Simple Bank Review: Find Clarity In Your Finances

It’s not that often that I come across a new financial product that really intrigues me or offers something different from the myriad of alternatives out there. Most of the bank accounts I see are essentially the same, maybe differentiating themselves with a better interest rate on savings, or priding themselves on great customer service. While that’s all well and good, sometimes it’s not enough to really make you consider switching banks.

A company that I recently discovered that had an intriguing product offering beyond what traditional banks are offering is called Simple.  They’re a recently launched start-up company, but their offerings are pretty intriguing – attempting to make banking simpler, easier and more organized.

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I touched on Simple in a recent post where I explored the phenomenon of private label banking and how a lot of the newer  financial services companies are all using the same partner bank as their back end. Their customer facing presence is their brand and their software, while their banking back end is provided by a banking partner.  Banks like Perkstreet,  SmarterBank and others are all using the same banking partner as Simple, but Simple’s software sets them apart.

simple bank review

Simple History

simple bank reviewSimple has been around for less than a year now, with their launch happening in a beta last summer.

Simple (previously BankSimple) is an American banking company headquartered in Portland, Oregon offering a suite of all-electronic consumer banking services. Simple partners with the Bancorp Bank to provide accounts insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Allpoint to offer access to automated teller machines.

In January 2013, the company had 20,000 customers and had processed more than $200 million in transactions.  Simple has raised a total of $13.1 million in funding. Currently, new accounts are invitation-only.

Simple was founded by Alex Payne (former CTO), Joshua Reich (CEO), and Shamir Karkal (CFO) in 2010.The company launched in the summer of 2012 in limited beta. In contrast with traditional consumer banks, Simple has no physical branches nor plans to open any.Instead, account-holders are issued Visa debit cards and have access to an online banking system accessible through Simple.com or apps for Android or iOS. Simple makes money on interest earned on customer deposits and through interchange fees.

Founded in 2010, they have raised millions in funding and finally launched last summer in an invitation only beta. Their product is still an invitation only, but if you know someone who has an account, or get on the waiting list, it usually isn’t too hard to get an account.  So let’s take a look at what Simple has to offer.

Simple Banking Experience

So what is the idea behind the Simple banking experience that makes it different? I would describe Simple as sort of like Mint.com, but within your bank account. Most traditional bricks and mortar banks don’t do things terribly well when it comes to their online banking platforms.  They’re getting better at it every year, but they still tend to lag behind. Simple, which in some respects is more of a software company than a bank, does the online banking experience right.  They make it easy to track your spending and transactions, and they make it easier than most to actually use the data later on.

They also keep things simple when it comes to fees. They have no monthly debit card fees, account maintenance fees, low balance fees, overdraft fees, or out of network ATM fees.They make their money from interchange fees and interest margins shared with their partner bank.  For you that means a free banking experience with no hidden fees.

While the software side is Simple’s forte, they are also partnered with a FDIC insured bank, the Bancorp Bank, so your money with them is safe and sound.

So let’s look at some of the features and functionality of their accounts.

Organization Of Your Transactions

Probably one of the things that Simple does best is organizing your transactions within their site – and on their mobile apps. When you spend money using your Simple Visa card the transaction will be automatically categorized within your account within seconds, in some cases even tagging transactions that include a tip or other things. You can then update your transactions with more information including text descriptions and hash tags, attach photos of the purchase, attach a bill to go along with a transaction and more. Essentially Simple takes your transaction data, and allows you to make it as data rich as you want for searching or reports later on.

So let’s take a look at a few of the features more in depth.

Safe to spend amount

One feature that Simple has is their “safe to spend” notification at the top of your account or app. Basically the notification tells you exactly how much money  you’re able to spend safely without overdrawing your account. It factors in pending transactions as well as savings goals you may have in place (see savings goals below).
Simple Bank Review - register
Savings goals

Within your Simple account you can set savings goals to save for future expenses. For example, let’s say you want to save for an Ipad. You can set a new goal for the amount you’ll need to save for it, and then tell it how much you want to save on a regular basis for that goal. It will then set the goal and as money flows into that account, it will be removed from the “safe to spend” category.

Once you reach your savings goal you flip the switch to “spend from goal” and you’re free to use that money to buy your Ipad, or whatever your goal is for.

simple goals

Reports

Simple’s reports offer a lot of ways to get insight into your spending and saving. You can search for transactions in certain categories during certain time-frames. You can search for hash tags that you have added to transactions. You can also export your transaction data if you want to import it into excel or some other spreadsheet program for further manipulation. The possibilities are pretty endless.

simple reports

Mobile Apps And Tools

Part of Simple’s appeal is that they have such great integration with mobile devices with their iPhone and Android apps. In fact, to have an account you currently are required to have a iOS or Android device.

simple-bank-appThere are quite a few things you can do with the apps.

  • Remote check deposit: Take a photo of your check and deposit it right from your phone. I use this feature with another bank and it’s a huge timesaver.
  • Attach a photo (or a bill) to a transaction: Kind of a neat feature is that if you’re out and about and you buy something – like lunch – you can take a picture of your lunch and attach it to the transaction. Or a picture of the receipt – or of the bill.  Nice to have for future reference.
  • Tag and geo-locate transactions
  • Quick ATM locator:  Locate one of their convenient ATMs in the Allpoint® network.
  • Send money to anybody: You can easily send money to people or businesses through mobile or the website. Simple will either send money electronically if it’s an option, or send them a paper check. Easy.

Conclusion

Simple offers a nice banking alternative to the offerings from the big banks. While the product is still working out a few kinks here and there, and things like joint accounts are still waiting in the wings, the product that they’ve released to this point is a pretty decent offering.

The nice integration with mobile, and their extensive reporting tools make Simple a bank to keep on your short list.

Find out more about Simple and Request an Invitation

Are you using Simple?  Tell us your thoughts on the banking experience there so far. What are the pros and cons?

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Last Edited: 24th April 2013

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Comments

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  1. says

    I’ve been using Simple for a few months now for my personal “allowance” account. I like the philosophy behind it, but it still has a few shortcomings that prevent me from using it as my main checking account. My first complaint is that they don’t support joint accounts yet, as you mentioned. Another is that they don’t even have an option for writing checks other than using the bill pay service. I don’t write checks often, but I still need to do it once in a while. I also dislike the fact that there is zero interest paid to the account-holder. Admittedly, most free checking these days offers a trivial amount of interest. I currently use USAA checking but if I had to pick a new checking account right now, it would likely be with Ally bank.

    • says

      I can understand the no joint accounts might be a problem for some folks, and in reading the forum over at Simple I think they realize that. They were saying that they expect joint accounts sometime later this year I believe.

      No interest could be a problem, but with interest rates being so low right now, and this mainly being a checking I’m not too upset about that. Although Perkstreet’s cash back is great in comparison I suppose.

      The no writing checks is a pain, but can’t you have them send a check for you to whoever you want? From what I understand they’ll send a check to whoever you want free of charge? From their FAQ.

      You can use Send Money to pay individuals or businesses. Most payees will be speedily sent a paper check, and some large businesses will be paid by even-speedier electronic payments. And of course, there’s no fee to send payments.

      • says

        Yes, you can send money to pay individuals. That’s what I meant when I said “using the bill pay service”. I’ve done it. Sure it works most of the time, but there are times when I need to be able to write a physical check and hand it to someone.

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