May 12 2009|07.31 PM UTC

Stan Reybern

10 Ways Tech & the Web Changed the Personal Finance Industry

Category: Personal FinanceTags: , , ,

Before the Internet, the personal finance industry was a robust and successful one. Everything from seminars to planners to newsletters and books were sold in mass quantities, and there was no reason to believe this would ever change. While this industry still exists, we cannot help but notice the way individuals now conduct their personal financial affairs. Certainly, technology has changed money management and in some cases, it has rendered many once-popular personal finance products as dated or even obsolete. And in most cases, the newer, more technologically driven alternatives are also more cost efficient. The following are ten such examples.

Podcasts Instead of CDs

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One of the most common personal finance products used to be CDs containing tips, suggestions, and strategies for managing one’s money. These could then be listened to in the car or at home or work. While these were rather popular, they have been displaced in recent years by podcasts. Rather than having to physically burn the audio to CDs, label, and ship them, personal finance gurus can simply record their latest content and make it accessible to a much broader audience.Via the web or through the iTunes music store, for example, users can access this audio content as soon as it’s published, in most cases at a discounted rate as well.

Forums Instead of Seminars

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Few things were more enticing to those seeking sound financial advice than personal finance seminars. Advertised as an opportunity to receive live, expert advice, seminars were seen as a place to take notes, ask questions, and leave with a plan for making the most of your money. And while seminars have not completely disappeared, they have been supplanted somewhat by internet forums. People who are curious about certain aspects of personal finance can simply enter the forum, ask their questions, and leave without spending money or traveling to an event. While the information found in these forums ought be taken with a grain of salt at times, these forums serve as an open discussion on issues subject to debate, and did not exist more than a decade ago.

E-zines and Newsletters Instead of Magazines

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Another steady source of revenue for personal finance vendors used to be personal finance magazines. Kiplingers and Money Magazine haven’t vanished from newsstand shelves completely, but their readerships are gradually shrinking in the age of digital media. In their stead, e-zines and e-mail newsletters have become far more popular, allowing the latest retirement, savings, or investment tips to be disseminated more quickly and at less cost. Pitted against the immediacy of web-based content, print magazines simply cannot keep up with such a pace.

Blogs Instead of Finance Books

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Traditionally, the most popular personal finance products have been books that impart money management tips and suggestions to readers. But within this decade, personal finance books have taken a backseat to a new medium: blogs. Rather than forcing people to digest an entire book (usually encompassing several hundred pages of material, all of which may not be relevant to the reader, blogs offer readers a way to quickly and easily navigate to only the specific tips, columns, and strategies they are interested in. No matter what aspect of personal finance you are curious about – retirement, savings, investing, lowering your bills, etc. – there are many blogs devoted to exactly that subject. Another benefit to blogs is the ability for web-users to navigate between blogs easily and simultaneously to find, compare and analyze commentary on whichever subject matter. Furthermore, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a financial blog that charges readers to browse the site and its archives.

Cost Saving Sites Instead of Deal Hunting

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For those serious about saving, getting the lowest price can be paramount. In pre-Internet days, comparing prices often meant calling around, waiting for the Sunday newspaper or searching for advertised deals on television, etc. With the rise of the Internet, price comparing became easy: customers can go from site to site searching for the best deals. Today, cost saving websites such as Billshrink make this even easier, by helping price-conscience individuals compare costs of such products as gas, cell phone plans, and more, all on one site. These types of sites are also available in more specific industries such as apparel, travel and many more.

Money Management Websites Instead of Checkbooks

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Not so very long ago, keeping sound records of your spending and savings required tedious, manual, pencil-and-paper tracking. But in the last several years, that has become completely unnecessary. Websites such Wesabe have effectively automated the processes by which spending can be plotted, categorized, and summarized. These are exactly the types of sites that are ideal for those that hate paperwork and filing.

Excel Instead of Ledgers and Columnar Pads

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Similar to the balancing a checkbook, what was once painstakingly recorded by hand into ledgers and columnar pads is now effortlessly keyed into Excel spreadsheets. The biggest advantage of Excel over paper is not the ease of entry, but rather the ease of manipulation. Once all the numbers are contained in a spreadsheet, any number of formulas and macros can be used to run calculations and arrange the data in any way you desire. Then of course, there is the much lauded ‘undo’ button, should you make any mistakes.

TurboTax and Quicken Instead of Accountants

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It used to be that the beginning of each year triggered a flood of business for accountants, who were situated as the only ones capable of properly preparing complex tax returns. This was before TurboTax and Quicken, that is. Today, these two software packages allow more people than ever to do their taxes without any professional help. Surprisingly these programs use nothing more than plug-and-play forms that prompt users for the needed information and compile it automatically.

Web-based Tools Instead of Financial Planners

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The once-painstaking calculations and forecasts that could only be done by trained financial planners are now done quite easily by laymen with simple, and ubiquitous web-based tools. Everything from household budget worksheets to cost of living calculators to IRA conversion analyzers are available online, at no charge and without requiring any special expertise. Just plug in the information being asked and watch as your results are spit back to you in seconds.

Web Trading Instead of a Broker

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The 1980s and 1990s witnessed an unprecedented influx of stock market investing by the world’s middle class, a trend that has continued to this day. While the market has had its ups and downs, one thing that is certain is that the market is still continuing to reach more people and with the proliferation of online trading sites, traders of all types from all over the world are now able invest and monitor their investments with ease and in real time. And with the wealth of advice and opinion available on television, print and of course, digital media, individuals are now trading independently of advisors or stock brokers.

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