Intuit Brings Mobile Payments One Step Closer

Cross your wallet with your smartphone and you'll have what Intuit calls Mobile Money. It's a new take on mobile payments using NFC-enabled smartphones.

Intuit, best known for products like Quick Books and Turbo Tax, actually has its fingers in a lot of other pies. And to underline that point, the software company holds what it calls a gallery walk every year or two, an event that brings together customers and the tech press to get a look at the new and improved stuff it's about to launch.

This year's walk featured two dozen or so products and services, but two caught my eye: Mint Home and Business, and Mobile Money. Mint is a cloud-based personal finance service for very small businesses; Mobile Money, which is experimental, is a platform that banks will use to enable mobile payments via NFC-enabled smartphones.

Mobile Money

NFC, the acronym for near field communication, is a short range technology that lets smartphones exchange data with another device by simply touching it. With an NFC-enabled smartphone, you can buy something by simply tapping your phone on a merchant’s terminal; no credit card swiping necessary. For all the press NFC has garnered, you don’t see much of it out in the real world, but quite a few companies are experimenting with it.

Intuit won’t be selling a branded version of this, but it is working with a number of major financial institutions to build a platform it calls Mobile Money. The best way to think of Mobile Money is a cross between your wallet and your smartphone. The user will load cash into a mobile wallet by linking to a bank account. When you want to buy something, assuming the merchant has a compatible terminal, tap it with the phone, and you're done. Your phone will automatically log the purchase so you'll be able to see how much you've spent and how much cash you have left in your mobile wallet. At the moment, Mobile Money doesn’t have the ability to give you a printable receipt, but that feature is likely to be added in the future.

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Naturally, a key issue is security. Intuit figures that most people will only put a relatively small amount of cash in that wallet, so it is not password protected or encrypted. Lose your phone and you’ll lose your mobile cash. I asked an Intuit engineer working on the project why the mobile wallet wasn’t better protected and he said that at first Intuit thought it should be, but consumer focus groups revealed that potential users were willing to take the risk in exchange for the convenience of not having to use and remember a PIN for every transaction.

However, the link from the mobile wallet to the account you'd use to add cash to it is encrypted, so it should be safe. The first iterations of Mobile Money will start to appear in March.

Mint Home and Business

Mint, as you may know, was a popular personal finance site acquired by Intuit in late 2009. The company’s new version of Mint is geared to people like me: small business people who run a one-person operation. Home and Business, which will be available later this year, tries to solve a problem that solo operators face all the time: untangling personal and business finances and expenses.

Mint H&B is a good example of SaaS (software as a service), which means it is software housed on a server in the cloud that you can run on pretty much any device, regardless of the operating system.

The opening screen has lots of information displayed in columns with labels like accounts, credit cards and alerts. Each column contains the information you'd expect -- balances, recent activity and so on. It's easy to drill down to see the details of any transactions, and you can create labels to categorize different expenses, or use the ones that Intuit has built in. Once you've created the categories you need, it's easy to display summaries in graphical form.

A strength of the program is its flexibility. You can divide an item such as your wireless bill  between personal and business. You might decide that 30 percent of the expense is personal, while the balance is for business use.

One point, though, disappointed me: Mint Home and Business cannot be integrated with Turbo Tax, Intuit's tax package. You'd think that a business person would want to use the data from Mint to help prepare a tax return.

Mint Home and Business will be launched later this year; Intuit wasn't ready to say when that will occur or how it will be priced.

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