Thursday, January 6, 2011

Yodlee, Mint, and Financial Account Management

For the past several years, I have used Yodlee account aggregation service to keep track of over 20 bank and brokerage accounts. There are other financial sites out there such as Mint.com which serve a similar purpose. PFStock has just completed a poll that asks readers which website they use to manage their finances. Here are the final results of that poll:

Wesabe: 3%
Mint: 46%
Yodlee: 36%
Other: 3%
None: 16%

Readers were allowed to select more than one website, so the percentages add up to more than 100%. It is interesting to note that until very recently, Yodlee was ahead in this poll. Now, Mint has seemed to have taken the top position (among PFStock readers, at least). As a historical note, the Wesabe service was shutdown this past summer. It seems that "Wesabe Groups" does still exist as an online forum rather than a financial management site.

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To be honest, I have never used Mint. Anecdotal reports that I've received were mixed with some readers who are dedicated to Mint, but also many find that Yodlee works better for them. Now, there is even a 360-page book called Mint.com For Dummiesicon to help Mint.com users. To me, this is an indication of Mint's growing popularity. On the other hand, CNN Money recently ran an article describing some of the frustrations Mint.com users have faced.

To give some background on Yodlee, the service automatically polls different websites where you have online accounts. These accounts are then aggregated at the Yodlee MoneyCenter so that you can get a "big picture" look at your financial data.

Over the years, I have developed a sort of a love/hate relationship with Yodlee because I have had various problems with the service. Many of the problems that I've had with Yodlee were temporary, and were more likely related to technical problems with the financial institutions' websites that Yodlee is trying to aggregate rather than with Yodlee itself.

For example, banks and brokerages are constantly updating and enhancing their websites. Whenever a new "enhancement" is added that significantly changes the way that you log in to view your accounts, Yodlee will tell you that that an accounts can't be updated because the login credentials (user name and/or password) are invalid. The problem usually goes away by itself, but I've found a couple instances where I had to contact Yoddle customer service to have my issue fixed.

Yodlee's customer service has been fairly responsive. At one time, I even received a message from Yodlee's senior VP Peter Hazlehurst, who offered to help with my issues. Despite its problems, I consider Yodlee to be a necessary evil since I have so many accounts to keep track of. Although Yodlee is probably the best overall service to use for its intended purpose, I also keep a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that tracks the balances of all my accounts. However, I only update that spreadsheet once or twice a year.

Here are some of the downsides to Yodlee's service that are worth pointing out:
1) Not all banks participate in Yodlee. A few of my accounts are not supported, and I would need to add and update them manually if I wanted to track them in Yodlee. According to Peter Hazlehurst, some credit unions use a technology called "CAPTCHA" which shows "squiggly" letters, and Yodlee doesn't support them. The term CAPTCHA is an acronym that means "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart". But, I have no idea what a Turing test is.

2) Security and "Secure Sign On" concerns are valid points to consider. This is a question of risk versus reward, and should be up to the individual user. How comfortable are you with storing your personal information online with Yodlee? While Yodlee's security is probably very good, if their security was ever compromised, fixing the problem would be a massive headache for its numerous users.

3) From time to time, I notice that I am missing transactions, or get an incorrect balance in Yodlee. This happens, for example, when one bank merges into another (e.g. Wachovia was purchased by Wells Fargo, and my accounts recently underwent a transition). As a result, the previous account history at Wachovia was lost, and it looks like I got a big boost in my net worth when money magically appeared in the new Wells Fargo bank accounts. This situation results in an inaccurate accounting of net worth, and it is frustrating since I have to make a mental note of which balances are incorrect.

4) Another example is that a former employer of mine changed their 401(k) provider from JPMorgan to Fidelity. The JPMorgan account was deleted from my Yodlee dashboard, and Fidelity was added. The result is that it looks like my net worth made a huge jump because the historical 401(k) data was lost in the transition.

5) Another frustration with Yodlee is something called Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). Some readers are probably not familiar with this technology, so I'll try to describe how it works. If I attempt to access my account from a new computer, the bank's website will not recognize me even if I entered the correct username and password. Then the website will prompt me to choose to receive an "Activation Code" via my home phone, text message, or Email which the bank already has on file. I then have to enter that code into the website for it to recognize my computer and grant access to my account information. This registration has to be done once for each computer and browser that you use to access your account. It appears that Yodlee doesn't always support this account registration system. MFA is meant to improve security, but it also makes it difficult or impossible for an account to be aggregated.

6) I recently noticed that one of my 401k accounts held at Merrill Lynch is showing a balance that is A LOT more than I expected. Elated, I logged into my ML account to check my balance. Upon investigating the problem I found that Merrill shows my 401(k) balance in two ways: by investment and by source (e.g. salary deferral, employer match, etc.). As a result the balance Yodlee shows is exactly double what I really have in my account. In this case, I'm not as rich as I think. Again, I have to keep a mental note that the balance here is not correct.

I will also mention two features that I do find very useful in Yodlee are alerts and auto-login. The alerts feature allow you to set alerts if, for example, your account balance drops below a certain amount, or a large transaction is processed. This feature can help in the early detection of fraud. The other feature I like is auto-login where Yodlee can automatically log you in to some (but not all) accounts with the click of a button. You don't need to remember or type your password. This, of course, makes it all the more important that you keep your Yodlee password secure.

In spite of its problems, I consider Yodlee to be satisfactory for my purposes. However, I might also consider setting up an account with Mint. While I still use an Excel spreadsheet to periodically get a complete picture of my finances, I used Yodlee to get a quick update on my account balances. Note a shortcut to the Yodlee Money Center appears in my blog sidebar.

See Also: Mint.com Versus Yodlee

PFS

2 comments:

  1. Try http://www.OneBudget.com for personal finance management.

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  2. Hi! Here is another free personal finance management software for expense tracking and budget planning - InEx Finance (https://www.inexfinance.com/). It supports multi-currency transactions and synchronizes financial events with Google Calendar.

    ReplyDelete