Intuit puts venerable Quicken up on the block

Intuit Quicken for the
About 2/3rds of Intuit's business now comes from online and mobile activity, according to the company Credit: Intuit

32-year-old desktop software days are numbered, predict some customers, as Intuit pledges to find 'reputable buyer' for personal finance program

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Intuit yesterday announced that it would sell its Quicken unit, the group that creates the personal finance software that made the company famous.

The news -- and Intuit management's explanation for the sale -- illustrated the retreat of personal computer desktop software and the rise in cloud- and subscription-based services. It also distressed users, who wondered whether the banking and investment software would survive, and if not, how they would replace a program they've relied on for years, sometimes decades.

On a conference call with Wall Street analysts Thursday, CEO Brad Smith said Intuit would focus on its small business and tax software, represented by QuickBooks and TurboTax, respectively -- both have strong cloud- and subscription-based businesses -- and is ditching Quicken because, as a strictly desktop product, it has neither.

"As you know, Quicken is a desktop-centric business and it doesn't strengthen the small business or tax ecosystems," said Intuit CEO Brad Smith in a conference call with Wall Street Thursday. "Our strategy is focused on building ecosystems and platforms in the cloud. We value our loyal Quicken customers and we're seeking a buyer who will provide the product support and the service they deserve."

Right.

"I expect Quicken to be dead in two years at best," predicted someone identified as "rickbee9," in one of several comments on the Quicken discussion forum thread about the proposed sale.

Others questioned Smith's explanation, saying that Intuit is simply ditching its weakest money makers to make its balance sheet look better. "[It's] clear that Intuit is divesting itself of the lowest revenue items, no matter how they spin it," wrote "smayer97" on the same thread. "It is clear that this has nothing to do with which segment classes of products they are keeping vs. not ... they are clearly only wanting to keep the top revenue items."

The three units Intuit plans to sell -- Quicken, QuickBase and Demandforce -- accounted for less than 6% of the firm's fiscal 2015 revenue, and just 2% of its net income during the same period. For the last 12 months, Quicken contributed just $51 million to the company's total revenue of nearly $4.2 billion.

One indicator of the soon-to-be-sold units' worth in investors' eyes is that not one Wall Street analyst asked a question yesterday about their proposed sale.

In a FAQ about the Quicken sale, Intuit asserted that it would find the right home for the personal finance software. "We are seeking a buyer that recognizes the value of the brand, respects the customers and will invest in upgrading the product and support experience," said Intuit. "We intend to run a crisp process, focused on engaging with strong and reputable buyers."

Customers weren't buying that either.

"I love how [the CEO] is telling you that he can pick a buyer in a way that they will do everything they didn't do," said "QuicknPerlWiz". "Quicken is 32 years old, and to a developer that usually means code that is really hard to maintain, and that certainly shows."

In many ways, Quicken is software that users love to hate. With years of data in the company's proprietary format -- and few alternatives -- they not only feel trapped but also regularly rail about the product. Quicken's listing on ConsumerAffairs.com, the consumer advocacy organization's website, makes for dismal reading: The overall satisfaction rating is one star out of a possible five.

"I hate this program. I've been using Quicken for many years, and it just get[s] worse and worse with each update. It is less and less user friendly," alleged Beverly of Midland, Tex.

"I have never seen a major software company so technically inept and getting worse. Every month there seems to be some new major issue with this software," griped Bill of Scottsdale, Ariz.

Intuit promised that it would continue to maintain and develop Quicken until it finds a buyer, adding that it plans to release the next edition, Quicken 2016 for Windows, and would keep working on the Mac version. Current users should see no interruption in their ability to use the software or its associated services, such as Quicken Bill Pay.

"As we move through this sale, it's business better than usual," wrote Eric Dunn, who heads the Quicken unit, in an online statement. "As a standalone business, we'll focus solely on taking Quicken to the next level. And until we find that buyer, we'll continue to provide you with [the] dedicated, uninterrupted service and support you deserve."

If Intuit keeps to its usual schedule, it will ship Quicken 2016 in the next several weeks. Quicken 2015, for instance, launched in early August 2014, while Quicken 2014 appeared in early October 2013.

Quicken is one of the oldest desktop products, preceding even Windows. Quicken debuted in 1983, near the beginning of the PC revolution, and first ran on Microsoft's DOS.

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