I've read a lot of complaints lately that there are no true financial applications out there for OS/2. That may be true; to be quite honest, I'm not sure what exactly an application has to do in order to be a "true financial application". I do know, however, that if I want to keep track of my checking, savings, and credit card accounts there is an application available that will do it as well as any shrink-wrapped product on the market today. It's called Electronic Teller and it's at version 3.10.
Some of you may remember that I reviewed an earlier version of this product (version 2.80, to be exact) in the March 1996 edition of OS/2 e-Zine!. Back then, I started out by saying "once in a while you find a shareware application that is so stunning, so impressive, you wonder why people even bother buying "mainstream" products." I find this statement to continue to hold true today: Electronic Teller is a well-designed, well-thought-out program that can do just about anything you need it to do -- unless you want it to support online banking.
As a shareware application, Electronic Teller weighs in at 2 megabytes, much smaller than the 7 meg download required for Money Tree or the 5+ meg In Charge! demo. And Electronic Teller does not use IBM's standard installation program, it has its own which is pretty intuitive and painless to use. The install program will create the application folder, the main program icon (the "Service Desk") and icons for the other two complimentary apps (a calendar and a calculator app) automatically.
Electronic Teller manages all of its financial accounts from a program window called the Service Desk. The Service Desk (.GIF, 16K) consists of two main areas, the Portfolio space, which lists all available "groups" of accounts, and an Accounts space which lists all the individual accounts in each portfolio. You can organize your accounts any way you wish; for example, you can separate your portfolio's by bank (if you have accounts with separate banks) or you can organize them by type (for example, one portfolio can hold all checking accounts, one portfolio can hold all credit card accounts, one portfolio can hold all the accounts for your consulting business).
When creating a new account for the first time, basic account information is entered into the Account Management notebook. This notebook stores all the information that an account needs to get started: what kind of account it is (bank, credit card, loan, etc.), starting balance, credit limit (if applicable), interest rate, etc. Once this information has been entered, an icon appears in the accounts panel on the service desk. When this icon is highlighted, its account information is displayed at the bottom strip on the service desk.
Double-clicking on an account brings up the Account window (.GIF, 30.2K), which is where most of the day-to-day account management activities occur. The layout of the Account window has been refined and streamlined significantly from earlier versions of this program. Rows alternate with blue and white strips of color to make each entry easier to follow. The display can switch from a "basic" list of transactions (date, check number, recipient, deposit amount, withdrawal amount, and adjusted balance in one row) to an "expanded" list of transactions (the previous row of information plus a second row that lists more detailed information).
Information in the account is separated by year. At the bottom of the account window is one tab for each year the account has been active. This can make searching for information about past transactions a lot easier.
When you want to add an expense (or a deposit) to the account window, you open an account transactions dialog box (.GIF, 7.6K) and start entering your data. This dialog box has been significantly reworked from previous versions, and there are a lot of new features that I like (as well as some old features that I miss).
In older versions of Electronic Teller, the "date" field automatically displayed the current date, but could be modified by clicking on "up" and "down" arrows next to it. Any part of the field could be modified -- month, day, or year -- depending on what was selected by your mouse. In this version, the "up" and "down" keys have been replaced with a calendar icon that displays a calendar of the current month. You can select the day of the month you wish to add an entry to and it will update the field automatically. Unfortunately, however, you cannot use the calendar to select days in previous months -- you need to type those dates in the field manually.
In older versions of Electronic Teller, deposits and withdrawals from your account were entered into the same field. This meant that if you didn't set it up right your paycheck might get recorded as a withdrawal, causing a large chunk of money to be deducted from your account until you figured out what the problem was. Paul Caron has solved this problem by separating the deposit and withdraw fields into two distinct fields. When you enter a sum into the Deposit field, it is always added to your account. When you enter a sum into the Withdraw field, it is always deducted from your account.
Electronic Teller allows you to classify Categories and subclasses for your transactions so you can get a good idea of your spending habits. This process has been automated to some extent -- when you type in a category or class for the first time, it is saved into Electronic Teller's memory. The next time you begin to type in a category or class, it will attempt to match your keystrokes with an already existing entry. This is a nice feature, and I wish it was extended to the "Payee/Description" field. It would make entering bills a lot easier.
A useful feature of the account transactions window is that it allows you to make multiple entries in it, updating them all at the same time when you choose the "Save" option. This is a lot more convenient than having to bring it up each time you want to add a new expense or deposit to your list.
There are a few features from older versions of the program that I miss, however. First of all, the button bar that used to be at the top of the window was removed, forcing you to use the menus for everything. I find this a bit awkward, mostly because I hate going to the "Options" menu every time I want to update the account window. Also, if you close the window before updating your account you lose any information you'd entered into it. This can be frustrating, especially if you've entered eight or nine transactions into the account transaction dialog.
Aside from simply keeping track of each separate account balance, which is the most basic feature a financial application package should have, Electronic Teller has a lot of nice features that makes account management easier.
First and foremost, Electronic Teller recognizes that different accounts have different properties. Savings and checking accounts often have monthly fees associated with them, which you can enter into the account management notebook so it will be automatically deducted for you each month. Electronic Teller can also calculate your earned interest for each month (if applicable) alleviating you of that responsibility as well. If you're managing a credit card account, Electronic Teller will keep track of your credit limit, your current balance, and how much credit you have left on your card. It can also keep track of whatever interest rate you are being charged for its use.
If you pay off a credit card account from your checking account, not only will the amount you pay be deducted from your checking account, but it can also update your credit card account -- even if it's in a completely different portfolio. This is a very, very nice feature to have, because it reduces the potential for errors that are likely to arise when you key in the same information over and over again.
If you're moving from the Windows world, you've probably used Quicken. Electronic Teller comes with a utility called the QIF converter, which will either import a Quicken account into Electronic Teller or export an Electronic Teller account to a QIF-formatted file. Quicken will not recognize some information that Electronic Teller recognizes, however.
Electronic Teller supports printing checks, though I've never used it. The Cheque Printer (that's the way they spell "check" in Canada in case you folks in the US were wondering) allows a user to "send transactions from a ledger with a valid cheque number to a printer." (Taken from the help file). The Cheque Printer is definable, so you can determine the number that will be printed per page, and the fonts that each field will use. It defaults to printing out all information in the "standard" English way, but there is a secondary dialog box that allows you to edit the text if your country follows a different format.
Electronic Teller will generate both bar and pie graphs (.GIF, 25K) to help you get a feel for your spending habits. They help you see at a glance where all your money goes (assuming you're disciplined about categorizing your expenses properly). Electronic Teller will also generate financial reports for you, which may or may not be useful to you depending on what you need to do with it.
Also, Electronic Teller attempts to help you "reconcile" your accounts with your bank statement. Since charges to your account often appear days or even weeks after you make them (especially if you pay via personal check), your information will be skewed slightly from your bank statement. Electronic Teller has tools that will allow you to get the two statements to agree with each other.
Finally, Electronic Teller prompts you to back up your information every time you try to exit the application. It can save up to 10 versions of your data -- after the 10th is saved, it will start overwriting earlier versions.
Along with Electronic Teller itself, there is a calculator and a calendar application bundled with the package. These apps can be launched from within the Service Desk, or they can be launched separately. The calendar is used by Electronic Teller for scheduling monthly payments and the like, but it can also be used separately to remind you of events (.GIF 7.8K) that have nothing at all to do with spending money. The calculator, which is modeled in the ticker-tape style, can also be used separately for normal everyday, non-finance related calculations.
Electronic Teller does not support electronic transactions. If you're used to paying your bills electronically via Quicken or some other financial management application with CheckFree, you may find this disappointing, but I've never done that before so it doesn't particularly bother me. But depending on what bank you use, you may find that you can download your account transaction history in .QIF format from the bank's web site, which Electronic Teller can then import. This is about as close as it gets to "e-banking", however.
Electronic Teller has continued to mature nicely and it's a great example of why OS/2 has some of the best shareware available in the computer world today. It's a well-crafted, intelligently designed program that should be more than capable of managing your home finances. I'd venture it might even be able to be used as a financial program for a small business, though I'd imagine a financial application designed specifically for business users would be ultimately more useful. I classify Electronic Teller as a "must have" application for anyone who uses OS/2.
Electronic Teller v3.10
Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Richmond, VA area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.
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