James Mead by James Mead

Chrome extension for explaining bank transactions in FreeAgent

As regular readers of this blog will know, we’re very keen on automating away as many mundane administrative tasks as we can. A few months back, Chris described how he’d created a bookmarklet to help with our weekly Harmonia task to upload and explain our bank transactions within FreeAgent, our excellent book-keeping software.

Evolving the bookmarklet

As we added more and more rules to the bookmarklet it became more and more useful. We got to the point where we thought it might be useful to other people and so we decided to make it a bit more generic. We also wanted to make it easy for people to install and configure. To this end, we decided to have a go at converting the bookmarklet into a Chrome extension.

We have a few bookmarklets and userscripts which we use internally and we thought it would be useful to know more about how to create Chrome extensions. Also we want to get better at building things and writing about them, and this seemed like a good candidate.

How to use the extension

You’ll find the latest installation and usage instructions in the project README, but essentially you just need to install the Chrome extension from the Chrome Web Store and use the extension’s Options page to point it at a publicly hosted JSON file containing the rules you want to use. An easy way to do this is to use a GitHub Gist and point the extension at the raw version of the Gist file.

Then when you’re on an unexplained bank transaction in FreeAgent, you can trigger the extension using the icon in the Omnibox (or a keyboard shortcut) to suggest an explanation for the transaction. The extension tries to find a rule matching the bank transaction description and if it finds one, it’ll make the appropriate changes to the explanation form, but you still need to manually check the changes and submit the form.

For some transactions we like to upload an attachment, e.g. an invoice or receipt, and so the extension can remind you to upload an attachment if appropriate.

FreeAgent Transaction Explainer screencast from Free Range on Vimeo.

Why a Chrome extension?

We could’ve written a cron job to periodically add explanations via the FreeAgent API, but there are aspects of the process which we’re not yet ready to automate e.g. uploading attachments, so having this semi-automated client-side workflow seems like a good compromise. It also makes it obvious when we’re missing a rule or a rule is incorrect.

Future work

We haven’t worked on the extension for very long, so the code’s not in brilliant shape, but in the spirit of releasing early, here it is!

Although we tend to use Trello internally to manage our administrative work, we’ve recently been experimenting with using GitHub Issues for tasks relating to a specific GitHub repository. It seems to have been working pretty well. Please feel free to report bugs or request features on the project’s GitHub issues page.

You’ll be able to see that we’ve captured a few of our ideas for further work as enhancements, but a couple of the more significant ones are:

Anyway, let us know what you think.

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