YNAB on the Web Is Good

Recorded on August 5th, 2016

We are on board with the web-based version of You Need A Budget (YNAB). I had my reservations earlier this year, but I finally decided that the utility of having YNAB in a browser with the ability to pull data in from the bank outweighed my security fears. Actually, I realized that so many health/financial/government institutions store our data on their servers now that I can’t worry myself with how they all do it. I may as well use the slice of data that I can control in a way that makes it easier to live within our means.

Overall, I am very impressed with the new web-based version of YNAB. (It’s not even new anymore, but it’s new to me.) Importing is easier, syncing to the iOS app is faster, we don’t have to worry about Dropbox syncing between devices anymore, I can get to YNAB from any web browser, and we can set per-month funding goals for any budget category.

One key that I must mention that makes the privacy/security part way less scary: Many banks now allow you to set up view-only guest access to your bank accounts. This is a perfect way to give YNAB access to your banking data. There’s no need to hand over the full set of keys to them if you have this option. I’m much more comfortable with YNAB slurping up our data now, knowing that if the credentials were compromised, no-one would actually be able to vacuum out our balance with just that information.

Not everything is perfect. The direct-import feature is still a little weird. This may depend on which bank you use. The way mine works is that nothing new gets imported to YNAB until it clears the bank. If you rely on direct-import, you’re always going to be a couple of days behind the curve, which, for me, doesn’t work with the way I’m used to YNAB. I need to reconcile every day or two to keep up and not let things get too far out of sync. So I continue to manually enter most transactions, but that’s no great burden, and it keeps me more in touch with our spending anyway. If we’re going to eschew actual paper money in favor of chip-cards and Apple Pay, it’s useful to feel a little bit of pain with each purchase.

Sometimes, YNAB will tell you that there’s new data to import, but there really isn’t. What happened tonight was that our checking and credit card accounts both showed that they had a handful of transactions to import, but when I clicked the “Import” button, nothing appeared in the ledger except the message, “There are no transactions to import.” Not a confidence-builder. But it’s not a killer, either, since I view direct-import as just a safety net for when we inevitably go too many days without manually entering purchases.

I do miss the ability to search the ledger for a dollar amount, payee, or category. But I can live with it for the knowledge that I’m headed in the same direction that the software creator is moving. When you can see where the puck is going to go with an app or an operating system, it’s usually a bad strategy to cling too tightly to the old way of doing things. (Apologies to .38 Special.)

My other complaint is that the voice and tone of some of the dialog boxes favors being cutesy over being appropriate. I know that in this world of Instagram and MailChimp and Duolingo that it’s normal to have witty responses to routine user interactions: “Way to go!”, “Boom!”, “You rock!”, etc. But when I’m using a financial app where thousands of dollars are at stake, and I’m doing my first big import from the desktop version of YNAB to the web-app version, I do not want to see something that says:

“This normally takes only a few seconds, but can take up to a few minutes to complete. Banks, right?”

Really, YNAB? You nailed so much other stuff. You got syncing working quite well, you got a web-based ledger to actually function like a desktop app, and you massively improved how credit cards and credit-card debt payments are handled. Don’t blow it with the writing. I know you know about the dangers of being too cute with your copy. Learn from MailChimp’s Voice & Tone Guide about how to match the tone of your status messages to what your users are trying to do. It’s fine to have fun — maybe when people are setting up category names — but otherwise, give people confidence in your product. Make sure they know you take their data and their money seriously.

Sorry to vent. Overall, the new YNAB is really good and I don’t plan to ever return to the desktop version. Now let’s see how long we can go before we have to do another Fresh Start!

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