iBank Review

After my nightmare with Quicken I decided to try many different financial packages. I ended up deciding on iBank 2.3.2. I have been using it for a little while now and here are my impressions.

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finances
osx
mac

Migrating from Quicken

I tried migrating from Quicken (2007 for Mac) 3 times, but it was my mistake for not checking the help file on how to do it. It turns out all you have to do (after exporting the QIF from Quicken) is to select a checkbox that says “Create Accounts for this file” while on the Open File for Import dialog box. On the final try everything came in and the balances looked sane.

It wasn’t a seamless upgrade however – it couldn’t tell that the bracketed categories (which in Quicken are actually accounts) are actually meant to be account transfers, so it duplicated the transfers. I spent some time cleaning it and removing the extra transfer (I just set the appropriate account on one of the transactions and zeroed out the other one). At the end I ended up with a bunch of categories with brackets (as many as I had accounts) with zero amounts for me to delete. So do budget a bit of time (maybe 2/3 hours) for this process. I don’t see why this couldn’t be done automatically, and as most people would be switching from Quicken (unless they want to add the price of Windows, Parallels and the disk space to the price of Quicken) I think it’s worth doing.

First Impressions and Setting things Up

The UI is very, very nice, taking advantage of all the OS X features; for example, start typing on the search box on the top right and things immediately get filtered. The program’s design is very practical. For example, whenever the account info pane is not open, an automatic spending graph is shown on it. On transactions, an image can be attached, which is extremely useful if your bank’s website provides images of your checks. In full OS X style, you just drag the image from the browser to the image field, which is oversized so it can easily be dropped on.

iBank

Accounts can also be set to a currency. If you live or have business out of the country where you live this is specially useful, as it will download the exchange rates for you and update your account values automatically.

It seems to have some problems with scrolling on my Macbook Pro, especially when I have my second monitor attached and I keep moving the windows back and forth. The UI has crashed on me a few times (I drive software hard). But it’s never brought down the file with it. I either Save then quit when things get strange or just force quit. I have lost the last transaction once or twice (usually when pasting a dollar number from the web, during the pressing escape or trying to get out of the “invalid format” error caused by the dollar sign or spaces around it). Compared to what I had to suffer under Intuit’s product, however, this is easily suffered, and it only takes a couple of times to learn to avoid it.

Although it lacks “wizard-style” setup for a lot of things, iBank is full of nice details that make things easier after they’ve been set up. Accounts can be grouped, and the groups nicely subtotal the accounts under it. The account icon also shows an exclamation point when you have provided a minimum balance and it is overdrawn. Debt shows up in red. Categories can be assigned colors.

Adding Data

Entering single transactions is as easy as on Quicken. Splits are comparatively annoying to enter but not impossible. Because of the insistence on modeless UIs you usually get in a pickle trying to put the cursor in the right place and such. It’s specially annoying that a split puts two rows, but entering a paycheck takes a lot more. It’s counterintuitive that you have to go to the parent of the split, right click and select “Split Transaction” again to get a single extra row, instead of right clicking and selecting “New Transaction” from inside the split (which instead creates a whole new “top-level” transaction).

It memorizes the transactions you enter (for auto-suggesting later), but not the ones that you imported. This can be considered either a bug or a feature.

Importing from Online Accounts

Quicken and MS Money have what amounts to an Oligopoly on direct web connection. Having said that, iBank’s forums mention they are trying hard to provide direct web connect features. They do open OFX and QIF files after you’ve downloaded them (and you can associate them to iBank so they open more or less directly). But you still have to go to your bank to download the appropriate transaction files.

Before you consider this a deal killer and go buy Quicken for Mac, review the Mac-specific list of financial institutions on Web Connect, since it is a much smaller list on the Mac, and for no good technical reason.

Importing the transactions was relatively painless, about Quicken 98 (for Windows) level – If the QIF file is old style, it shows some of the data and asks you what date format it should use (with a checkbox to remember the decision), and then it provides the pre-imported list. It seems to find duplicates okay. I dedicate a couple of hours a month to just download all the statements. For Bank stuff, I do it once a week but it’s only a couple of files so it doesn’t take long.

iBank has the concept of Smart Import Rules but it doesn’t pre-fill them as you enter the categories. So although you can tell the system to automatically assign the Dining category to items with the word “Restaurant” in them, when you start frantically filling in categories it does not create a corresponding rule for you the way Quicken does.

Investments

When I researched the Mac versions of money management apps, investments was the hardest part to get a right feel for. Almost no product seemed to fully work. iBank does pretty well in that respect, although it is by no means perfect.

Portfolio management is very nice. Cost basis are calculated correctly, with First-in/First-out and Average as calculation options. Quotes are downloaded with a single button, and unlike Quicken, which always only uses its own services (and fails to do so on the Mac half the time), this one pretty much always works, and you can use Motley Fool, Yahoo, Google or Excite as your source for quotes. Right clicking on a portfolio item takes you to the appropriate research page for the service you have selected. You can add Indices for tracking (NASDAQ, SP, etc). I only had one problem with BRK-B, which imported as BRK.B and had a problem getting the quote (just a matter of changing the dot to a dash on the ticker after the fact and re-downloading quotes).

The real Achilles heel of this was importing the data for the portfolio on CSV (QIF works fine). When importing the CSV, iBank was expecting a completely different set of columns and I could never import the data. To be fair, I never tried importing data from this particular format under Quicken either.

Getting Data

Reporting is strange. You do reporting by doing Graphs. The graphs request the accounts, the categories, interval and currency, and then you have tabs for category pie, cash flow line, a tree view with categories and interval cutoffs, and the list of matching transactions. If you are dependent on accounting-style reports, try them first to make sure you like them.

Budgeting is okay. No auto-budget, but there is a quick keystroke to show the track budget window, with graphs that go green/yellow/red depending on how close you are to the limit.

Like a modern Mac app, it features Smart Accounts. I haven’t had the need to use them yet, but I played with them and they work as well as you would expect. You set up the account with a filter of category, amount or date. It doesn’t provide an option of match “all” versus match “any” like other applications do however.

Beautifully Open

If you are technically inclined however, you will love two things: One, what seems to be full Applescript and Automator support. File commands include the standard open/save, print checks, download quotes, importing. It has data types for accounts, transactions, securities, etcetera. Automator actions include creating account summaries, adding transactions and even sending an SMS message to a Mobile phone with your account data. The iBank forums are lively and full of smart people.

If you are more of a low-level database type person, the iBank data file is a Core Data file in sqlite format. So go ahead and write some SQL queries. If you choose this route though try to keep it read-only until you know the data very well, and keep some backups. Now what kind of report you said you really needed?

Conclusion

Overall I’m very happy with iBank. It is no Quicken for Windows, but it’s much better than the Mac version. It has a lively community around it and the feature set demonstrates experience on the part of the development team on both Mac technology and financial knowledge.

I’m also happily looking forward to the next version. I expect great things from it.

6 thoughts on “iBank Review”

  1. Have you looked at wesabe.com? I’m giving it a run, because all I really need is budget/spending tracking. It’s interesting at least.

    I tried iBank/Quicken and wasn’t impressed. ChaChing was closer, but I didn’t find the UI keyboard shortcut friendly enough, and unless I was missing something, transaction names could only be like 30 characters wide. The full description was in the OFX file, but ChaChing only took the first 35 or so. My bank prefaces all the transactions with “WITHDRAWAL ATM@00025 ” or some such nonsense, so I couldn’t actually see what they were, and nothing ever got auto-categorized.

    I like Wesabe ’cause the three most important things for me are easy categorization, easy splitting of transactions, and then tracking of those categories. I’m probably atypical though.

  2. I did look at Wesabe. I used something similar called Mvelopes a while back (based on the concept of creating envelopes for each person you owe). It was similar in scope to wesabe – its budgeting was pretty sweet – you should check it out.

    Cha-ching was a lot of eye candy, some very nice features but nothing that really compelled me. In addition its investment tracking was very poor, and that is important for me.

    I’ll probably keep using iBank for a year (and will upgrade when 3 comes along) and reevaluate at that time.

    The good thing about the oligopolists being absent (either by their actions or their attitude) from this space is that there is a real market mushrooming (I love competition, it gives me choices). If things keep up like this in a couple of years we’ll have some very good contenders. Nothing would tickle me more than one of these contenders to get really good, then pull an iTunes with a Windows port and take their side of the fence by surprise.

  3. I’m so lazy. I just have a win2k (yep, it’s creaky) VM that I do nothing but drive quicken and some cycling software (that’s windows-specific) with.

    I’ve got the VMware license anyway, and I’ve got the disk space, it’s so easy, why change ? :-)

  4. Thanks for taking the time to post this review. I’m running quicken for Win via parallels and I just want something more convenient than having to boot into parallels to enter some transactions.

    I’m going to transition with the new year, and I’ve kind of been holding out to see if Quicken was going to roll out their new version, but it’s not looking like it.

  5. I just started using Checkbook as well and I really like it! For $15, you can’t beat the price and the interface is pretty good, although I have found a few bugs already.

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