Moving Back to Quicken from Banktivity (Long)

TLDR; I moved from Quicken to Banktivity a little over 3 years ago and now I’m going back. I basically don’t trust the Banktivity registers and it takes WAY too much time manually inspecting, auditing, and repairing to be worth my effort.

I have tracked my finances in detail since my university days in the mid-80s when I created a complicated set of macros in Quattro to handle the basics required to record, track, and reconcile all of my accounts. This continued until I got my first job and decided I wanted a more polished system, whereupon I migrated over to Intuit’s Quicken product.

I continued to use Quicken for a little over 25 years when they started faltering and appeared about to go out of business. Their support had gone very much downhill, updates to the product were unspectacular and, frankly, it seemed as if Intuit regarded the Quicken product as just an advertising means to push their TurboTax product.

I was disenchanted and looked around for a native MacOS product that could handle my personal finance needs. In late 2018 I decided that Banktivity (which had *just* rebranded from “iBank”) had the comprehensive set of features that I needed, and so I migrated to this platform.

Banktivity was still a bit rough around the edges, but it had just been overhauled and they looked like they were eager to build a world-class personal finance solution so I tolerated some of the fairly glaring shortcomings and found workarounds with the assistance of their support folks.

I have since become disenchanted with Banktivity. I haven’t seen the growth I was hoping for, and I have encountered far too many issues in working with it that I’m not willing to wait any longer to be someday resolved. Couple that with some unpleasant experiences with the support group – not malicious, just condescending – and I started looking for a replacement personal finance tool again.

Banktivity ultimately greatly increased the amount of work that I needed to do to maintain any semblance of up-to-date information. I have been pretty shaken by some of the bugs to the extent that I now have a cloud of uncertainty around most of my accounts and, if I am talking with an advisor, I have to manually double-check the information before presenting what Banktivity has to show.

Following are some cons and pros to Banktivity that brought me to this point. Most of these I’ve approached Banktivity about at some point by leaving suggestions or at least verified that these features are “still in the pipeline” and probably will be forever.

CONS:

Probably my biggest pet peeve: while I can set up a scheduled transaction list, there is no way to have any of my regular monthly transactions added to the register automatically. Some things I will want to review before they are posted, but I have a BUNCH of things that are recurring bills that are the same amount every month. Making this a manual process is just thoughtless.

Likewise, I have bills that vary throughout the year in a relatively predictable fashion – or even are exactly predictable (such as credit cards which are being tracked in Banktivity), when I go to submit these transactions they really should have a relevant estimated value rather than what I hard-coded in the template transaction 3 years ago or whenever the template transaction was entered. This is a very useful feature for ensuring “reasonableness”. i.e. if my water bill for January is usually X dollars and this January it’s 4X dollars, its much faster and easier if that’s in front of me when I’m adding the transaction to the register than for me to think to check last year’s bill manually.

Sticking with scheduled transactions, they don’t factor in any net worth or register value reporting until they have actually been committed. So any planning like “What will my balance in my checking account be in 6 weeks when I need to pay off that vacation debt” is all manual. Having scheduled transactions – especially those with relevant estimates – included in those projections would make planning and moving money around a LOT easier.

Scheduled Transactions Random Badge

Finally, STILL harping on scheduled transactions, the button used to open the scheduled transaction dialog has a badge on it with – supposedly – the number of outstanding transactions. One would expect this to be the number of transactions up to and including today that have not yet been posted to the registers. Nope. I honestly have found no relation between that badge up there and what is outstanding. Even when I’m completely up-to-date with no pending transactions, that badge will uselessly tell me I have 1,2 or some other number of items that require my attention. I’m just OCD enough for this to niggle at the back of my brain whenever I’m using the app and it annoys me that I cannot clear it or at least explain it.

Next is a pretty big deal: sometimes transactions just go “bad”. Transactions that I *know* have been reconciled, when I go back a few weeks or months later looking for something, I find that either the category has vanished (uncategorized) or the transfer has vanished – which means, in the other register the entire transaction has usually vanished. This is probably the issue that shakes my faith in the product the most. Committed items that change.

Generally, Banktivity pulls in security values pretty reliably and updates the “Summary” and “Portfolio” panels’ net-worth accordingly. But, for some reason, there is a particular fund that I have that should be around $400/share that will arbitrarily be set to $2/share. Why it does this is a mystery. It took a few heart stops looking at my portfolio page (and summary page) before I realized that the tens of thousands of dollars that had suddenly gone missing from my account was due to that little ‘nit. Now I know to watch my summary screen and, whenever I see a drop of that magnitude, I know to go to that security and I have to manually overwrite the $2 value with the previous day’s value. I use Banktivity every day and I need to make this correction no less than 3 times a week.

Fund prices randomly drop from $400+ to $2

Possibly not directly Banktivity’s fault, but I have several accounts that have multi-factor authentication activated – some of them do it more conservatively than others. But for the ones that are truly aggressive – they will challenge just about every time you refresh the account – the product becomes unusable if you allow it to refresh automatically. One of them wants the answer to one of the account’s security questions every time. So I need to manually refresh my accounts daily. If I could choose which accounts automatically refreshed and which would be manually initiated that would greatly reduce that nuisance.

I need to refresh accounts TWICE to ensure that I actually get current transactions if Banktivity has been open for any amount of time. Sometimes I’ll refresh and start wondering why some bank transactions are not there yet, so I’ll refresh a second time and a half dozen transactions will show up and I can reconcile properly.

This challenge comes up frequently and takes WAY to long to clear.

Still picking on downloading transactions – and again, this may not be Banktivity’s fault – but I figure they should be able to make it less onerous. Any time I am challenged for credentials by an institution, it takes *forever* for it to complete the authentication. Even for MFA for an account – if I want that account up-to-date I get to sit there and stare at a modal dialog (which means that the rest of the app is locked until the dialog is cleared) until it is done. This can literally be 30-90 seconds per account. This is super disruptive and, in addition to me only manually initiating the refresh of my accounts, there are some accounts I now actually manually update because they are just too big a PITA to authenticate with ALL the time.

I have one account that incoming deposit transactions – from the institution itself – are reported as withdrawals and so need to be corrected manually each time a deposit is made. I cannot delete the incoming transaction and just use my scheduled one, the transaction will download again and again until I actually edit the incoming transaction and change the value from expense to income.

Both my wife and I have 401(k) accounts and the transaction information coming from those institutions is just laughable gibberish. I need to manually update these accounts about once a quarter by just updating the current account balance and stock holdings. This may not be Banktivity’s fault but I do not recall having these issues with Quicken and these accounts. I will find out if this is the institution or the app when I migrate back to Quicken..

When new transactions are downloaded, I have found no rhyme or reason to the categories Banktivity assigns, and continues to assign to them. Even recurring transactions, from the same vendor with the same(ish) note information I would expect might have some generic category consistently applied, but nope, Banktivity picks the same obscure (as in unique-to-me-but-haven’t-been-actively-used-for-many-years) category every time, even when I correct it, the obscure category will be assigned the next time a similar transaction is downloaded instead of the one I previously assigned.

For some reason, even though I have already manually entered the expense into the register, if there is even a day discrepancy in the date, Banktivity will not match the incoming downloaded transaction with it forcing me to manually merge them. The dollar amount is exact but it seems the date will kill it.

Lately, and for one of my credit accounts, Banktivity re-downloads transactions. These are transactions for which I’ve either matched my manually entered register entries or at least updated and cleared the incoming transaction. The ONLY way to get rid of the duplicates is to delete the already reconciled entries and re-update the newly downloaded transactions. Deleting the new incoming transactions just means they will reappear with the next refresh. This is not just one transaction, this will be a half dozen at a time. It seems hell-bent on making sure I waste my time.

There is a (potentially very useful) view option when inspecting the registers which allows all uncleared and new transactions to sort to the top so you can quickly see what’s come in and what you have yet to reconcile. But, inexplicably, the balance showing beside each of the transactions – especially those that have not yet cleared but may be a few days or weeks old – shows the balance as if the entry was still down in the register. Also, pulling it up and out of the other, cleared transactions, I would rather expect it to not be part of the overall aggregate balance for the BELOW transactions. This makes this view far less useful if I am trying to match the reconciled balance with what is actually showing in the bank or brokerage account portal. I need to manually calculate the value removing any checks (or any future transactions) that have not been cashed yet. This is not an intuitive UI.

Newly downloaded transactions are handily marked as such in the register and that designation hangs around for… some number of days. All of the transactions from that single download will sit there tagged as NEW no way to get rid of them or mark them as “viewed” or “dealt-with”. So the value in being highlighted as NEW is lost as they will still show as new through subsequent download sessions as well.

Speaking of distinguishing downloaded content, I cannot always distinguish downloaded transactions and those manually entered in the register if I do not deal with them soon after being downloaded where they still show the “New” badge. Some downloaded transactions are pretty easy to identify as they’ll have some information from the institution in the note field, but sometimes I cannot distinguish between a transaction I entered and forgot about or a downloaded transaction that has languished for a few days before I reconcile it. I then have to do a bit of thinking whether or not the entry can be marked as cleared. A “downloaded” attribute that I can see would be helpful.

Sometimes transactions that have been downloaded and matched with an existing transaction, “MATCHed” transactions, are automatically marked as cleared, and sometimes they are not. I cannot find a pattern to this, but I cannot depend upon it.

Each register entry has a note field, which shows up in the overall register view, each transaction within the register entry has its own memo field. I’m not sure why, when the Note field is empty, the transaction memo field is not displayed in its place. If there are multiple transactions either the first one can be displayed or perhaps the first 20 characters from each transaction can be displayed until 100 characters or so are showing. This would make scanning the register somewhat easier as the detail can be right in front of you. As it is, I typically copy the memo field into the note field when entering anything I consider important.

Within the past month, Banktivity began balking about the data file being stored in a OneDrive folder. Every time I made a change it would say some other application has changed the banktivity data file and that I needed to manually save it and risk losing data. I ended up having to move the file out of my backed-up OneDrive folder to another location and just have to make absolutely sure my other backups cover it.

While much improved over the years, the summary screen (and the portfolio screen) just don’t add up. I’ve frankly never figured out where they get their “cash” value from. When I called, their support folks couldn’t explain it either. So I need to take this information with a huge grain of salt.

I find it incredibly difficult to tell day-by-day how investments are doing. i.e. I cannot just look at the summary screen for an investment, or for the portfolio for that matter, and understand the what has changed since yesterday or in the past week. The only way that I come close is to memorize the total portfolio value, or the Total net worth and then refresh the accounts (twice) so I can kind of gain a sense of what has grossly happened. But drilling down to determine what individual funds or accounts have contributed to an increase or decrease of my portfolio is pretty arduous.

Net worth reports are unusable. I’ll just leave it at that.

Just yesterday, the scheduled transaction for my monthly auto payment – which has been part of Banktivity’s scheduled payments since I set up the program – simply vanished. I was reviewing my bank account balance and noticed that it was higher than expected, then I realized my car payment was not there. It was not in the upcoming scheduled transaction list for this month. I went and found and opened the entry in the list of defined scheduled transactions and it showed a dialog saying I would need to edit the loan. There it told me the loan was not amortizable and would never be paid off (!!) it gave me the choice of fixing that “error” or not fixing it. I elected to not fix it at this time and… the entry disappeared completely from my defined Scheduled transaction list. I will need to recreate it from scratch by somehow editing the loan to make it reappear.

Using the mobile app has been a terrible experience. If any amount of time has elapsed since I have used the app on either the iPad or the iPhone it will MESS ME UP. The last 2 times I opened it on the iPad (and the iPhone so 4 times – yes I’m a glutton for punishment) it downloaded duplicate transactions across my accounts. It also introduced garbage (uncategorized transactions, orphaned transfers, etc.) across many of my accounts.

PROS:

Adjusting accounts, i.e. changing the cash balance or the share holdings for an account is pretty straightforward. This is especially useful for those recalcitrant accounts for which I just get gibberish (see above). But pretty easy to force them in line if you don’t care about all the details behind the amounts.

It’s nice to be able to see 2 accounts on the screen at the same time. Especially handy when trying to reconcile issues with transfers, etc.

The app is pretty fast to start and to display information. Which seems to normally be an issue for MacOS data apps.

Bottom Line:

I’m now a MacOS user and wanted a native personal finance app that handles everything a normal person does financially. Banktivity looked like a good choice with support across MacOS, iPadOS and iOS. But it is missing basic functionality that forces a lot of drudge work as well as has questionable reporting and odd UI choices. Its biggest failing is that I just don’t trust the integrity of the data. Things change out from underfoot, often without any indication of a problem until you take a closer look at why some things don’t seem to line up with your real world institution totals.

I see Quicken has a MacOS offering now that, while still lagging behind, is slowly approaching feature parity with the Windows version. They also appear to be taking the product seriously once again. So I’m going to put the product through its paces and see if it can manage my finances in a reliable fashion.

Or maybe I need to re-build my original spreadsheet-based system and keep my data there. It couldn’t be more work than constantly cross-checking Banktivity.

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