Saturday, July 30, 2005

Another Call To The Lazy

As I have mentioned before, I am a lazy person. Given the number of "real" updates here that may not surprise anyone.

My biggest pet peeve, though, is double entry of information. I hate having to type something in one place and then having to retype the same thing in another program. One reason I did not get into online bill payment is this same reason. That and I am too cheap to pay for Intuit's bill pay that integrates with Quicken, but I digress.

My bank has finally gotten with the times and not only offers free online bill pay, but has the ability to download transactions. I have recently enjoyed balancing my checking account in about 30 seconds because of downloading and matching the transactions up as cleared before doing the reconciliation. Cool!

But not all is good in Nirvana. Currently I get two bills through electronic bill presentment. One is paid through the company's website, the other is auto-withdrawn from my account. In case one I need to walk through the website and then go off to Quicken and make an entry (which is usually for a future date). In the second case I need to make the entry when I get the email, again after consulting with the website.

Now my laziness gene kicked in after reading this about converting hCalendar to iCal. Why can't we have some kind of microformat that is the basic info of the transaction: Payee, amount, date and maybe a few other things? You could then download the file, have the financial program de jour open up and ask you what account to stick this in. Bonus points to the financial program for remembering what account something went into before.

Now I now there are services that allows for aggregation of electronic bill presentment and payment. But personally I am tired of getting nickeled and dimed to death on $10 for this service, $20 for that, etc. Frankly that is the only reason I have not gotten TiVo - I don't want another monthly service bill. That and I don't need another excuse to watch TV, but I digress again. I may sound like a bit of an old fart, but I have better things to spend my money on personally, especially when I can get this service for free through my bank.

Maybe someday Quicken, Microsoft and the rest of the financial industry will get off their collective butts and come up with some way of securely and generically working with your financial program seemlessly.

What do I mean by seemlessly? If I want to be a bit old school, when I get a bill in through snail mail I should be able to get into my financial program, make an entry, denote it is electronic much like I would enter a check number. At the appropriate time, the program would send the transaction to the bill payment service of choice for processing.

Taking it a step further, you could get something like an RSS entry from the vendor of choice. It would be better if you could setup a central place instead of polling several RSS feeds, but the mechanism would be the same. This would prompt the financial program to go out and grab, in a secure way, the information needed to pay the bill (see the above idea for a microformat). Next time in the financial program you would be presented with the bills that need to be paid and then they could be handled as above.

You could also get this info through email, although I don't know if I want to send through unsecure email that my cell bill was $20 for a month.

The financial transaction format could even be used at Amazon and what not - as part of the checkout process you could snag the transaction file. It could be split up into categories already for you, saving even more time. Downloaded transactions are many times already classified, at least they have been for me.

Taking it even a step further, you could come up with a format that, again using the RSS idea, let you know that a statement is available, go and get it and present everything to you for reconciliation.

Let's face it - entering transactions and reconciling statements is about as much fun as watching paint dry, only sometimes with the joy of the pain of a root canal. To me anything that would allow me to spend less time on those functions and more time learning about how my 401k works is a blessing.

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