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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Intuit Bows Out of Portfolio Management Arena

In a move that took me by surprise, mainly because I didn’t know the product existed, Intuit announced yesterday that they were shutting down a service aimed at independent financial advisers called Intuit PortfolioMinder.  It appears to be a product that was out there as a test, and Intuit apparently gave PortfolioMinder an “F.”

As near as I can tell, the program was introduced early this year, and was aimed at independent financial advisers with fewer than 100 clients.  PortfolioMinder (which I will call PM from here on out) was able to download data from three online brokers:  Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade and Fidelity.  If your clients trades were placed elsewhere, you had to enter the data manually—and for me, that would be a deal-breaker.

Given all the connections that Intuit’s Quicken has, I’m surprised that the company couldn’t set up more online brokers to link into PM.  One of Quicken’s few failings in my book is its inability to easily track portfolio items other than stocks and mutual funds.  A user can convince it to keep tabs on options and bonds, but it’s clearly a kludge. 

A solution for independent financial advisers that wasn’t terribly expensive actually fills a niche in the market that, on the face of it, I would think would be successful.  I’m guessing Intuit didn’t do a very good job getting the word out, though, given my surprise that the product even existed.  I don’t want to sound conceited, but I’m typically one of the first people to be notified about anything having to do with financial technology.

Looking at the pricing, however—a $995 setup fee plus $150 per month for online access—combined with the program’s inability to import data from brokers that represent over 50% of the online brokerage transactions, I’m thinking that Intuit set up its own enormous barrier to entry.  Just to get the product off the ground and create some buzz in the industry, they should have charged significantly less. 

There are other portfolio management programs that are geared towards much larger firms that aren’t much more expensive.  Hmm.  There’s an idea for a column.

Here is Intuit’s announcement that the product would be discontinued:

As of October 16, 2006, the Intuit PortfolioMinder product and service will be discontinued and closed to new and existing customers. This decision was made after receiving important in-market feedback and carefully considering Intuit’s short- and long-term strategies.

Intuit’s strategy is to be in growth businesses, high profit businesses, and attractive new markets where we can solve large unmet or underserved needs.  We will continue to invest in the best opportunities to drive top line growth, by making our existing products better and creating new offerings driven by customer need. This move helps us to invest in the best growth engine opportunities for Intuit and better align our internal resources for future growth.

Our goal with PortfolioMinder was to offer a low cost, self-serve, easy to use product for independent financial advisors to manage client portfolios, better serve clients and compete with big brokerages. Through in-market feedback from real customers, we discovered that the amount of effort needed to enter years of complex historical data and the resources required to support the product would not enable us to offer this product at the low price and ease that was our intent.

Because of our decision to roll the product out slowly and continue to learn from customers, less than 75 customers will be impacted by this decision. Each customer will be notified today (9.11.06) and receive at least three weeks notice prior to the site closing. We will offer a full refund of the purchase price and monthly fees, and make all data entered into the product available to them. Interactive Advisory Software (IAS) will offer special reduced rates for a limited time ($150/month for the first year, plus conversion fees) to PortfolioMinder customers who are interested in converting to the IAS platform.  IAS offers full Customer Relationship Management (CRM) capabilities and other functionality in addition to portfolio management.  Customers interested in this option can contact PortfolioMinder customer support for information on this offer. 

Customers may contact the PortfolioMinder team at 1-800-843-0012 or email contact@portfoliominder.com for more information.

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And here is how I found out that the product existed and then was discontinued—a press release from a competitor, Portfolio Systems, Inc.:

Portfolio Systems, Inc. Ready to Serve Advisors Orphaned by Intuit

In the wake of Intuit’s exit from the portfolio management software field, Portfolio Systems, Inc. (PSI) has responded aggressively to assure the market that they remain committed to serving the industry and supporting the recently released version 8 of their Portfolio Director™ software.

“We have seen this happen before with TechFi,” company spokesperson Fred Standridge stated. “We were able to begin serving many of their subscribers very quickly, and we made the transition as smooth as possible.  We believe we can offer the same support to Intuit’s former PortfolioMinder subscribers as well.”

In addition to its standing policy of charging no up-front or service initiation fees, Portfolio Systems will provide former Intuit subscribers with an hour of training and support at no charge, and a rate of just $50 per support hour thereafter.  And because Portfolio Director™’s monthly service fee of $150 for a single-user license matches the rate published by Intuit for their product, advisors should not see any increase in their monthly overhead either.

Portfolio Systems, Inc. also offers the optional PDWeb™ service, which allows subscribing advisors’ clients to access their account reports online through the advisor’s own web site.  Advisors can customize the online reports as easily as they can customize reports in the application.

Portfolio Systems, Inc., has been a provider of investment portfolio management software for Registered Investment Advisors, CPAs, and individual investors since 1999.  The closely-held company is headquartered in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.

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I took a quick peak at Portfolio Director on in my June 24 column.

Posted by twcarey on 09/12 at 02:42 PM
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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Refreshing the Screen

BETTER. FASTER. NEW AND IMPROVED. MORE POWERFUL. Software publishers survive by adding features and products to entice you to join their team, maintain your loyalty (if you’re already onboard) or come back (if you’ve signed on with a rival). Here are a variety of software publishers and online brokers striving for your attention—and your business.

INTERACTIVE BROKERS (http://www.interactivebrokers.com) has spruced up its tools for options traders by providing a new service, Options Intelligence Report, as well as volatility trading functionality.

Updated hourly, the Options Intelligence Report includes tables that highlight companies expected to have the greatest price movement. Examples include one table that ranks the top 20 gainers in implied volatility, another that shows the top 20 put/call ratios (suggesting negative sentiment) and yet another that lists the top 20 call/put ratios (suggesting positive sentiment).

IB has also given options traders the ability to enter options limit prices in volatility terms as well as price using its VolTrader, which is a new function in its software application, Traders WorkStation (TWS). You specify the option volatility and TWS calculates the limit price. When you enable volatility trading, the bid and ask values are displayed as volatility instead of price. You can also set up dynamic management of these volatility orders, under which TWS updates the limit price based on movements in the underlying price, canceling an order if the underlying price breaks through a high or low price range the user has specified.

Another interesting—albeit complicated—trading strategy automated in a recent update of TWS is called Exchange of Futures for Physical, which allows the swap of a long or short stock position for a corresponding one using single stock futures (futures contracts on individual stocks). In effect, the EFP strategy allows the user to reduce his margin costs, which have been rising of late along with other borrowing rates. Investors buying stocks on margin usually pay rates set by one broker. But the rate built into a single-stock future is often lower because it’s competitively quoted by various firms. IB is the only brokerage that allows trading of EFPs online, says Executive Vice President Steve Sanders.

FIDELITY INVESTMENTS (http://www.fidelity.com) has rolled out an update to its strategic trading application, Wealth-Lab Pro, which includes the integration of 10 years of historical macroeconomic data, such as gross domestic product and the consumer-price index, into the program’s modeling capabilities. Wealth-Lab Pro, introduced last year to Fidelity customers, allows active traders to create, back test and execute customized trading strategies. This new functionality is intended to enable traders to create their own trading systems keyed to the government’s release of 20 different economic figures.

Wealth-Lab Pro has also added Trend-line trading, which, among other things, lets the user set trade alerts that can be triggered when prices cross above or below a drawn trend line.

Wealth-Lab Pro is free to Fidelity customers who make 120 or more trades per year and have $25,000 or more in assets. Those with over $1 million in household accounts at Fidelity also qualify for the active trading tools and commissions of $8 per transaction for stocks.

AS THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY of Hurricane Katrina looms, Intuit has released its Quicken Home Inventory Manager (http://www.intuit.com), which offers a way for homeowners to document their possessions. Intuit’s personal finance program, Quicken, includes a text-based home inventory module, but that allows the user only to type in descriptions and values.

The new Home Inventory Manager, however, lets you attach detailed documentation—sales receipts, warranty records and photographs—to your records. If you purchased an item online, the electronic receipt from the vendor can be included, among other new capabilities.

Retailing for $29.99, the system integrates with Quicken to calculate your net worth. You can also subscribe to Quicken’s online backup service, which starts at $9.99 per year, so that you have a reliable copy of the file in case the computer you used to create it is destroyed.

FOLIOFN (http://www.FOLIOfn.com), which allows customers to trade baskets of stocks on a dollar basis, rather than a share basis, is adding 2,000 mid- and low-cap stocks to those that can be traded during two daily “windows” at relatively low cost. These stocks can be found under the “Tier 2” designation, which also includes many exchange-traded funds. Once it’s fully implemented, Tier 2 will increase the universe of securities that you can window- trade to more than 5,500.

Users, who pay a monthly fee ranging from $19.95 to $39.95, can customize any folio to meet preferences. Trading Tier 2 stocks will incur added fees of up to $2.95-$5.95 per transaction for most of FOLIOfn’s various membership plans.

Published in Barrons, August 28, 2006

Posted by twcarey on 09/02 at 09:54 AM
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