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Mon, Jan 05, 2009 - Page 10 News List

Financial crisis boosts money managing sites

CLOUD COMPUTING: There are still a number of concerns among users as to the safety of the financial information that they entrust to Web Sites

AFP , SAN FRANCISCO

Balancing checkbooks and relying on paper bank statements is so last century.

Over the past two years, Web sites such as Mint, Buxfer, Geezeo and Wesabe are wooing users with powerful online money management tools and the promise of access to their financial information from anywhere in the world.

And it’s working.

New user signups have tripled for industry leader Mint.com since the financial crisis hit the US in September, with 40,000 people joining in the last week alone.

Geezeo had 20,000 visitors a month back in May — today, they’re averaging 150,000.

And they’re by no means alone.

“You have this generation of people using debit and credit cards, but removed from where their money is going,” Geezeo.com co-founder Peter Glyman said. “The silver lining is that it creates an excellent audit trail.”

The ability to aggregate credit card statements, checking account balances and other financial data together into a simple interface was what attracted 32-year-old Kelly Whalen to Wesabe.com.

“With so many accounts all over the place, it’s hard to figure out what’s going on with just a pen and paper,” she said.

With the help of Wesabe’s financial tools, as well as its anonymous user discussion forums, the stay-at-home mother of four from Pennsylvania embarked upon a “No-spend Month.”

With some preparation, she was able to limit almost all of her extraneous spending for an entire month.

“We ended up saving US$500, which was our Christmas budget,” Whalen said. “It showed just how much money goes out the door.”

Whalen is one of thousands of users who have cut down on their spending with help from the site.

“Half of our users have changed their spending as a result of using our program,” Mint founder Aaron Patzer said. “Average user spending has decreased by US$300 to US$400 per month over the last year.”

Additionally, while Mint, Buxfer.com and Intuit’s Quicken Online offer a host of spending analysis tools, Geezeo and Wesabe offer discussion forums akin to the social networking groups in Facebook.

“Money management is something people have been doing for years, but most of us aren’t trained on this,” Wesabe’s vice president of marketing Gabriel Griego said.

“Now, people can log on and post the most intimate details of their financial information anonymously, and get detailed and thoughtful advice from people who are going through the same thing,” he said.

Most of the Web sites also offer the ability to send text messages to users warning about unusual spending or upcoming bill payments.

And some even offer support for Apple’s iPhone, giving users mobile access to their information.

Still, with all the benefits and tremendous growth of the new financial Web sites, the average age of its users has remained around 30 years old.

“Security is a big issue for all financial sites,” Buxfer co-founder Shashank Pandit said. “Some people are scared about this whole idea of putting finances on the Web. But it’s not any better or worse than their bank.”

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