I want to simplify how I handle money. This includes fully automating my savings and budgeting for my monthly spending. It would be even better to consolidate the spending and the saving into one place. But how do I do that when there are hundreds of apps available on my mobile device to help me track, manage, and improve my daily financial walk?
I stumbled across a service that wants to change my banking life. A banking service called Simple, founded in 2009, is rapidly growing and creating converts to their way of doing banking business.
Simple wants to do it for me. I went through their account approval process to discover all the ins and outs of this promise for uncomplicated banking. I also reached out to Simple’s press team and spoke with Amy Dunn, an amazing Simple advocate and helpful team member, to get insight into what this fintech company wants to do to the banking world.
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Introduction: What Simple Is and What It Does
A Different Philosophy: Not a Normal Bank
Simple is unlike any bank I’ve seen yet — by the end of this article, you’ll understand why. Amy described the Simple philosophy when I asked her, “Why Simple? Why not any other bank?”
“Simple’s mission is to help people feel confident with their money. This means beyond the sleek white debit card and fully-fledged, FDIC insured checking account, customers get everything they need to understand and manage those funds from savings tools to truly human customer support.”
Most banks are founded with a profit margin in mind. Simple is about succeeding as a business only when their customers are happy. Amy spoke of their business model that 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.”
I created an account starting with a unique username (not my email address) and a passphrase. This can be your favorite movie quote, a normal password, or a special phrase only you and your spouse would know — like “Go Bama, beat Ohio.”
Next up was filling out the necessary forms and agreements to get the approval process rolling. Like any bank, I needed to provide proof that I’m a real person. An unconventional approach, they offered to let me take a selfie in front of my address. However, I chose to provide a picture of my drivers license as proof that I am the real me. I was approved for an account after three business days.
Simple is partnered with two FDIC insured banks, BBVA Compass and the Bancorp Bank. Interestingly enough, Simple is technically not a bank but a banking service. Not all users will have the same bank supporting their account; mine was picked up by BBVA Compass.
Next up was adding money. I funded my account by using a pre-existing bank account, but I could have chosen to direct deposit my paycheck, make wire transfer, or deposit a paper check.
Only Plastic, No Paper
A few days after account approval, my Simple Visa debit card arrived in a modern square envelope. I opened the small package to find a beautiful sight: a white, matte-finished card bound with a bright blue rubber band. This tiny piece of plastic was now my only concrete connection to the bank of Simple – there are no brick and mortar branches for me to visit.
I used the Simple iPhone app to turn the card on and set my ATM pin code. If I want to change/reset my pin later, I can do it there, too. If the card is ever lost or stolen, I’ll use the app to quickly block the card. When you do this, any pending transactions will go through but new transactions will be denied.
As for checks: I personally haven’t used a paper check to pay for anything in years. Simple seems to know that I’m not alone, so they don’t offer checkbooks. If I need a certified check for a large purchase, I’ll use the app to order one free of charge. If I ever need a check within a few hours, I can buy a money order using my Simple debit card.
The USPS money order limit is $1,000. If I need more, I could purchase separate money orders in increments up to $1,000, totaling the amount I required.
Helpful tip, If you need loads of cash: you can access up to $5,000 of your cold hard dollars by walking into a bank with your I.D. and your Simple Visa card. Explain to the teller you’d like to receive a cash advance using a debit card. All they have to do is swipe your card and stack the Benjamins while you watch.
Note, though, that you shouldn’t walk in and ask for a certified check, because that won’t work. You’ll need an account at a brick and mortar bank to get one of those on the same day. I once tried to secure a certified check for a car purchase and was turned down at three different banks before a gracious teller taught me about the cash advance option.
Simple doesn’t charge a single penny for overdrafts, a minimum account balance, account maintenance, ACH transfers, card replacements, or using Simple partner or STARsf ATMS. STARsf ATM locations can be found here. When joined with the Simple ATM network, they essentially cover the entire United States. There are no ATM fees for BBVA ATMs in Mexico and Spain, but I’ll most likely pay fees with other ATM operators. If I purchase something overseas I may pay 1% of the transaction value, but that is a Visa imposed fee.
Since I won’t get a refund on any out-of-network ATM fees, I’ll use the STARsf or Simple ATM finder whenever I’m traveling and need cash. The ATM Finder is also a feature of the Simple phone app. According to Amy, “Simple has more than 55,000 fee-free ATMs. That’s more than the number of fee-free ATMs from Chase and BoA combined… then doubled.”
Simple can afford the recently adopted fee-free structure through its deals with partner banks and transactions you make at retailers across the nation. They’ll receive a commission when you purchase items on your debit card via a split with Visa’s transactions fees. You also earn very nominal interest on your account balance: .01%. You will not get rich from interest with this bank, but hey: every penny counts.
Check Out Top Interest Rate Accounts Here
Joint and Business Accounts
Initially when Simple launched, joint accounts were not part of the package. Today however, Simple has launched a shared account that you and a partner can be a part of. The shared account includes all of the same great features as an individual account, simply with twice the number of available debit cards that can be used for purchases.
Whenever you set tandem goals or notifications to track spending, Simple will send an alert to you and your partner to update your progress. Envelopes can be created to separate your budget categories and should you decide to go at it alone, Simple can break your joint account into two individual accounts.
Unfortunately, there is still no specific account created for businesses. Any individual account can be utilized under a business tax ID; but none of the features are catered toward small business owners.
If you want to use Simple to share savings goals with your spouse or family, check out some of the apps that’ll help you do that.
The iOS version of the app supports Apple Pay and Touch ID. You can do pretty much all of your everyday banking here, from mailing a check to defining your monthly savings goals. I can easily alert Simple that I’m traveling internationally, or deposit a paper check by taking a picture with my phone. Both the Android and iOS versions are 4+ star rated for their ease of use and responsiveness.
Goals are virtual envelopes inside your account. They can be structured with a target date or can be fully funded immediately, giving you the envelope effect. You can use Simple’s goal feature to create a monthly budget for going out, gas, or groceries. No more carrying around a bunch of cash! Transferring money from your monthly “Dining Out” goal meets the same purpose as the little white envelope you have tucked away in your pocket or purse.
After you finish saving up for your short or long term goals and need to spend the money, transfer the completed goal back into your safe-to-spend balance. Make your purchase, or transfer something like those retirement goal funds into an IRA.
Goals are only limited by your imagination. I asked Amy what Simplers were saving for, and while she couldn’t share exact dollar amounts, she pointed out that the most common goals with Simple are savings related:
“‘Emergency Fund’, ‘Savings’, ‘Rainy Day’ or (my personal favorite) ‘Break Glass’ are always atop the list. Housing-related goals (down payments for homes, mortgages, and rents), practical budgeting (bills and automobile payments), and vacation fill out the most popular list.”
Setting money aside in the Goals section does not create a new checking or savings account. It’s like building a room within your account, except there’s no lock on the door.
On a related note, Simple doesn’t offer CDs as of yet.
Balancing the Checkbook
I tend to not balance my checkbook and follow a fine tuned budget. I automate my savings, I’m a reasonably responsible spender, and rarely do I wonder if I can afford some spur of the moment purchase. But I admit I could use some help. To provide that help, there’s a tool called Safe-to-Spend.
The Safe-to-Spend program monitors my available balance and compares it to my goals, scheduled bills, and scheduled savings. The unspoken-for dollars in my account (money not allotted to the Goals and Scheduled transactions) are considered safe to spend. Your goals will affect your safe to spend balance differently. If you structure them with a target date (save ‘this much’ by ‘this time’), your Safe-to-Spend will slowly decrease each day as that savings goal envelope fills up.
At the top of the home screen (app and desktop site) is my Safe-to-Spend balance. What I’m seeing is a fast breakdown of every penny in my bank account that isn’t spoken for, and this is huge. By setting my savings goals and using Safe-to-Spend, I’m gaining a boost in financial willpower. Schedule all of your bill payments through Simple to increase the accuracy of Safe-to-Spend and to eliminate untracked spending that could affect your safe balance.
“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,” said Amy. “Safe to Spend is our improvement on the traditional account balance; the money in your account, minus any upcoming bill payments, pending transactions, or savings Goals. Safe-to-Spend gives you an accurate picture of what they can spend today without hurting yourself tomorrow.”
Putting Goals and Safe-to-Spend together pays dividends for Simplers. Amy told me that “Safe to Spend couples with our automated savings feature, Goals, to give users confidence in their spending and saving…Simple has created an environment wherein our customers keep 30% of their account balance in Goals. This is more than 6x the national average savings rate of 5%.”
Using Simple’s Instant feature, I can send money for free to family members and friends who have an account with this bank. By accessing my contacts library, I’ve built a list of fellow Simplers inside the app based on email addresses and phone numbers.
Once my friends and family accept the request, we’re able to share money via the app’s Instant option. You can transfer money as many times as necessary, as long as the total sum does not exceed daily and monthly dollar limits set by Simple.
We talked about scheduling bill payments to accurately update the Safe-to-Spend balance. Well, this one is pretty cool.
You’ll actually send a paper check to the company or person you owe if you use the Simple bill pay service. Set the amount, delivery date, and frequency: once, every week, bi-weekly, or yearly. The latest that checks appear to arrive when ordering through the app is four business days later, but results may vary.
I did have to dig up a paper bill and enter the company name, address, and account number in order to get a scheduled bill payment going. Since I can set recurring deliveries, though, I’ll only have to do this once to create a permanent contact in the app. This can come in handy for things like paying rent and making deposits to your retirement account.
Making the Switch: Should You?
I asked Amy if a person who is good with their money should switch to using Simple. After all, they most likely automate their savings. They have financial goals they plan for and consistently meet. Why change?
“Simple is built for the way people think, not the way banks work. That goes beyond just the budgeting and savings tools in every account. For example, we’re completely branchless. This means our customers can bank anytime, anywhere they want. They can pay bills while standing in line at the grocery store, budget on lunch breaks, or block their card from Simple’s app on phone when they wake up in the middle the night and wonder, ‘Did I remember to close my tab at the bar?’”
If you’re tired of your brick and mortar experience, or of tracking all of your different savings and budgeting goals on different platforms, then Simple is the place to go for your everyday banking. There are limitations to this banking service, but you can bet they will be improved in the future.
How to Switch
If want to switch over to Simple, they’ve made it easy.
I mentioned earlier that there are no checkbooks for customers. If you need a check for direct deposit activation, though, they’ve got you covered. Simple even has a method to ease the activation process. First, choose the amount you want to start depositing with Simple: all of your paycheck, a set dollar amount, or a set percentage. You’ll then get an easy-to-understand two-page form (complete with facsimile blank check) to deliver to your HR gurus.
You’ll Save More
I asked Amy what kind of savings rates they are seeing in their customer deposits. That is, how much out of every dollar are people saving as Simple users? She pointed out that:
“Simple customers keep about 30% of their account balance in Goals, with a personal savings rate of 10%. (That’s double the industry average of less than 5 percent, for those who are counting.) And it’s more than just general saving. We can see the impact that Goals is having on our customer’s lives, in big and small ways. Some particularly rad examples include:
- Over the last 7 years, Simple customers have created 16,588 “Savings” or “Rainy Day” Goals. They’ve put away over $32 million into those Goals.
- Simple customers have spent $13 million from Goals titled Student Loans. (The average college tuition is $9,410 for state residents at public colleges… so, roughly 1,381 years of school).
- Our customers have created more than 20,000 vacation Goals, totaling around $20.5 million. “
- And Simple customers have created more than 4,000 wedding Goals… which we *hope* led to more than 4,000 weddings.”
The statistics speak for themselves. Users tend to save more with Simple’s banking service.
Awesome Customer Service
The stories of Simple’s customer service are approaching cult status. Even a humble notice of electronic fund transfer agreements inspired their customers to respond with heartfelt appreciation. Many consumers seemed surprised by Simple’s efforts to ensure its customers understood the legal jargon associated with online banking.
And you can always reach a customer service rep. Amy pointed out that “…should customers need anything, Simple’s smart, savvy 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 (as evidenced by our grassroots customer appreciation program). This means Simple customers get quick, efficient support, the occasional gif, and some extra love.”
The empowerment of employees to work through problems on their own is the future of customer service. Remember the last time you dealt with a service rep who lacked the power to fix your problem, and you’ll appreciate this fact. Also consider that you could potentially receive better customer service and lower fees by using Simple, rather than going to BBVA Compass or the Bancorp Bank directly.
I asked Amy if Simple was more of a lifestyle. “Are you trying to positively influence people’s lives by helping them become more financially disciplined? More savings minded, delaying instant gratification for a higher goal down the road?”
Her response says it best:
“Our goal is to make people feel confident with their money—whether that’s learning to budget, saving for their biggest purchase to-date, or just knowing that when they need help, they’ll have it. We know that finances aren’t a one-size-fits-all situation, so our customers can personalize how they use Simple to better support their goals.”
One of their customers posted on Facebook: “My buddy and I always simple each other back and forth. It’s not a verb, it’s a lifestyle.”
Simple can’t do everything for you financially. You cannot find mortgage rates or auto loans with this banking service, and you can’t share it with your spouse or business. However, options like Goals and Safe-to-Spend are powerful tools to help you manage your daily path to financial freedom, and the fee-free options Simple provides will only get you there faster.
Simple’s commitment to worry-free banking, coupled with outstanding customer service, is the future of the personal banking industry. I personally believe they will evolve into a one-stop shop for your banking needs. If nothing else, Simple is the blueprint for the future of customer-centric banking.
When Amy said that “the onus is on our team to build a beautiful banking experience that truly benefits the lives of our customers”, I think they were successful.
Let us know how Simple has helped you in the comments below.Topics: Banking