Intuit (NASDAQ:INTU) is buying Mint.com for a whopping $170 million. That’s a lot of money for a company which has yet to make a dollar in profit — indeed, it found itself in need of an extra $14 million in equity capital only last month.
So what makes Mint worth so much? The website basically has two main possible revenue sources. The first is the way it’s making money right now (or getting revenues, anyway): armed with its users’ financial information, it can act as a broker, introducing them to offers from financial-services companies which might be a good deal. And like any broker, it gets to keep a commission.
There’s also what Mike Arrington calls “a goldmine of user data” — incredibly granular information on the saving, spending and borrowing habits of 1.4 million registered users who between them account for $175 billion in transactions, and $47 billion in assets. If that information is added to the information which Intuit already holds, it could provide unprecedented insight into how Americans deal with money.
The problem is that while Mint is generally much-loved, Intuit is generally much-hated. Mint is free; Intuit is constantly trying to squeeze every marginal dollar out of its customers. Mint’s user experience is a joy; Intuit’s is gruesomely bad. (And is possibly responsible for the whole nightmare that was Tim Geithner’s tax situation.) Mint is trusted; Intuit isn’t.
The fear is that Intuit will stop showing Mint’s customers the offers which are best for them, and will start showing Mint’s customers the offers that are best for Intuit, even if those offers are predatory or otherwise unsuitable. And as for the money which Intuit might squeeze out of those users’ personal financial data — again, while I trusted Mint not to do anything evil, I don’t have the same feelings about Intuit.
I do have a Mint account, but I don’t use it very much, and it’s a bit glitchy. I think I’ll probably deactivate it now. Better safe than sorry.