September 15, 2009, 9:47 AM — Intuit has announced that it is purchasing online personal finance rival Mint for $170 million. That is no small change for the free personal finance service named one of The 100 Best Products of 2008 by PC World.
Intuit has long dominated the world of personal finance software with Quicken in all of its flavors. Microsoft Money was its primary competitor, but Microsoft bailed out of the personal finance software market earlier this year.
Perhaps Microsoft saw the writing on the Web 2.0 wall before Intuit? Microsoft's statement on its site announcing the end of Microsoft Money said "With banks, brokerage firms and Web sites now providing a range of options for managing personal finances, the consumer need for Microsoft Money Plus has changed."
Intuit has been the largest player in retail personal finance software pretty much since the inception of personal finance software. Quicken is virtually a household word. Quicken.com has been another story, though. Intuit has been clumsily trying to figure out how to embrace the Web and adapt its products and services to evolve with the times.
While Intuit stumbled along with Quicken.com, startups like Mint and SmartyPig sprang up online and have grown quickly. Mint claimed to have skyrocketed from 3,000 users to over 800,000 users in a matter of months--a claim that Intuit challenged as false.
Ultimately, though, Intuit could not ignore the success and popularity of its free, Web-based competitors. By purchasing Mint, Intuit acquires a successful Web-based personal finance service to help catapult its online efforts. It doesn't hurt that the purchase also eliminates its biggest competitor at the same time.
There are distinct advantages for Intuit and Quicken users, but the value of this merger to Mint users is less obvious. Quicken does have an established relationship with an extensive network of banks and financial institutions, which could benefit Mint users, though it remains to be seen whether the company will extend those benefits to nonpaying customers.
Should Mint users be prepared to start paying for the services they are used to accessing for free? Not yet. Diane Carlini, an Intuit spokesperson, has stated that "there are no plans to change product pricing for either offering."