Over the last few years, I’ve test driven several account aggregation systems in hopes to find that one tool that gives me everything I need in one money management suite.

I tend to look for certain features before taking it for a test drive.  If I don’t see anything about bank level security then I know they don’t allow users to connect directly with their banks. I don’t bother signing up because this is always a deal breaker for me.

Why Is This Important?

We live in an increasingly fast paced digital on demand world.  So do most users.  This is why most account aggregation tools without this feature, rarely gain the traction Mint has since its inception.  They get it.  And if you take a look at how Instagram has taken off then you know that visuals are important to users.

Back to account aggregation.  Who wants to bother with downloading .csv files from their bank website, save the file and then upload it to the program?  I don’t.   I simply want to be able to log on and have all of my transactions and balances updated automatically in real time.  The end.

This is especially true if I am on the go or need to check my accounts while at work.  Like most, I have transactions occurring almost every day so this is important for me to be able to see up to the minute information while on the go without fussing with a .csv file.

Other Features I Look For In Account Aggregation/Online Budgeting Tools

Great Design and Intuitive User Interface:  Mint.com

This is a must for me.  You must simply win the user interface design game if you want to gain any traction.  Mint.com continues to win this battle for obvious reasons.  Their user interface is a huge change from Microsoft Money which I used shortly before switching over to Mint.  Hello Wallet does a nice job in this area as well but not as good as Mint, especially when it comes to an intuitive user interface.

In this department, Yodlee could use some help.  While their tools are robust and enable users to slice and dice information 50 ways to Sunday, the website and Android app design needs major work.  They rely too much on the fact that their tools are solid and neglect the user interface and design.  Clearly, whoever runs Yodlee, is more focused on producing more tools that enable users to dissect information rather than making the design more aesthetically appealing.  This is especially true for their Android application.  Check out the Android reviews if you don’t believe me 🙂

Mvelopes is well known for envelope budgeting but the interface is an eye sore and frankly, horrible.  It reminds me of Windows 3.0 and they need to fire whoever designed their user interface.  I signed up and stayed for 11 days before quitting and demanding a refund.   As you can see, I didn’t even bother with reviewing the system here. Visuals are important as demonstrated by Mint’s success, so hopefully, Mvelopes will wake up and follow suit.

Cash Flow Forecasting:  PocketSmith

None of the above-mentioned system excel in this area.  In fact, this feature seems to be almost non-existent.  Hello Wallet does this but more so an overview of the monthly cash flow and not day by day. Some may want to be able to understand their cash flow at any any point in the month based on what transactions are planned on a given day.  Is that too much to ask?  Well Pocketsmith stepped up and they truly excel in this area.  Their tool does exactly what it says – forecasts your cashflow throughout the month and even 12 months out.  I love it.

Envelope Budgeting:  Hello Budget

This is the holy grail of all budgeting plans.  Essentially, the user assigns each envelope (budget category) an amount they wish to spend within the budgeting period.  This is usually a month or some people choose every pay period.  As they proceed through the month and spend within the envelopes, the amount spent is removed and the balance is then updated. Hello Wallet wins in this area for me.  I’ve had somewhat of a love hate relationship with them over the years but I really love how their tool has evolved over the years since their launch.

Overall Money Picture:  Wela

Enter Wela.  They’re different when compared to the other financial tools out there because they give you a well rounded perspective of what’s going on with your money.  They address investing, debt reduction, real estate valuation – all great things to track when focused on increasing and reaching your financial goals.

The founders have tons of experience as financial advisors, so I’d say they know what they’re doing.

Once you sign up for a free account, this is what you get:

  • Account aggregation
  • 401k and 403b allocation
  • How much house you can afford
  • College savings plan for your children
  • Debt reduction calculator
  • Track financial goals
  • Email update about your financial goals

Planned or Existing Mobile Application

For the most part, this option is almost always an indicator of traction.  Users love the program so much they want it to be available to them via an iPhone or Android application.  If the program isn’t at least planning for a mobile application then I’m less likely to use it long term.  The only exception for this being Yodlee as they only recently launched their mobile app on the iPhone and Android.  But, again they can do this since their suite of tools are rock solid.

What account aggregation tools/online budgeting system do you use?  What do you look for before jumping on the bandwagon?