A New Online Tool Offers Small-Business Owners Low-Cost Personal Banker Services

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This story appears in the September 2011 issue of . Subscribe »

A New Online Tool Offers Small-Business Owners Low-Cost Personal Banker Services Balance Financial is bringing high-end private banking to the entry-level business--for around $40 a month.

The 15-person, Bellevue, Wash.-based firm with roughly $1.5 million in financing, has created a web-based accounting and personal finance tool that is supported by a living, breathing person. The so-called personal bookkeeper enters data, tracks expenses, updates forms and pays bills--and then marries that information with Balance's own financial management software.

"This business came out of the financial advisory world," says Devon Miller, the company's CEO. "There, we found most people had sophisticated financial software at their disposal, but did not use it properly."

Balance, which started in 2004 and has been developing and testing its product since 2007, attempts to fill that fiscal software management gap for the busy entrepreneur. The tool centralizes bill payment, budgeting and reporting. It supports any U.S. bank account, and can be set up to remove paper bills, to pay bills directly and to provide detailed reports and analysis. If desired, it can also be configured to allow for alerts, balance warnings and other fiscal stopgaps. Any function can be made to work as a business owner wants it.

The idea is to offer ultimate customization that can work on top of existing banking services that are provided by even the simplest local financial organizations. Essentially, Balance Financial acts like a pricey personal banker--but at a fraction of the cost.

In practice, Balance does offer a clean, web-based layout, as well as lots of service options. The personal bookkeepers we saw seemed reasonably trained and experienced in managing finances. And Balance's support tools offered enough infrastructure to manage a busy business professional's books and ledgers. But we are talking about money here--so it would be wise to set up fiscal checks and balances in whatever options are enabled.

The product also has limits for a business. It is a personal finance tool, not a substitute for even a basic business finance package like QuickBooks. So separate company financial software and accounting protocols are still required. Business owners should think of the service as a means of lightening the bean-counting load, not replacing end-to-end company accounting tools.

"The idea is to put all your personal finances on autopilot," Miller says. "Not to try to replace QuickBooks."

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