If you’ve been looking for a full featured personal finance tracking and reporting program, iBank 3 is an excellent choice. Rather than just doing the expected, iBank goes the extra mile in just about every element of its design.
The first observation I had of iBank 3 is that it is everything that Quicken Essentials should have been. (See my review of QE from March 31, 2010). In fact, the first thing you notice about iBank 3 is that it emphasizes the differences between the two products:
iBank 3 vs. Quicken Essentials
This chart alone will likely be enough to catch your eye and inspire you to learn more about this software.
The second thing I noticed about iBank 3 is that it has a supporting cast of characters. For example, you can sync with your iPhone or iPod touch, create and edit transactions on the move. Also, you can upload your portfolio data to MobileMe and view it from any Web Browser. Account data can be entered with a free widget. There is iCal integration. When developers embrace and utilize a broad range of Apple technologies, they’re a cut above the competition. As a result, iBank won an Apple Design Award at WWDC in 2007: Runner-Up for Best Leopard Application.
The full feature list of iBank is enormous. I won’t try to reproduce or even summarize this page. What I would recommend is that you have your own wish list of requirements handy, and then go look at the page linked to above to verify that iBank does everything you need it do do. Chances are, iBank has you covered. Also, check out this page to read about features I haven’t covered, like Smart Accounts and reports.
Out of Box Experience
Some apps settle for a splash screen that has the app name and some credits. iBank 3 goes much further and provides a handy guide to the use of the app, from starting a new data file to upgrades, quick start guide, help, user forums, and the IGG website itself. Also, the things that are new in version 3.0 are listed in a dynamic section that fades in and out with a complete list. This window can be suppressed at startup if desired, but I’d leave it on for a week or so. Why don’t other apps do this?
The first thing you’ll see is a classic 3-pane Cocoa app with a Toolbar and three panes, in the general style of iTunes. Like any Cocoa app, the Toolbar can be customized. Accounts and management functions are on the left and detailed account information is on the right — viewable as a list view, Cover flow view or Thumbnail view. The “iBank Quick Start Guide” (PDF) provides a handy summary of operation and tutorial.
iBank is a well designed program that uses color, graphs, and Toolbar icons to help visually understand the operation of the program. Like most programs of its type, the core operation is the entry of a transaction, be it from a checking account, savings account, cash, credit card, investment fund, line of credit and so on. Categories of accounts are listed on the left, and one can just click on one to see a list of transactions.
A nice feature of iBank 3 is that the user isn’t limited to U.S. dollars. Other currencies are possible. Another is that categories of transactions can be color coded to make it easier to digest the listing. Columns can be sized, and the payee, type of transaction, and category is editable with a popup. As with a spreadsheet, you can enter the transaction data directly or use a handy form. (Click the up/down arrows at the bottom right to bring up the transaction form.)
Transaction form with visibility toggle (red circle)
Once you have data entered into the app, and that’s always the painstaking part, there are things you can do with all that information. If you’ve set up a budget for each category, then you can periodically see how your spending compares to the budget. You can design and save various pie charts to obtain a profile of your spending. Based on previous spending, you can forecast, say, what you checking account balance will be on a certain date.
Pie chart of expenditures
Under the Manage section on the left is an entry for Categories. Here’s where you specify a spending category (with the “+” button) and click on the color to bring up a color picker. You can define whether a category is an expense (or income) and whether it applies to your taxes, say, a charitable contribution or interest income.
Import/Export and Interfacing
iBank3 provides instructions for how to connect on the Internet to your banking institution and download account data. Transactions are downloaded using the Open Financial Exchange (OFX) protocol. If your bank uses this and you’ve set up authorized access, just like QE, you can connect. A list of default institutions is built-in.
You can export selected data to TurboTax and Excel in QIF format, and unlike QE, you can actually print checks. (But you’ll have to go here: Account -> Show Check Printing Setup… before the File -> Print Checks for Selected Items… menu item becomes active.) You can use the built-in Web browser or the default.
Also, unlike QE, you can password protect your data, however, the password only prevents someone from launching iBank fully and opening the data file. It doesn’t encrypt the data on the disk, it doesn’t seem to support the Mac OS X Keychain, and strong password protection is not enforced. Of course, using the Keychain can be seen as losing a level of protection because if your Mac is left on and you’re logged in, access to iBank data would be automatic.
What I Liked
I liked the look and feel of the program, especially the icons. I didn’t have to work hard to figure out how to do things, in general. The app is colorful and pleasing to the eye. Cover flow for a transaction may be a bit of an overkill, but it’s thematic. That is, iBank tries to utilize neat affordances of Leopard and Snow Leopard to make the app more fun to use.
I liked that when I click on the calculator icon in the Toolbar, the default Mac OS X calculator comes up. No sense reinventing the wheel.
What I Didn’t Like
In a checking account, the running balance column only makes sense if you sort by date. For example, QE suppresses the checking account balance unless the listing is sorted by date. IGG Software’s product manager told TMO, “We do have a standing feature request to change this behavior in a future release.”
Also, I found the currency converter (Account -> Show Currencies) rather non-intuitive to set up, and exploit. But I got it working.
There is a Quick Start Guide (18 pages) in PDF format and online Help. In addition, there is a full 358 page User Manual available. It’s colorful detailed, logical and easy to read. I must admit, however, I needed help from IGG Software to find the manual on their website.
User Guide Excerpt
The Quick Start Guide, if studied, will get you off to a good start.
There is a free 30 day trial period. “We offer a 30-day money-back guarantee on all of our software. Purchase a license, register the software, and use it unrestricted for up to a month. If you are not satisified for any reason, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will refund the purchase in full.”
iBank 3 requires Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) or later and at least 1024 x 640 screen resolution.
The Bottom Line
This app never crashed on me, despite my newbie poking around. It’s a good looking app that invokes a lot of supporting technologies. It has all the features anyone would need for tracking and managing personal finances. The documentation is superb. For a finance program, which typically involves the drudgery of entering lots of transactions, it’s fun to use. It has a feeling of maturity and few obvious flaws, but no doubt they can be found with more extensive use. I got the feeling working with the company that they would be fixed promptly because the current version is 3.5.6 which suggests lots of updates.