Barriers to Exit: How Quicken Screws its Customers

When I was in business school, we learned (amongst other things) about developing various competitive strategies. One of the ones hardly anyone seemed to pay attention to, but was fascinating to me, was the concept of creating “Barriers to Exit”.

This is the complement to the better known “Barriers to Entry”, which typically implies that if you can enter a market first, and make it either so expensive or so time consuming to a competitor to consider entering that it would not be worth their while to follow you into that market, they would therefore  concede it to you.

Barriers to Exit implies that you make it so expensive, time consuming or otherwise difficult to leave a market (or a product) that you have captive control over it. And that’s where Quicken comes in.

Quicken is one of the few examples of an independent software company which has successfully fended off Microsoft’s entry into its domain. Their original product was and is a personal finance and check writing program. Over the years (and decades now), it has evolved from a simple checkbook balancer to a complex combination of tax reporting, investment handling and personal finance adviser. Its foundation, though, is still basically a checkbook program and, as such, it’s very convenient. Many of its customers, myself included, have been using one version or another of Quicken for over 15 years, even predating Windows back to the DOS era. Think of the brand loyalty implied in that record of accomplishment! We were glad to be able to support an upstart company which beat back the Microsoft juggernaut with a superior product and a great customer orientation. As the need would arise, usually when some significant improvement in the software would occur, I would upgrade to the newer version, which they would make available to past customers at a reduced rate.

Unfortunately, over the past several years, there have been increased numbers of complaints about both the Quicken software and its dedication to the customer. Reports of buggy software are common now, and the annual version upgrades seem to offer little improvement over the previous year’s. So, most people would keep their old versions, with which they were perfectly content.

Of course, without annual upgrades by enough of the user base, company management can’t drive the requisite increases in revenue they need to justify their positions. So, they’re forced to choose between happy customers, and greater revenue growth. Guess which they choose.

So, Quicken now has adopted a “sunsetting” policy on its old software. Now at most software companies, that just means that they just stop supporting the old software with patches, fixes and so forth. Not at Quicken. They actually inform their customers that the online components of their software, including some basic functionality that users need every day to download bank balances and credit card transactions, will be turned off. That’s right. Even though these functions work fine, they’re going to shut them off. Leaving customers with three choices: upgrade, find some other program, or go back to entering all transactions manually.

What makes this particularly ugly is that when one does a little research into the new upgrade versions, one finds that the customer satisfaction levels with those new versions are terrible. Not just so-so or mezza-mezza. Awful. People generally hate the new versions as buggy, non-functional or just plain unnecessary. And reviews of the once-great Quicken customer service are similarly poor. Check some place where there’s customer input, like Amazon or elsewhere. It’s shocking. Review after review of people saying “I’ve used Quicken for (5, 10, 15) years and now I hate them” or similar. It’s hard to imagine a company doing a more successful job of ruining its reputation without actually dumping oil into a village of baby seals or releasing poison gas into a highly populated third world hellhole. But they have.

And that’s where Barriers to Exit comes in. Because despite all these facts, you really have no choice. You have to upgrade because you depend on it. Over fifteen years of comprehensive personal finance records, several loans, a mortgage, a handful of bank accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s and the lot. All currently kept up to date at the push of a button. Until shut off time. And from all accounts the Microsoft competitor is even worse. And there’s nothing else out there.

So you’re stuck.

And they know it.

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3 responses to “Barriers to Exit: How Quicken Screws its Customers

  1. Stevie the K,
    I share your disgust with Intuit/Quicken and am also shocked with their blatant ‘bait and switch’ tactics. Surely there is some form of shareware out there that can do the equivalent. Why doesn’t MS Money come alive again to meet this issue head-on? Couldn’t this be an opportunity for TaxCut to take both the Quicken and Turbotax markets from Intuit?

  2. Ever wonder why consumers are skeptical about everything? It’s because of this sort of behavior from Quicken, car dealers, cable companies, cell phone carriers, you name it. I never can understand why companies spend so much time and money advertising to consumers to get them to switch to their product(s) (even when you already use them), when, if some display of integrity were demonstrated there would be more business than they could handle.
    I, like many, have been using Quicken for some time (and I love it!) but I’m not falling for this maneuver. The conveniences of today are supposed to be just that, convenient tools. Not cloaked time wasters that put consumers on the defense every time we make a purchasing decision. Work WITH US, vendors, WE HAVE YOUR MONEY!

  3. The latest smothering, self serving attack on Q users is requiring one to sign in using their “Intuit ID” ( as if you actually have one), prior to updating your accounts.

    This means that Intuit tracks, at a minimum, the number of times you sign into your bank to pay bills and download completed transactions. The maximum impact would be if Quicken harvests your spending data and sells it to market researchers.

    SOLUTION: File as many suits against Intuit in small claims court as you can tolerate. Many suits can be filed online. See Virginia small claims at http://www.courts.state.va.us/forms/district/civil.html.

    Additionally, most states have a consumer complaints division of the office of the Attorney General. For example, Virginia provides an online form to air your grievance. See
    http://www.ag.virginia.gov/consumercomplaintform/consumerComplaintForm.aspx
    I was able to move a very large billion dollar company after an investigation was instigated by the Attorney General.

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