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Pastel Enters Personal Finance Market With Free Money Management Tool


by on 26/02/13 at 11:15 am
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Pastel, well-known for their development of accounting and business software, recently announced the launch of Pastel My Money – a free, independent, online money management tool. We chatted to Steven Cohen, Managing Director of Pastel Accounting, to find out more about the tool and their move into the personal finance market.

Steven Cohen, Pastel My MoneyPastel has primarily focused on business software. Why the decision to launch a consumer product?

One of our chief motivations is to help people get to grips with the cloud as a secure and efficient space. The genie is out of the bottle and can’t be pushed back in – everyone is going to be computing in the cloud in future and Pastel My Money is a cool way to understand it and feel comfortable operating this way. If individuals get to feel comfortable managing their personal finances online, they will be ready to manage their businesses finances online as well.

How has the focus of the product changed when moving from a B2B to a B2C mind-set?

The focus has changed quite a lot. Pastel My Money is far less complex than business accounting software because the requirements are less complex. For instance, there’s very little call for support because the product is uncluttered, intuitive and super easy, so support is self-help from the website.

How do you differentiate yourself from other online money management software?

We have so many advantages, not the least of which is years and years of experience with how people think about administration. We also have a great reputation: so many business owners using our business software already trust Pastel, so they’re automatically more comfortable with using our personal financial management software.

Our track record – 24 years in South Africa so far – is a pretty good indicator that we will be around for years to come. We’re a solid proposition and our brand can be trusted much more than an easy come/easy go upstart. That track record puts us in a unique position of being able to leverage solid relationships we’ve built up over time. A good example is the automatic bank feeds we’re using in Pastel My Money – basically we’re using the same code that we used for My Business.

Most importantly, we’re not relying on My Money to earn revenue because it’s FREE. This lets us add little things without continuously measuring their ROI. It’s ironic, isn’t it? Being a corporate allows us to have more fun and more of a can-do attitude in this space. For us it’s all about helping people accept that they can manage finances very successfully over the internet, so we’re planting seeds in this market.

We’ve seen a few personal finance management tools launch over the past few years – some from banks and some from independent parties. Do you think this is due to consumer demand, or rather due to the success of similar international tools like Mint?

It’s hard to tell what’s driving the market for personal finance management tools.

Perhaps it’s simply that we all got a fright when the credit crunch hit and we learnt that managing your finances is essential. Most of us struggle to stay on top of our admin so anything that makes it easier is going to be in demand.

Perhaps it’s that tools like My Money offer such useful features such as being able to automatically update internet bank statements from multiple accounts or photograph and attach receipts to transactions, for example.

Because organisations like banks are trying to develop more intimate relationships with their customers, it makes sense to further extend the functionality of their internet baking service. We have the advantage of being bank-agnostic, which I believe gives us a really important edge. You can run multiple bank brands through our software.

And in terms of the market, its all about the internet – seriously, it’s the perfect platform for these kinds of products. If it was all traditional desktop based, it would never have happened.

One of the biggest consumer concerns when it comes to financial tools is security. Do you anticipate this to be a deterring factor in the uptake of the product? And what precautions are there in place to ensure data security?

I think it’s a bit like when ATMs and online banking first came out – some quite smart people took a while to get used to them. But the truth is that cloud computing has been around for ages. If you use Facebook or Gmail, you’ve been in the cloud without even realising it.

It’s important for consumers to know that cloud providers offer state-of-the-art security.

Like a bank, cloud vendors service multiple end-users and can afford stringent security measures that are far more rigorous than what is affordable and practical in most environments. Also the cloud business model rests on security, so getting it right is a top priority.

Here’s how it works: Pastel My Money has two layers of encryption. The database is encrypted and the actual data in the database is also encrypted, making it human un-readable. The point is that nobody – and that includes nobody at Pastel – has access to your data.

Your readers might also be comforted to know that IT policies dictate only authorised access to the server with login audit trails. Backup certificates and keys are stored off-site and only accessible to authorised people.

What has been the most exciting aspect of working on this launch? Are you already planning the road ahead for My Money?

It’s really been fun. Our own programmers and staff are using the program to manage their personal finances and it makes such a difference when there’s a vested interest in a project! It’s exciting when we hear people say things like, “Jeez – I never knew I spent so much on xxx”. And whenever we bring a new feature out everyone gets excited and says, “That’s so helpful”. A new program is always fun. Even better is being able to give something away for free – the past few years have been difficult for South African consumers and it’s great to do a little something to ease the pressure.

A bit more about Steven:  In a career spanning almost of a quarter of a century, Steven Cohen has only ever worked for one company. Don’t let that fool you: it is one of the most innovative companies in South Africa and Steven is one of the country’s most admired leaders. Sage Pastel has been through several incarnations to reach its current form.  In that time Steven has held several management roles in the company, including FD, COO and his current role of MD, clearly the one that suits him best.

An unlikely CA, Steven believes that small businesses are the true heroes of South Africa and he talks with passion of “getting lost in the beauty of creating software”, describing his software developers as artists.

 

Ideate is one of South Africa's biggest business blogs, with a team of authors all of whom have had entrepreneurial experience. Ideate is read by entrepreneurs thinking BIG. Follow us on Twitter here. View more articles by Staff Reporter.

Tags: steven cohen

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