Simple Bank Review

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.

Written By

Christopher Meinck is the Founder and Editorial Director at everythingiCafe. You can also find him co-hosting on everythingiCafe :the show. His smartphone obsession started with the Handspring Treo 180. While the phones have changed, the obsession continues. You can find him on Google+ and Twitter.

Comments

  1. Eric says

    I like a lot of the features here, but I’m not crazy about the “one card to rule them all” philosophy. I’m uneasy about doing all transactions through a debit card linked to my cash account. Does Simple’s debit card offer all the protection of a credit card? If not, I’m not ready to make the switch.

    • Ron F says

      That is not true, at all. When you purchase anything with a credit card, you have the option of calling up your bank and disputing a charge if the merchant doesn’t deliver upon their promises. And typically as long as you have your receipt and your complaint is in fact legitimate, you can expect to be credited back within a few days – certainly within your billing cycle. Also, the burden of proof is on the MERCHANT to prove that the transaction was legitimate.

      But if you paid with a debit card, from a transactional standpoint, there is no “chargeback.” You must request a fraud review, a process that could easily take anywhere from 30-60 days. And in this case, YOU, not the merchant, must meet the burden of proof that the transaction was *fraudulent.* That makes a big difference in how easy or difficult it is to get your money back in the case of a transaction gone wrong.

      • Jeff C says

        Ron F is right.

        BUT – I’m all for changing our self-destructive culture of excessive consumer protection. We could all use a healthy dose of paranoia when it comes to our own money. Down with credit. Spend your own money.

      • Courtney says

        That’s not true, I had ordered a very expensive book online, that didn’t get delivered using my debit card. The entire process was very simple in regards to banking. I called them and disputed the charge. Within the week the charge was negated.

        I’ve had to dispute charges multiple times, none of which have been difficult or took very long, and I only use one debit card.

  2. Ron F says

    These online accounts look great on paper, but if you’re not the traditional 9-5, direct deposited paycheck type of person, the options for actually getting money into the account tend to get a bit onerous. As a business owner, I really don’t see that tying up my money for two business days buys me any significant value or benefits here over having a low cost checking account at a bank or credit union, and using Mint if I want the budgeting features. If I bank with chase, I even get the photo deposit and money-sending features they have here. So what are these guys really doing for me?

  3. Romeo says

    Hey Ron, I do know that You can shut off Your debit card right from Your iPhone or Android, or at least there website. You can also use photo deposit as well. And while Mint has similar budget features their entire “Goals” system is just something else entirely. I understand the idea of not liking too wait two days for funds, but I think their idea is to create such financial security that two days is nothing for their customers.

  4. Colin Morrison says

    Great stuff. Only issue is that it’s a debit card. Not protected like a Visa card from fraud or any other issues.

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