company also highlighted the growth of Mint.com, the online financial management website it bought last year for $170 million. Mint, which is free to consumers, has more than 3 million users, better than double what it had a year ago, Intuit said.
Intuit is exporting Mint's Ways to Save service, which recommends new financial accounts to Mint users, to Intuit's other products. Intuit gets a referral fee whenever a user signs up for a new account through this service.
Scott Cook, Intuit's founder and the chairman of its executive committee, said that this revenue model has proven good enough to merit the effort of attaching to other products. "The Mint business, while it's free to the consumer, is monetized," he said, and its performance has been "quite nice for us."
In its fourth quarter, which ended July 31, Intuit's revenue rose 18% year over year, to $537 million. Its net loss was $48 million, versus a loss of $71 million a year earlier. Revenue rose 11% in fiscal 2010, to $3.5 billion. Net income rose 28%, to $547 million.
Sasa Zorovic, an analyst with Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, wrote in a research note Friday that Intuit's focus on online services is positioning it well. "When the economy improves, this is an area that is likely to see sustained strong growth," Zorovic wrote.