Why Buying Mint Makes Sense For Intuit

mintlogoIntuit said today it’s spending $170 million to acquire, a site that helps people manage their personal finances through budgeting and spending trackers, among other features. Mint has around a million users and has amassed a treasure trove of data on their historical spending and financial habits — data which is worth a fortune in the right hands, and which Mint has thus far stored but ignored.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based startup raised $32 million in three rounds, including a $14 million Series C last month. Mint, which also took home the $50,000 grand prize at the first TechCrunch40 event in 2007, has been gaining users at a prodigious clip, clocking 1.2 million monthly uniques as of August, more than double that of the 482,000 in August 2008, according to Mint allows users to set up links to their personal banking, credit card, investment and mortgage accounts to assist with budgeting and spending, and to gain a picture of their overall financial health — all through a pleasant-looking, easy-to-use site (and iPhone app, natch).

As a result, Mint has a massive cache of data on its users’ spending habits that it would have no trouble selling to third parties. Indeed, a report from earlier this year suggested the company was looking into the possibility, much to the dismay of some commentators who were concerned about privacy. Of course, companies like MasterCard have been aggregating and releasing such data for years.

Mint generates revenue mainly by recommending beneficial financial services to its users, like savings accounts or credit cards with better interest rates, then getting paid by financial service providers for successful sign-ups. Even with the economic implosion, banks are still aggressively looking to acquire new customers — especially those fiscally responsible enough to use an online personal finance site. Since Mint is private, we don’t have details as to its finances or profitability, but given the impressive rate of growth and the sector it’s in, it appears to be in an excellent position to bring in a lot of cash — especially with the deep and trustworthy pockets of Intuit behind them.

Intuit was one of the early movers in online software — I can remember doing my taxes online with TurboTax 10 years ago. On the business side, Intuit has been pushing a developer platform and an online database product called QuickBase. Last year, the company launched an online version of its venerable Quicken consumer-level personal finance software as a direct competitor to Quicken Online doesn’t have the feature set to match its offline sibling, but is more focused on basic financial behavior like budgeting and tracking spending — places where is strongest, and has many more users. It’s unclear if Intuit will keep Quicken Online as is, or — more likely, I think — use Mint as its free, entry-level consumer offering and turn Quicken Online into feature-rich port of the more in-depth Quicken desktop application, and price it accordingly.