As I mentioned in an earlier post, one important goal of mine is to achieve something I’ve called ‘ATM Mode.’ This refers to the idea of being able to access all important information from any computer that has access to the internet. I want to be able to get at my information without having to carry anything extra that I don’t normally carry around with me. Katrina taught me not to rely on traditional notions of keeping important information in a fixed location, so a lot of my motivation was borne out of my nomadic ruminations after that strange catastrophe. I learned that the best ‘disaster recovery system’ is the one that doesn’t force you to think about what to do during a catastrophe. In other words, a system that is part of your every day routine is best.
So how would one construct such a system to deal with financial information in way that makes it easy as possible?
For the past few years I’ve kept all of my checking and credit card information in Quicken. I’ve never really been able to make the program work the way I wanted it to, at least not completely. I have used it for mainly two things: (1) writing checks, and (2) as an electronic check register that keeps track of all of my monetary inflows and outflows. Quicken has the ability to download transactions from your bank or credit card companies, which—theoretically—makes it easy to track monetary inflow and outflow. I say ‘theoretically’ because I’ve had some trouble getting this to work properly.
Setting up the online hooks to your financial institutions is kind of tricky. And if there are problems (as inevitably there are) it’s not easy to figure out if the problem is with Quicken or your financial institution. Somehow I managed to get everything set up, and for a long time everything was great. But a few days ago I decided to make a change to improve the security of my online world, and that broke Quicken’s connections to my financial institutions.
Here’s what happened. I decided that, if I was going to put my financial information in ‘ATM mode’ that I needed to make my system as secure as possible. I downloaded a program called 1Password (Mac only), which lets you keep all of your passwords in one place that is—of course—password protected too. The idea is that you only have to remember one password, and that password allows you to access all of your other passwords. Then, and this is the key, you make all of your other passwords as hard to remember (i.e. very secure) as possible. The program has a password generator so you don’t have to think about how to make the other passwords hard. And, believe me, it works! I couldn’t tell you the passwords to my financial institutions if you held a gun to my head.
So, you ask, doesn’t that make it hard to get to my financial information online? The answer (thanks to the way that 1Password works) is: no. It’s actually quite easy.
What happens is 1Password has a hook into every browser that you put on your computer, so when you go to one of your financial institution sites you simply enter the password to unlock the 1Password program and it fills in your password automatically. It can also be used to fill in your name, address and so forth when you’re buying things online. It also can store your credit card info and automatically fill in those form fields as well. All in all, the program not only makes everything more secure, but it also saves a lot of time.
But, you ask, doesn’t this system (by relying on computers) go against your ‘ATM mode’? Great question! But the answer is no, and here’s why.
First, when you buy 1Password ($34.95) you’re allowed to install it on up to 3 computers. So I have it installed on my Macbook Air too. And because I have a .Mac account (soon to be called MobileMe) my Mac computers automatically sync to each other and also back up to the web. Thus, my password system is actually in at least 3 places at all times. It’s true that the maximum functionality of the password program only works when it’s installed on the computer you use to access your financial information. So if I didn’t have my desktop or my laptop I’d theoretically not be able to access my financial data. I say ‘theoretically’ because I have a way to make this system work even without my computers.
I have an iPhone. And 1Password syncs my passwords to my iPhone and then encrypts them on that device. To access my passwords all I have to do is enter my master password and I am allowed to see all of the passwords that are stored in the program, along with my credit card numbers and all of my important information. In fact, if I use the iPhone to browse the internet I can use 1Password to automatically enter the passwords too.
So, what does this have to do with Quicken?
I’ve been longing to have all of my financial information in one place online. Quicken is great if I’m at the one computer that has all my Quicken information, but otherwise I’m forced to look at several sites in order to find out my overall financial picture. Plus, when I started using the 1Password system I broke some of the connections between Quicken and my financial institutions. I didn’t want to troubleshoot this and I started looking for something that would manage all my data online.
That’s when I discovered Quicken Online. The system is free to try for 60 days, and after that it’s $2.99 a month.
Amazingly, it works pretty much the way I hoped it would. I entered all of the usernames and passwords for my financial institutions (the hard to remember ones that 1Password generated) and now I can go to one place and see my overall financial picture. So, if I’m ever on the road without a computer I can use my iPhone and log into one place and see what’s happening. The online Quicken doesn’t let you write checks or pay bills, but that’s okay for now. The main thing is that I have my financial information in a much more secure state than most people, and yet it’s conveniently accessible at all times.
Step #1 in achieving ATM Mode: Check.