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Moneydance Eases a Tax Burden

Like many people in the United States right now, I’m putting together my taxes. My wife and I have a few investments and a shared money market account through Morgan Stanley. I needed some information from the money market account (how much we paid for health insurance last year). Although we have lots of paper statements at home, I figured it was time I put all of it into Quicken, where I keep track of my checking, savings, and credit card accounts. I’ve been lax about digitizing that information, because most of the time it’s all taken care of by our financial planner at Morgan Stanley. The company offers online access to my account, so I thought I would download my data, import it into Quicken, and run a report that would spit out the figures I needed.


But I’m using a Mac, which almost – but not quite – derailed me.

Write Once, Run Nowhere — First off, Morgan Stanley’s ClientServ Web site uses a Java applet for its navigation interface within the site, which doesn’t work in any browser on my computer. As far as I can tell, that navigation could easily be replicated using CSS or even plain HTML. Not only is this useless technology, it’s not even implemented well, because there are no alternate links to get to the same information – Morgan Stanley’s help files instruct me to click the Download Activity link, which doesn’t exist on my machine. So the first step, simply getting to the page that allows me to download my statement, is a brick wall for Mac users.

I headed to my office to access the site using a Dell laptop I bought a couple of years ago for testing purposes. Not surprisingly, the navigation works just fine in Firefox under Windows XP, but then I hit another problem.


Not Intuit-ive — One great thing about Morgan Stanley’s site is that you can download statements back to 2002, a marked contrast to some banks that keep only the last three or six months of data available. I had committed myself to setting up new accounts in Quicken to start tracking the activity, so I wanted to download more than just the most recent month of activity. This appeared to be a simple process: click the checkbox saying you want a custom date range, and then change the range in the boxes provided. But checking the box did nothing; the fields remained dimmed and uneditable.

Before I could investigate this problem further, however, I ran into the final nail in this digital coffin: I can’t connect to Morgan Stanley anyway with the Mac version of Quicken, because (according to Morgan Stanley’s FAQ), "Quicken doesn’t support OFX downloads from Macintosh computers, at this time." I’m running Quicken 2004 and would have gladly upgraded to Quicken 2005 if it offered that functionality.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t simply download some OFX file and rejigger it using BBEdit, because Morgan Stanley’s access is set up to work directly only from Quicken for Windows.

Mac Dead End? So, let’s recap: Morgan Stanley doesn’t want to serve all its customers, making the blind assumption that Mac users are an insignificant statistic. And, Intuit can’t make its Mac software work in parity with its Windows software. Of course, Intuit has a terrible record of Mac support. The company even killed Quicken in 1998 – at the time, the market leader on the Mac – before Steve Jobs allegedly showed them the iMac and made them reconsider three weeks later.


If my wife and I didn’t already have a good investment (not just in dollars, but in time and a great relationship via our financial adviser), Morgan Stanley would have lost my business. As for Quicken, it was time to try the competition, Moneydance, which seemed to support the OFX format.


Doing a Little Jig — If ever there was a difficult market to throw your hat into, it has to be financial management software. Quicken owns the market, especially on the Mac (where Microsoft has never developed a Mac version of its Quicken competition, Money). But that dominance also provides opportunities for niche players, which is where Moneydance and I intersected.

I downloaded a free trial of Moneydance 2005 (a 3 MB installer), which provides all of the paid version’s features but is limited to 10 hand-entered transactions. (Moneydance 2005 is also available for Unix variants, Windows, and even OS/2.) After installing it, I created a new investment account and stepped through an easy wizard that let me choose Morgan Stanley ClientServ as the financial institution. After entering my account number, login, and password, Moneydance connected and displayed all of the account’s transactions (which dated to mid-2003).


Honestly, I was stunned that it was so easy. The only downside was that I wasn’t able to accept all the transactions into my Moneydance account at once; I could select them all, but clicking the Accept button grabbed only the first one in the list. With a few hundred transactions staring at me, I wasn’t thrilled about clicking the mouse button for each one.

Instead, I put QuicKeys to work and created a short script that clicked the button for me as many times as I specified. Just when I had resigned myself to locating the paper statements and spending hours entering transactions by hand, I was able to store all of the transactions on my Mac in the space of a few minutes. I promptly went to the Moneydance Web site and registered my copy, which at $30 was half of what I was expecting to pay to upgrade to Quicken 2005.


I haven’t used Moneydance enough to determine whether I’ll migrate my existing Quicken data (which encompasses several years), but for now I’m perfectly happy to use it for these Morgan Stanley accounts. I was able to run a quick report telling me the figure I needed for my tax return, printed it out, and sent it on its way to my accountant.

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