Looking to supplant traditional banks, Simple Bank focus is to create an easy, customer friendly banking experience. Central to this experience is an iPhone app, a debit card and their website at Simple.com. Joining Simple isn’t so easy. You have to request and subsequently wait for an invitation. A few months back I received my invite and it was the first time I was genuinely excited about correspondence from a bank. I’ve been using the service for a few months alongside my current traditional bank.  Are they any different from Citibank, Chase and the rest? Read on for my full Simple bank review.

Simple Bank Review

For years, we’ve grown accustomed to the traditional way of banking. You drive to your local branch and conduct your transactions with a teller between the hours and 9 and 4. Those banking outside of those hours or looking to save time will use the ATM. There is a certain comfort level in knowing your money and account are a few minutes away. I bank with Citibank, with whom I’ve been a customer for the past 20 or so years. With Simple, there is no local branch. In fact, there are no physical locations. For some, that will be a deal breaker and that’s certainly understandable. It should be noted that Simple’s banking services are provided by The Bancorp Bank, a member of the FDIC. Your money is just as safe with them as the bank on the corner.

Upon acceptance into Simple, you have to deposit a minimum of $200 to fund and open account. This is easily accomplished through a money transfer. They encourage you to setup re-occurring deposits, either from linking to another account or by setting up direct deposit through your employer. When you initially become a customer, you can get a small number of invitations that you can send to friends and family, should they want to join Simple. They incentivize you by offering you a bonus invite upon setting up either Direct Deposit or linking an account. My employer uses physical paychecks, so instead I opted for Linking An Account. Citibank has a service called Popmoney whereby I can set a reoccurring deposit to my Simple account. These take about 2 days for your funds to be available. The Simple website offers a helpful list which they playfully call ‘The Big Banks’ and each bank has an accompanying guide for transferring money. The whole process of signing up was seamless and within two weeks I received my Simple card.

When you first open the card, you notice the attention to detail, attention to the brand. Simple wants you to feel good about being a customer. A blue band wraps the Simple Visa card against a stiff cardboard backing which reads,

It’s A Good Day. Your new Simple Visa card is here. Excited? We’re a bit giddy.

 

Good Day Simple

It’s the whimsical nature of Simple that consistently reminds you that you are far removed from traditional banking or at least that’s the vibe they like to portray. This extends throughout the Simple experience. During a routine customer service interaction where I was inquiring about when I might receive my card, the customer representative promptly answered my question ended her message with …Cheers, Chelsea. I’m certain that in my twenty plus years with Citibank, they ever ended a correspondence with Cheers. It’s refreshing.

I mentioned it earlier that the overall banking experience is tightly tied to the iPhone app (there is also an Android app available now) and the Simple Visa card. This works no different than a standard debit card. There are no branches, but the Simple Visa card works at 50,000 Allpoint ATM’s. Finding one near you could not be easier. Simply tap on Account > ATM finder. Simple will provide a map within the app showing your location and all of the ATM’s nearby. Tap in the ‘i’ and you can navigate using Apple’s Maps or Google Maps (if installed).

Simple ATM locations

The whole concept of banking online is nothing new and most banks already have apps. For Simple, it was important to deliver an app that was a cut above the rest. Using my old bank as a comparison, there was no comparison. It’s not as if the information is any different, but it’s all in the presentation and how you access the information.

When you first login to the app, you have to use a special phrase you created on the website. This is often long and requires you carefully type it on your iPhone. Going forward, you access your banking app using a four digit passcode. If you are looking to check your balance to see how much cash you have available, this quick access is mighty helpful.

As you make transactions, they show up in a beautiful list under the Activity tab. Simple will auto-tag your transactions. For example, a recent trip to Starbucks is categorized as Fast Food, just one of a broad list of categories. Similar to Mint, Simple.com allows you to easily track your expenditures by category. Tap on a category and you can see how much was spent on restaurants or fast food. A neat feature was a restaurant purchase that had a breakdown of how much was spent on food and how much was tipped.

Activity list

The Simple app allows you to add an image to your purchase information along with notes and hashtags that you create. The app provides a visual reminder of a recent lunch I enjoyed at the Five Bucks Drinkery. Not only do I frequent the finest eating establishments, but I know have visual proof of a tasty pulled pork sandwich and Corona I enjoyed for my $14.50. If I want to return to that specific restaurant, I can tap on the map to reveal the location.

Image with transaction

I didn’t receive a checkbook from Simple. It doesn’t exist and quite honestly, it shouldn’t in this day and age. All of my transactions are online and payments are processed no differently. You set up contacts within Simple and tap on their account to send money. While you rely on the desktop website for a number of features, most are the initial setup and the process is world’s better than my old bank.

Tracking and Goal Setting
The Simple website makes it incredibly easy to keep track of where you are spending your money. It’s similar to Mint, but whereas you can add all sorts of accounts to Mint.com, Simple is limited to your checking account. There is no reason why someone could not add Simple to their Mint account, but it would certainly create some overlap. Simple seems to cater to a group that wants one card to rule them all. If you currently use one debit card for purchases, you might be able wrap all of what you get from Mint from your Simple account. I’m a casual Mint user, so I’d advise anyone looking to make the jump to do a comparison of features most important to you and see if those are available with Simple.

Budget categories

Simple also allows for easy goal setting, be it a vacation or saving up for a new iPad 5. You can set a date, amount, reason for saving and how much will be ‘moved into your goal’ each day until you reach your target. Like everything on the website, setting this up is easy, although I never finalized a goal due to my consistently low balances as a result of juggling my Citibank and Simple bank accounts.

Pros:

  • Your bank isn’t as cool as Simple.
  • Great support
  • Fantastic banking app
  • Large number of support ATM’s
  • Nice variety of budgeting, goal setting tools

Cons:

  • No local branches
  • Growing pains have seen services go offline on occasion
  • Transferring money takes 2 days minimum
  • No rewards program

During the past two months, there was nothing about my banking with Simple that jumped out as a revolutionary. There was a certain level of difficulty with having to manage two bank accounts. I suppose that’s the challenge facing them, as most people feel a certain comfort level of having a local branch.

For someone looking to go all in with Simple, they offer a nice myriad of budget tools that rival Mint, the popular finance tracking service. In order to take full advantage of their budget tools, you’ll need to commit to the Simple Visa debit card, thus giving up any rewards programs. Simple excels at improving your online and app based banking. Throughout my two months, I had such an appreciation for how they manage to reduce the clutter and provide information that I needed and fast. I can say unequivocally that Simple provides for a truly pleasurable banking experience that was unmatched by my old, traditional bank.