Report From Finovate '08: The Latest Personal Finance Tools

I’ve been dispatched by our cigar-chomping editors to midtown NYC to check out the 14 new personal finance software apps getting demoed at Finovate 2008. I’ll be reporting here and letting you know about the latest tools from the frontlines of the personal finance revolution.

Some of you may remember that I am being laid off in four days, and may wonder why I, of all people, have been assigned to do this extra bout of work on behalf of Consumerist. I know, right? But Ben has asked me to watch the presentations and report their new features for you, the readers, so I have agreed. I have ulterior motives: I have also brought along a pile of business cards to pass out, and I figure I can pocket a bunch of these croissants and freeze them, then live off of them through Thanksgiving.

Here’s the first group of customer-facing service being discussed this morning:

Intuit’s fully free (as of yesterday) online money tracking service has been intentionally simplified—their presenter kept emphasizing that this is not supposed to be as dense or complicated as their desktop software. Features include a “What’s Left” summary of your dwindling account balance, as well as a cool-looking and potentially very useful “Spending Money Outlook”—a fancy chart that graphs your budget over a timeline and pegs scheduled payments to your balance, so you can visually take in your budget in the weeks to come in a purely graphical representation. They’ll also text you daily balance updates and let you know whether or not you’re on track to making your payments.

If you’re a bit afraid of the stock market—and we don’t mean just this past month, because that doesn’t count—then you might really appreciate WeSeed, which is basically a giant sandbox where you can play with investments using fake money with real data.

The site pulls you into investing as soon as you hit the site, by asking you what you like—pizza, dogs, survivalism—and then throwing specific companies at you that you might want to investigate. From there you can read about the company, check out its financial history, or see what other users are saying about it in the comments section. We’re not sure what value the comments section will have in real life, but the social aspect will probably be a welcome safety net for beginners who want to talk about investing as they learn.

We’re impressed with the concept. It will look too simple for knowledgeable investors, but if you’ve been putting off investing because you don’t know what you’re doing, it looks like a great immersion-based way to learn. (We have a feeling it will be good for teens and tweens, too.)

Personal finance site Wesabe now has Twitter functionality—you can tweet data into your wesabe account as you’re running around buying those dreaded budget-killing lattes financial advisors are always warning you about.

Another new feature Wesabe is rolling out: graphs you can use to see how you spend in particular categories, then compare to how other Wesabe members (they want you to call them “Wesabeans”) spend compared to you. Wesabe says over time the community data will build into a library of spending graphs that you can pull up and map your own data against.

Wesabe also lets you rate your relationship to merchants: fan, user, or captive, although I’m not sure yet how this helps your spending.

ZoneAlarm ForceField by Checkpoint Software
Cybercrime is coming after you! Arrrggh!!! “Hooking into your web browser” is a “new thing this year” that’s threatening your way of life. Bleyarg, ZoneAlarm’s presentation is kind of vague.

ZoneAlarm ForceField has heuristics, which I think are what causes allergic reactions in your nose, that they use to identify phishing sites as soon as they’re created–sort of a SpamSieve for phishing sites. FF also watches out for things like keylogging software.

Basically, ForceField looks like an antivirus program specifically for your web browser, which means it will likely be just as intrusive (“We’ve just stopped 66 MB of data from being spied upon!”) and annoying. Until we look more closely at it, we’d suggest your best defense against phishing and scams is to continue being as careful as we hope you’re already being.

FiLife says their goal is to help find the best products available to you. To do that, they’ve amassed a vast directory of “product types,” and then huge amounts of supporting content to explain the product types and provide reviews and recommendations.

New navigation tool, a “product picker.” Their launch product picker is for credit cards: you enter data on your credit card usage patterns and desires, and FiLife filters out the noise and

FiLife also uses proprietary algorithms to come up with a “Personal Value” of the selected product—for instance, credit card A has a personal value to you of $84. We don’t fully get it how that translates into real money for you, but it definitely works as a sort of score you can use to quickly compare choices.

Another fun toy is the Stacker, a graphical representation of your personal data. In the example given, you can enter your salary and your age range, and the Stacker reveals a pyramid of little animated people and shows where you stand among your peers or the nation. It looks like a fun way to explore your own personal data and gain a different perspective on things.

And that’s the first batch. Off to grab some more croissants, and then we’ll hear from the next batch of presenters.