Five months ago I opened a bank account with Simple. Here are some thoughts of how things are going so far.
tl;dr . I like Simple and will keep using them for most of my banking, but they can’t (yet) fully replace all of my banking needs.
Updated – The friendly people at Simple got back to me about a few things I mention here and I’ve put a few notes at the end, with in-line markers.
Simple (originally named ‘Bank Simple’) is a new ‘bank’ that aims to bring the usability of modern web-commerce to retail banking. I quote ‘bank’ since they are not legally a bank themselves, they are effectively a customer proxy on top of a separate underlying partner bank (currently Bancorp.)
I’ve been living in the US nearly 7 years and the customer experience of using banks here is pretty poor, most notably their websites. I used to bank with Citi and I currently bank with Chase, and for each I’ve routinely cursed their online capabilities. Things are getting better, but very slowly. When I heard about Simple I decided to give them a go.
The main benefit of using Simple over a regular bank is that they aim to provide a much better online experience, both through the website and their mobile app. With this they absolutely succeed. Both apps are fast, have a decent amount of useful features, are clean and well thought through. As an example once you’ve signed in on your mobile phone once with your full passphrase you can subsequently just use a short PIN. Try to sign on somewhere else and you’ll still need the full passphrase.
The apps also offer a lot of features to help you keep track of where and how you’re spending your money. This is less useful for me since I tend to do most of my spending through my credit cards, but I could see this being interesting for some.
Simple are also pretty good on the support front. There’s been a couple of times where I’ve needed to communicate with a human being and they’ve been efficient and friendly. They are still a relatively small company though and I’m sure that helps.
I’ve moved most of my checking account (current account in UK parlance) activity to Simple – which is mostly my regular bill payments (credit cards, rent, etc.)
There are, however, a few things I haven’t moved to Simple and for this reason I still keep a checking account with Chase. The main reason is ATM (cash machine) usage. Simple do offer free access to a large network (Allpoint) of ATMs but there are a couple of problems for me:
- In New York City at least there are far fewer Allpoint ATMs than Chase ATMs. I did once try to find the nearest Allpoint ATM to my apartment, which is about twice as far away as my nearest Chase branch, and I wasn’t even able to find it once I got to its supposed location.
- Allpoint ATMs tend to only allow taking out $200 at a time  (they are the kind of ATM you find in small stores, Walgreens, etc.) While this is sufficient most of the time for me there are occasions when I want to take out more than that. Chase will let me take out up to $500 at a time should I need it.
Simple could fix this by offering to pay fees on any domestic ATM you may want to use. Other banks do this, often up to a limited amount (e.g. the first $15 of ATM fees per month). Of course my friends in the UK are probably laughing at this point since in the UK anyone can use any ATM for free – I do miss that.
Another reason to keep a bricks-and-mortar bank account is for the very occasional times you need something from a branch. For example when I first moved into my current apartment my landlord needed a cashier’s check . Recently I also needed a special kind of financial notarization when changing my brokerage accounts and my local Chase account would do that – I’m not sure if they would have if I didn’t bank there. Simple also don’t (I believe) currently offer outgoing international wire transfers which could be a deal breaker for some people.
I could likely survive without these services, especially if my wife were to keep her ‘regular’ account.
Another area where Simple don’t quite do what I’d hoped is that I wanted to move my money from one of the ‘mega banks’ to a much smaller company. While Simple are still small their partner, Bancorp, is part of US Bank – still pretty huge . I doubt I’ll ever have the situation I did in the UK where I was able to have a good banking experience with an ethical bank (the Co-operative bank) but I still hold out some hope.
So, in summary, my first 5 months with Simple have been encouraging and enjoyable. If they can fix up the ATM situation I may even close my regular bank account.
 Simple will allow you to take out up to $500 / day from an ATM, but if the ATM you’re at will only let you take $200 / time you’ll need to perform multiple transactions.
 Simple will mail you a cashier’s check if you request one. The once or twice I’ve ever needed one though I’ve needed it the same day to secure the apartment I’ve been looking to rent.
 Apparently ‘The Bancorp Bank” (who Simple partner with) is not part of “US Bancorp” (yes, I’m confused too.) “The Bancorp Bank” is its own entity and a small – medium size bank.