For quite some time, I’ve been expectantly waiting for Simple—the “we’re not a bank, we’re a front end for banks” financial platform—to launch. They’re taking on an industry ripe for some serious disruptive innovation. After all, how many people do you know that truly like or even are thrilled with their bank? Simple promises to provide a banking platform that is easy and enjoyable to use with a no-nonsense approach and a customer-friendly business model. And, they’re doing it from Portland, Oregon.
I signed up for an invitation as soon as I could last year. Then, I waited as they built and tested their platform. It took a while—longer than I think anyone would have liked, including the people building it—but they started bringing on thousands of customers last month and my invite was among them. Just a few days later, my Simple card arrived in the mail.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been kicking Simple’s tires by doing the things you normally do with a Visa debit card. Buying stuff, getting cash at an ATM, paying bills online, and pushing money around between my other banks. Nothing earth shattering. In fact, it’s as boring as you’d expect it to be—at least until you see your transactions pop up almost instantaneously on the iPhone app or on the website where you can nicely categorize your spending in a modern and nicely designed UI made for easily staying on top of your cash flow. Sure, other banks have websites and iPhone apps, but Simple’s works the way a modern web app should.
What’s not to like? Not much, really. There are still a few features from the list of already announced features that need to be released, such as photo deposit of checks and goal tracking. But, Simple is already usable enough that I’ve moved a decent portion of my day-to-day spending over—even while traveling overseas—and I don’t see any reason why I won’t be moving the majority of my current account needs to Simple over the next few months.
In fact, there’s only on thing I wish Simple would do that isn’t on their website but which would be a huge win for their customers that travel overseas, like myself. That’s to ditch the raised numbers on the card and move to flat EMV cards, also known as chip-and-PIN cards in Europe. With every US bank lagging on this front, it’d be nice to see Simple move ahead of them. Of course, the big benefit in the short term would be to the subset of their customers that travel outside the US, but a modern sleek card showing a willingness to move on from decades old technology would also be a nice symbol to everyone who handled the card.
In any case, I’m happy that Simple has made it to the point where they’re loading customers onboard and am looking forward to seeing where things go from here.
James Carpenter comments via email: “Blind people like the raised digits.” Good point. It should be said that EMV doesn’t require taking off the raised digits and vice versa. To me, the chip is the big deal from a functional standpoint. As to accessibility, flat cards have already started entering into circulation, so I hope that the relevant parties already have solutions in mind, including braille cards.
@willie and @catenary raise concerns on Twitter about the fact that the card is a debit card, not a credit card. A few things go a long way to addressing that concern for me. First, there’s a daily spend limit of $3k. Second, there’s the same Visa Zero Liability policy as credit cards for Visa processed transactions. Third, the user interface on both the website and iPhone promote keeping closer tabs on spending activity which seems like it’d help in detecting any problems more quickly. But really, the proof will come on how Simple handles any problems that do arise. Furthermore, if you feel more comfortable with the separation that having a credit account gives, then you shouldn’t muck with that comfort.
James Sutherland comments from the UK via email that he has half a dozen chip and PIN cards and all have raised numbers. He also adds: “I seem to recall Ross Anderson pointing out years ago all it takes is a brief visit to the microwave and 'guess 4 digit number' becomes 'swipe and make plausible squiggle' again anyway for most retailers. Certainly the several times my chip has failed, nobody has batted an eyelid at swiping the magstripe instead.” That's an interesting counterpoint to my own experience of seeing quite a few vendors in Europe make a face when they see that I’m giving them a magstripe only card. Of course, there’s a sample size skew inherit in that I have to swipe every single transaction. Or maybe it’s one of those many little differences between the UK and continental Europe.
Eric Sinclair reports via email that he’s had good luck travelling in Europe with a JP Morgan Visa Signature card. It’s chip and signature, instead of chip and PIN, which would still be a bit of a drag in some situations that I’ve found myself handicapped by. On the other had, with no foreign exchange fees, it’s seems like a pretty good option.
Mark Howson emailed to say that in the UK, flat cards are only given out to very, very low credit customers who have low trust ratings. These cards have a magstripe, but since any swipes at a point of sale are declined, they don’t need a way to be imprinted. Interesting. The flat cards I’ve seen so far in the states have been for premium customers.