The personal finance startup Wesabe may be dead, but its code lives on. Former team member Brian Donovan recently open sourced the framework used to connect with bank websites and download statements in a machine-readable form. This might not sound impressive, but with thousands of banks just in the U.S., all with different website setups, entire companies like Yodlee have been built around solving this problem.
By open sourcing the code, Wesabe makes it possible for hobbyists, researchers and starving startup founders to build new and innovative personal finance tools. The code itself is pretty bare bones; Brian admits he’d hoped to spruce it up before release but his new job didn’t leave much time for a labor of love. What’s crucial though is that it’s a battle-tested system with broad coverage, and has a simple system for adding support for new institutions.
This makes it a strong potential competitor to Yodlee, if it can gather enough support from a community of developers to stay on top of the constantly changing bank websites. The forum posts ask for the code to be open sourced and now tips for running it show that there are enthusiasts interested in keeping it alive. This is a hopeful sign for innovation, but Yodlee may not be so happy. The loss of revenue from Mint after it was acquired by Intuit must have been painful for the company, and the emergence of an open-source alternative will be another headache.
So, what are the possibilities for end users? The simplest thing you can do with the code is set it up on your own machine and pull down all your own financial information automatically. Personal data lovers can create custom instrumentation for their own spending, saving and income patterns, building dashboards showing the measurements they care about. Getting a bit fancier, you could run something in the background on a private server. Want to send yourself an SMS when you approach your overdraft limit, or when there’s an unusually large transaction? Having this “Automatic Uploader” code makes it easy to build your own system to handle those requirements.
Hopefully this will also inspire a new generation of startups to build personal finance tools. As founder Marc Hedlund says in his insight-packed post-mortem on Wesabe, in the financial world “the help consumers have is absolutely abysmal”, so there are worlds of opportunity to create better solutions.
Photo by Todd Ehlers