Older Quicken versions to lose online updates

People who have been using older versions of Quicken to download their financial data from banks and brokerages will lose this time-saving functionality, says the publisher of the popular personal finance package -- unless they upgrade to Quicken 2005.

In letters and e-mail messages sent to its customers in late January, Intuit Inc. said that, as of April 19, it will ending online services and tech support for Quicken 2001 and 2002. The move is being made in order "to focus resources on enhancing our products and providing support for more current versions, which are used by the vast majority of Quicken customers."

Intuit estimates that less than 2 percent of Quicken's more than 15 million users still use the 2001-2002 versions. But some users are complaining bitterly about having to upgrade just to maintain the functionality they now have.

"I have 13 years' worth of data in Quicken, and now they're telling me, 'You have to upgrade to a new version that has limitations you don't like and a user interface you don't like, or move to something that isn't as good,' " says Vic Roberts, a lighting technology consultant from Burnt Hills, New York.

He's unhappy that Quicken 2005 permits you to import transaction data, such as bank statements, only if your financial institutions support Quicken's WebConnect or DirectConnect features, which use the .ofx format. Quicken 2005 has dropped most of the product's longstanding ability to import of transaction data in the .qif file format (it can still import credit card data, but next year's version will drop that too). Banks must pay Intuit a hefty fee to be certified for .ofx downloads into Quicken; almost 2300 financial institutions support .ofx, including most major banks and brokerages.

Roberts says he would have been glad to pay Intuit a monthly fee to maintain the servers that support online services because he didn't want to have to learn the Quicken 2005 interface. He has now switched to Moneydance personal finance shareware (US$30). (Quicken 2005 prices range from US$30 to US$90, depending on version.)

Intuit is not alone in cutting back online services for older versions of its products: The 2005 version of Quicken's principal competitor, Microsoft Money, will support online services for only two years, after which customers must upgrade to download financial transaction data. However, Quicken's changes affect many more people -- over 70 percent of people who run personal finance software use the Intuit product, according to research firm NPD Group.

Intuit spokesperson Chris Repetto says the company's decision to end .qif support was unrelated to its decision to end online services for the 2001-2002 versions of Quicken. He says the .qif format was abandoned because it was old technology that required a lot of costly customer support by both banks and Intuit, and because DirectConnect and WebConnect -- which imports data with one button instead of in a multi-step process with greater possibility of error -- provides a superior user experience.

However, Susan Feinberg, an analyst (and Quicken user) who covers wholesale banking for the TowerGroup research firm, says both actions appear to be part of an ongoing effort by Intuit "to control its own expenses and to get customers to upgrade."

She questions Intuit's assertion that banks were happy to stop supporting .qif because it produced a lot of tech support calls: "There are issues with .qif, but the banks know how to deal with them. I suspect those banks have far more issues with the online functionality (to support .ofx)."

Despite Intuit's contention that .qif was inferior, Feinberg never had a problem using it to import data -- and in fact she had switched back to it after trying WebConnect.

But Repetto maintains that the people who have been complaining in forums and newsgroups about either the end of online services support for Quicken 2001-2002 or the end of .qif support are a small minority.

"At the end of the day, we are solving problems for millions and not a couple of people in a chat room," he says.