Who wouldn’t want to check out a company that calls itself Simple (and its website simple.com)? Most people can’t think of much in their lives that they would call simple, especially when it concerns finances. But that’s exactly what Simple is trying to do – making banking easy, stress-free and, yes, simple.

We wanted to know more about the company and whether it really did live up to its name. So we asked.

The Backstory

First, a bit of background. One of the increasing numbers of online banks, Simple markets itself as an alternative to the traditional bank. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t understand why your bank’s website and mobile interface look like they're so 10 years ago, you understand one of Simple’s goals. The company wants to use modern technology to make the banking experience better and more in line with how you interact with other online services.

There’s also the issue of bank fees. Consumers who have a couple of decades under their belts remember the days when banks paid them for their money instead of the other way around. There are no fees with Simple.

The company also prides itself on customer service. According to the website, “When you call us, one of our agents will pick up the phone right away. They really know their stuff, so you won't be transferred, or re-connected. And if we need more time to look into a question, we'll call you back, so you don't have to hang out on hold.” Sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it? 

You connect with Simple via your computer or its app (see What Are The Best Mobile Banking Apps?). Other features include the ability to turn your Simple debit card off if you lose it, and push notifications (if you want them) any time there’s a transaction. The bank only collects information that is absolutely necessary to minimize the damage form any potential identity theft

And yes, just like those at your brick and mortar institution, your accounts are FDIC-insured. That means that the first $250,000 of your money is completely safe should something go wrong at Simple’s partner bank, The Bancorp Bank.

Now that you know a little about Simple, let’s get to the questions.

The Interview

We asked Simple Communications Specialist Amy Dunn a few questions to take us a bit more into how things work at this up-and-comer.

INV: What was the rationale for starting Simple?

Dunn: Simple was founded in 2009 as the solution to our founders' – Josh Reich and Shamir Karkal’s – personal frustrations with the banking system. They're both tech-savvy engineers and immigrants to the States – from Australia and India respectively – and it seemed backwards to them that here in a country known for technological innovation, nearly every bank was operating on antiquated technology with minimal improvements for web and mobile banking. At the same time, these banks were profiting more from fees and charges than from actual banking services – a business model that thrives when customers are confused and in the dark about their own finances. So Josh and Shamir built Simple.

INV: How does it differ from a traditional bank?

Dunn: Simple’s mission is to help people feel confident with their money. This means beyond the sleek white debit card and full -fledged, FDIC-insured checking account, customers get everything they need to understand and manage those funds, from savings tools to truly human customer support.

The difference between Simple and a traditional bank is apparent the moment you log in to Simple and are greeted by your Safe-to-Spend. Safe-to-Spend is our improvement on the traditional account balance [statement]; [it shows you the real amount of] money in your account, minus any upcoming bill payments, pending transactions or savings goals. Safe-to-Spend gives you an accurate picture of what you can spend today without hurting yourself tomorrow.

Safe-to-Spend couples with our automated savings feature, Goals, to give users confidence in their spending and saving. Customers set a Goal for a specific expense or purchase and the system automatically puts away a little bit of money every day towards those items. Or, customers can create a Goal and "Save It Now," creating a budget they can spend out of. Simple has created an environment wherein our customers keep 30% of their account balance in Goals. This is more than six times the national average savings rate of 5%.

And should customers need anything, Simple’s customer service agents can be reached through in-app support messaging, via phone, Twitter, or Facebook. Our agents are empowered to work independently to solve problems and truly empathize with our customers. This means Simple customers get quick, efficient support, the occasional gift and some extra love.

While the rest of the banking industry is increasing fees year over year, last month Simple eliminated all fees. Yep, every last one of ‘em. We’d never profited from fees, but had a few pass-through costs. As we’ve grown, we’re now able to absorb those costs and could not be happier to have a fee table that’s all zeroes.

Underlying all of this is the biggest differentiator of all – our business model. Simple was built to only profit when customers love and use their accounts. That means the onus is on our team to build a beautiful banking experience that truly benefits the lives of our customers.

INV: No fees? So how do you stay in business?

Dunn: Being completely fee-free means that Simple makes money the way banks were originally intended to: through interest and interchange. It's how we've aligned our business interests with those of our customers. In the United States, banks earned $32 billion in overdrafts alone last year; Simple only profits when our customers are actively using their accounts.

INV: What safeguards do you have against hacking?

Dunn: We're passionate about security, so we have a lot to say on the topic. Customers may not see those robust systems that keep their funds safe behind the scenes, but they do see an FDIC-insured checking account with the added security of technology from the moment they log in. It starts with a username and pass phrase, rather than a passcode. The pass phrase allows for more variation and control, and is harder to break. Last year, our team added another layer of security (and convenience) to app access with TouchID for iOS login.

Once in the account, Simple uses technology to secure customer funds as well. There's multi-factor authentication for customer transactions and a "Block Card" feature – this means customers can stop transactions on their card from web or mobile instantly should they leave a card behind, lose their wallet or see a suspicious transaction in their Activity. These features are all buoyed by notifications that appear the moment a transaction occurs – they don't just help track your spending, they become an instant alert should any fraudulent activity occur.

And any time a customer is concerned about fraud or account security, they can send a message to our Customer Relations team directly from the app. No hunting around for contact information or waiting until they're back at the computer means peace of mind (or the help they need) sooner.

INV: What’s next for Simple?

Dunn: Right now we're focused on personal retail checking. We're keen to expand our product offerings in the future with offerings like savings [accounts] and mortgages, but we're making sure we get the basics down first.

Joint accounts are top of the list for Simple customers' [requests]. In the meantime Simple has offered some unique solutions through the use of Instant, our transfer between customer accounts that allows couples and families to co-mingle their finances without a shared account.

The Bottom Line

We can't tell you if the online banking route is right for you (though we're happy to help you weigh The Pros And Cons Of Internet Banks in general).  But, if you’re tired of the traditional bank model, and want something more state-of-the-art, Simple is definitely worth a close look.

 

 

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