I started using Mvelopes to manage my budget in February 2009, less than one month after the launch of this blog. Since then, the software has remained mostly the same in terms of functionality, design, and price.
Last week, Finicity launched a new version of the product with the promise of grand improvements.
Unfortunately, my long-time favorite in the envelope budgeting space has fallen short of expectations, and has been quickly replaced on the first-place pedestal.
One of the biggest changes to the Mvelopes software is that it now includes a completely free version. It’s limited to 25 envelopes and 4 accounts, and restricts other features like the debt center and live chat support, but for most users it would probably be sufficient.
As a result of the new free version, it seems that Mvelopes has seen a deluge of new user sign-ups since last week, and I’m sure that many paying users have considered switching down to the free membership.
The other side of the new launch is a complete re-design of the user interface.
Mvelopes has provided a “getting started” video for Mvelopes 4 which is a decent peek into what the new version looks and feels like inside the program. You can watch the video on YouTube here.
If you’ve used Mvelopes in the past, you’ll immediately notice the drastic changes–the site feels more modern and probably more like what the recent generation of Web users is used to.
As they say, though, it’s what underneath the good looks that counts.
Things I Like
There are plenty of things to like about the new Mvelopes.
In terms of pure looks, the site was stuck in the last decade and badly needed a facelift to compete with sleek, modern sites like Mint.
While the new visual design of Mvelopes is a bit less than one could expect for 2012, it’s definitely an improvement over the outdated design that has been the hallmark of the software for many years.
Functionally speaking, there are some key improvements in the interface over the old version. Specifically, there is more emphasis placed on the difference between funding plans and spending plans, in a way that makes it much easier to appropriate different amounts for upcoming months within the same envelope.
There is also much more inter-linking between features, such that clicking on something naturally takes you to more details about that item.
Finally, the new free version is a big plus for people on a tight budget (those very likely to need something like Mvelopes) and packs enough functionality to avoid the $10+ a month of extra cost.
Things I Don’t Like
The switch-over to the new version was plagued with problems. With only a week into the new release, the Mvelopes team has been furiously working to address problems that should have been dealt with well before launch.
Above and beyond the functional problems, my bank connection failed just days after the switch, and I had problems logging in to Mvelopes for a while.
Any information related to pricing has seemingly disappeared from the Mvelopes homepage, even though a premium, paid product still exists. I suppose that anyone wanting to sign up for a paid edition will first need to get a free account and then run into a brick wall when they try to add a 26th envelope.
The user interface is quite honestly the biggest problem with the new release. Information that used to be presented in a way that was easy to connect and control is now spread across multiple screens. I found myself navigating the site on many occasions with no apparent way to get back to where I just was.
Where one or two screens or clicks were necessary in the past, many more were now needed to get the same work done. Drag-and-drop was nice, but full of glitches at best.
With all the problems converting to the new version and the user interface problems, customer service reps undoubtedly have their hands full. But when, during a recent customer service experience, I was told that I would be followed up with via email because they couldn’t solve my problem on chat, I expected as much. About a week later, no such luck.
When Mvelopes posted about their new release, the feedback began to pour in almost immediately. As of this writing, there are over 40 comments on the post, the far majority of them lamenting about the new release. Here are a few samples:
Having been involved in the beta all of our feedback during the beta seems to have been ignored and major problems still exist in the system. – Ross
I have used this product for years and love it, but if some major changes don’t occur before you drop the old version, I will probably have to look elsewhere. – Accchief
I was hoping for a nice AJAX based, Web 2.0 driven application, not another Flash/Flex based app. This is no longer 2003. – Jay
I am regretting now the gift memberships I gave away for the holidays – my friends and family are going to think I support a product this awful. – Allison
Having worked in software development I have no idea how this peice of crap was actually released. – Betrayed
The new version is a worthless starting point in my opinion. I think you would be better off abandoning it, and reverting back to the old Coke…I mean app. – Joe
There are countless other complaints about specific features in the software, but I’m not going to beat a dead horse here.
Finally and sadly, I share the sentiments of this comment:
This makes me seriously question the viability of Mvelopes as a company. – Craig
The idea of looking elsewhere when the old version was retired was echoed in multiple comments. The Mvelopes launch screen indicates that the old version will still be around for the time being, but users may start dropping like flies when it’s finally phased out in a few months.
My Heart Goes Out to…
Everyone who purchased a Lifetime Membership, which was almost what we did, since I believed in the product so much. My memory is foggy, but I think the price was at least $250 or more when it was pitched to us about a year ago.
The servers are now populated with everyone who is using the product for free. What’s more–many users (like myself) would have switched to the free version because it would meet our needs.
Lifetime Members have committed their money, so that’s water under the bridge. But many are now expressing outrage that their membership is being put in jeopardy by a new software version that is, as many feel, simply unusable.
Based on my evaluation and the experience other users have had with the new version of Mvelopes, it’s clear that my recommendation of Mvelopes needs to be withdrawn.
It’s no longer my product of choice if you’re trying to start envelope budgeting or looking for an electronic solution.
What will I do personally? I already have a copy of YNAB 3 installed on my computer, and converting my budget from Mvelopes to YNAB took no more than an hour. While the issues I had with YNAB still persist, I have to say that the YNAB experience is now preferable to the new Mvelopes.
What are your thoughts?
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