Tired of half-baked options and waiting too long for the perfect solution
If you ask me about the way I track my personal finances you will think I'm completely irresponsible. I have tried a handful of apps over the years to track my spending and maintain my budget tight, but I've never stuck to them. I even have MoneyWell on my Mac and despite the ongoing updates and improvements I can't simply be bothered to keep receipts, remember to add new expenses or control my spending at all.
With this background information in mind I wasn't really positive about installing Bankr Personal Finance by Styled Syntax on my iPhone. The app promises to make easy all the things I dread about money matters although it comes in an Americanised way of dealing with money (checking, credit cards and stocks) I'm not really used to. With the first update of the app came the support for international currencies and the beginning of my testing in my precious British Pound Sterling.
A friendly chequebook experience
Perhaps aware of my apprehension to tracking expenditure, Bankr greets you with a friendly tutorial that outlines the basic things you need to do to get started. From adding an account, create a transaction, sort expenses and the not so obvious gestures that iOS apps tend to hide behind its apparently simple user interface.
At first glance it appears that Bankr uses a hierarchical approach to organise your accounts. Simply add one of your bank accounts, balance and the budget limit you might want to setup and that's all done for you. Every time you take some money from the account you're expected to record that on the app, which is when all these personal finance apps become tedious. Here at least the navigation and buttons are quite easy to understand.
The main account menu displays the current balance in large numbers, lists the most recent transactions and has an XXL button to help you to add new entries. When you do this, a calculator pad also aids the data entry although for some odd reason the app always thinks what I'm typing is income and not expense. I don't see the reasoning behind it as I believe most people spend way more often than the times they get paid. This is me or maybe I need to change profession.
Another little annoyance that slows down the process is that the app will always request you to name the entry. I remember one archaic finance app I used for a week that would allow me to enter those without much formatting. Unfortunately this behaviour kind of ruins the easy data entry aspect of it, requiring to use the keyboard to type some name rather than using the numerical pad once and perhaps, select a category to remind you about this purchase.
It looks like Facebook was doing banking
What really looks handy in Bankr is the option to add your stocks and get real-time updates of their trading. To add a new entry you can type the stock name of the abbreviation and tap to add it to the list. If you want to include the price you paid for the share, Bankr will calculate how much you're making or losing, which I find very convenient. If only I had bought some Apple shares when I had the chance…
Another aspect that deserves mention is the refined look of the app. The user interface is adorned with thick list views in slightly textured patterns in the vein of the iOS Facebook app. The colour scheme is perfectly matching if you ask me. There is something friendly about the looks and perhaps this is one of its biggest achievements: making an app that is eventually going to condemn you to see your account balance decreasing look beautiful.
Bankr is simple enough to do all of the above and I don't blame the developer for it. Finance apps can become too overwhelming and too boring very quickly. Sure, you could have some fancy graphics, pie charts showing where you're money is going, a line graph warning you your budget limit is approaching and the whole lot. Maybe I'm too influenced by another app I check quite often called Analytiks?
Financial services going mobile
When I have to weight if I'm keeping Bankr installed on my iPhone after writing the review, I have to consider all the alternatives for my banking needs. It has taken ages, literally, for banks and saving societies in the UK to launch iOS apps. First Direct went mobile early on, but it's been only a few months since the majority of the hughstreet names began marketing mobile apps as a valued service. My own HSBC Fast Balance is rather pathetic — better than nothing — compared with the way-too-fabulous Pingit (produced by our friends at ustwo) and the full-featured Lloyds iOS app.
What I would really like is a service like Mint.com over here in the UK, something that would pull recent transactions from by accounts without the need to add those manually. I'm not sure if this is the solution or if this is save for the users, but it sounds like a convenient thing I could give a spin. Until that day comes, I'd better use Bankr rather than seeing HSBC's Fast Balance 'mini-statement' consisting of the six most recent transactions only.
Overall I'm pleased with Bankr's ease of use and simple approach. Having a short feature list also means it can do what it does very well, and I always appreciate some love for the pixels on my iPhone. Why would you ever settle with an ugly app? I'm expecting a lot more when it comes to usability and I'd like Styled Syntax to work on speeding up the data entry process — allowing you to select from a frequently used list, tapping on icons representing categories or allowing you to toggle off that step altogether.
Without being a fan of numbers I value the importance of keeping my personal expenses neatly organised. After all, gaining more visibility about your spending must lead to some sort of satisfaction.