Know Where Your Money Goes With SpendView
Recently, I was given an awesome guided tour of personal finance application, SpendView. Nikhil Roy, Nikunj Somaiya, and a developer who, according to their website, “will remain unnamed” have taken SpendView from concept to fully functioning closed beta in the space of about nine months. I was honestly pretty nonplussed about looking at yet another personal finance app. (This might have something to do with the shape my finances are in, maybe…) By the time we were done, I was totally excited by what I saw!
When you first sign up, you’ll notice that there is very little personal information collected. Throughout our conversation, Nikhil and Nikunj stressed the importance of the users’ security and privacy. SpendView really asks only for your email address, plus a user name and password to set up your account. Once you’re logged in, you’ll see a welcome page that introduces you to two key concepts in SpendView.
The first concept deals with getting information into your SpendView account, which is done by adding and updating your bank account(s) through a simple web interface. The second concept is tagging. Unlike most financial packages, where you are forced place a transaction into some sort of box, often called a category, with SpendView, you label your transactions using tags, which turns out to be much more flexible.
The first thing you’ll need to do after you’ve set up a SpendView account is to add a bank account. There’s a nice little search-as-you-type feature that exemplifies one of the philosophies behind SpendView. That is, bring the user at least halfway there. The application was created with the mentality that if the app does at least 50% of the work, the user is that much more likely to go the rest of the way towards getting their finances under control. This isn’t just marketing talk; you can see this philosophy in action throughout the application.
Once you’ve added your bank account, there are two ways to get your spending into SpendView. The easiest is to enter your account number and password and let SpendView go out and download your statements. (Assuming your bank is supported, of course.) Before I could even ask, Nikhil and Nikunj began explaining industry-standard encryption, SSL connections, and compliance with over 2000 financial institutions; in short, SpendView is very serious about security. But, if you’d rather not go there, you can always download your statements from your bank’s website and then upload the data to SpendView yourself.
At this point, you’ve told the application where to find your finances and you can sit back and watch the magic begin. SpendView will automatically tag your transactions for you. Let me say that again: SpendView does the tagging for you! And it will learn from you as you use it. (Am I scaring you yet??) It also learns from the larger community. If you go Joe’s Brakes & Tattoos and you’ve never been there before, but fifty other people have, it will look at how those fifty other users have tagged Joe’s.
Auto-tagging isn’t the only smart thing that SpendView can do. Once you added an account or two, SpendView will calculate your income based on your deposits. When you log in, you’ll see a nice little graph showing you what percentage of your monthly income is left to spend. While seeing that every time you log in may seem harsh at times, it’s also an incredibly useful reminder, and one that I can totally appreciate.
SpendView also has the ability to help you set and track budgeting goals. Goals are called targets, and this is another feature that I really like about this application. You can very easily view the spending history of any tag, set a spending limit, and it appears on your dashboard along with the percentage of that limit you’ve spent so far. It’s like dynamic budgeting. Currently, you can set up email notifications for your targets, and SMS notifications are coming in the future.
One last feature I want to cover is bill tracking. Every transaction can be marked as a recurring transaction with a single click. After that, the transaction will show up on your Bill View screen. SpendView will go back and look at your transaction history and estimate when the bill is due as well as the amount. Once it sees that the vendor has debited your account, SpendView crosses it off. How slick is that??
I spent nearly forty five minutes on the phone with Nikunj and Nikhil, and there are a ton of features that I haven’t talked about. I think the best thing about SpendView is the philosophy of having the application do as much of the work for the user as possible. Seriously, you could set up your SpendView account in a half hour, and I have devoted entire days to setting up personal finance and accounting software packages. And even once you’ve set up Quicken or Money, without constant maintenance and attention, the software quickly becomes worthless. In short, it’s just too much work!
I also like that SpendView gives you so ways to slice and dice your financial data. From the traditional transaction list to what is quite possibly the first use of a tag cloud in a personal finance application, SpendView gives you so many ways to view your spending habits. This is incredibly important, because people need to see their finances in a way that is non-threatening to them before they can dig in and find out how to make things better.
I see one challenge that SpendView will face as they open the doors to the public, and that is getting people to feel comfortable uploading their financial data. Being a brand new application with no history and no ties to any well known financial institution, people have little reason to trust SpendView with their financial history, much less their personal banking user name and password. I think that the SpendView team has anticipated this problem and they tried to compensate by making the application extremely user-friendly and offering alternative ways of uploading bank statements. I can only hope that these measures convincing enough.
I’m very impressed with how user-focused this application is. With applications that rely heavily on mathematical stuff, like personal finance software, there is always a danger of designing the app from the developer’s point of view. SpendView has done an excellent job is not falling into this trap. Smart interface design, good response time, intuitive navigation, and a high regard for privacy and security all combine to make SpendView an application that I would definitely use myself. My hat is off to Nikhil, Nikunj, and the entire SpendView team for excellent work on this application!
- Mark Phillips on November 21, 2007 at 09:17 PM:
This looks VERY similar to a service called Mint. It may be something to take a look at if you like Spend View. I wonder what the key differences are…
Thanks for the review. Your work is much appreciated!!
- Sushil Jha on November 26, 2007 at 11:30 PM:
Thanks for a detailed review. Looks like Spendview is a winner.
- Jens on October 23, 2008 at 08:57 PM:
Thanks for the review about spendview.