Is Simple what we really need?

One startup that I have been following for some time is Simple (formerly BankSimple). It is always interesting to see someone try and disrupt the financial space - Mint did it superbly with financial planning and currently the payments landscape is being shaken up up Square.

Simple allows you to replace your bank, promising a modern online and mobile centric experience with a real-time insight into you finances. With convenient ways to pay friends and bills and the ability to track and organize your spending.

Obviously I was really excited when they opened their doors and offered me an account!

Initial Observations
As a UX designer, I pay a lot of attention to the smaller details and Simple did not disappoint here. The initial sign-up process was one of the most well executed online forms that I have came across in a while, with just the right balance of design and utility. This continued throughout the website and mobile app, all showing off high production values and attention to detail. The account page is clean and easy to navigate, and little touches such as the rotating credit card sign-in form all come together to make Simple feel like something special.

The attention to detail also crossed over into the physical world. When my debit card arrived, it came in a handcrafted tweed pocket attached to a simple piece of cardboard covered in friendly welcoming copy. There was not jargon, no legal-speak or pages of terms and conditions. It felt great. It was very Portland.

The card itself is white and.. well.. Simple. Its not going to attract the attention of an Amex Black Card, but thats not the point.

One oddity, especially for a company who is focussed around the online experience, was that the only way to activate my card was over the phone. That felt a bit strange but the process was quick and easy so I did not mind.

In general use there is not much to write home about - it is a bank account after all. The primary focus of the web and mobile app is around communicating how much you can safely spend so that you never end up overdrawn or have charges declined. In many ways it is a very bare-bones and Simple experience.

As I dig deeper into the interface and become more and more familiar with the product, I can’t help wondering what Simple’s value proposition for me is.

Sure, the web and mobile experiences are extremely well crafted, but in all honesty I don’t expect to be interacting with my bank’s website more than maybe once or twice a month. I receive alerts by SMS or email when certain things are triggered, such as a low balance or large transaction. For viewing and analyzing my transactions and spending habits I use Mint, which lets me import my Simple transactions today.

One of the key features, the ability to see exactly how much you have available to spend, also lacks appeal to me. I am not usually in the position where I need reminding of the exact amount of money that is available for spending, and I wouldn’t call myself rich by any means! I think a lot of Simple’s smartphone owning target are in the same boat.

My current bank (HSBC, if you are curious) offers a lot more in terms of services. They have a more ATM’s, where I can also easily deposit checks - something which I’m not quite sure how to do with Simple. In addition they have more options in terms of savings and investments.

I wouldn’t exactly class any of the interactions with my current bank as extremely painful. Granted some people have much different experiences, but in general, how many actually feel the pain?

One financial startup that I have been using recently is Betterment, an automated investing and savings tool. It’s great, I add money, tell it my savings goals and it automatically invests and manages my portfolio to (theoretically) optimize my savings. It saves me time and generates an average return.

Granted I could go hands on and manage my investments manually and probably generate a higher return. That would require a much larger time commitment and also would require me to brush up on my investment skills, neither of which really excite me!

Something like this is what I feel Simple is missing - a killer value-add feature which takes them beyond being just a barebones bank. Helping people save in a pro-active way seems like a logical step and I’m really surprised that they are not going in that direction.

Simplicity is a good differentiator when your competitors are all clunky and complicated. Mint has already provided a solution to this, and a lot of banks have spent the past five years at least attempting to innovate and copy.

When simplicity is a growing trend in the competitive landscape, just being Simple suddenly isn’t good enough.


Now read this

New App: Allergy Translate

Last month I spent a week in China, mainly Shanghai with a side-trip to Huzhou. One experience in particular imprinted on me and made me start thinking. On multiple occasions, we dined with friends with food allergies. We attempted to... Continue →