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BankSimple Launches Preview Site (banksimple.com)
192 points by ssclafani on Nov 30, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 110 comments

I'd pay for Mint + Bank in a single package. It looks great. However, it's hard not to be a little disconcerted when the "meet the team" bit doesn't have a single person who has any sort of financial title like "accounts manager" or anything. It's just a group of devs. That doesn't scream "we know finances" it screams "we know how to make web apps, hope you trust us with money too... it can't be that hard, right?"

Mint got away with this by simply being a front-end, and never touching your money. BankSimple should try a little harder to prove that it's not just a company that can identify why banks suck (not all that hard, really), but a company that can actually be relied upon to safely handle your money.

* I know that BankSimple are putting all your money into an FDIC bank, but as the intermediary and the company you are doing business with, the buck stops with them (pun somewhat intended)

Hi. I'm Josh, the CEO. You can read more about our growing team on the /team/ page, but in summary, I have an MBA in Finance and Accounting, and worked with a multi-billion dollar investment portfolio. Shamir, our CFO (aka 'account manager'), spent the last few years doing banking and payments consulting for McKinsey.

In addition to our core team, we have multiple payments systems consultants, banking lawyers and former regulators working with and advising us. We are also actively growing our compliance and regulatory teams. The jobs aren't posted on the site, because that's not the best way to hire for those roles.

Not that any of that is really worth much. Innovation comes from the outside. A lot of the pain in banking stems from atrocious technology, so we're making better tech to drive a better experience.

Hi Josh, This all sounds great. It's exactly the sort of things I think you should consider you putting next to those portraits or on the Team page. I know you guys have all the technical chops, and as a potential customer, I wanted you to show me you knew what you were doing eyes wide open. Just a throwaway line "Plus an army of payment systems, banking lawyers and regulators ensuring the safety and security of your money" would make a world of difference.

Point well taken. Thanks!

I think that this is completely true- the best innovation comes from new people looking at a problem in a different way. This is most marketable right now while people are so disenchanted with the financial world. There are a lot of people who may not trust this at first- but those are not your intended early adopters. I know that in my group of friends no one interacts with a bank ever. Our only physical use of finance is at ATMs

>A lot of the pain in banking stems from atrocious technology, so we're making better tech to drive a better experience.

I can't believe how bad many banks' online experience still is in 2010. Best of luck to you guys, hope you clean their clocks.

It's not just the online aspect either. The internal tools are absolutely awful. And even small credit unions spend hundreds of thousands a year on them.

If BankSimple is really going to be immediately contactable via "Phone, chat, FaceTime, Skype, email, whatever.", then they're bound to be innovating on the internal stuff too.

Can they realistically contract out the call center to any of the companies that service existing retail banks?

You should also definitely partner with BudgetSimple, heck the branding is even similar ;)

I think one of the lessons of the contemporary internet is that outsiders often have some really helpful, valuable ways to improve institutional products + services.

It is true that when the stakes are high it's a little nerve-wracking. But really there couldn't be a better moment in time for outsiders w/out finance cred to take a crack at this. so many people are like, "ok, we let the "experts" manage finance. this doesn't work out so well all of the time..."

SO many people are chomping at the bit for anything better. i read comments on twitter every day from folks who are totally frustrated with their banks not just from incompetence, but because the services don't fit their lifestyles/ ways of managing money. maybe banksimple's initial customers will just be nomadic alpha geeks, start-up folks, and high frequency money movers. that's OK. alpha geeks were amazon's first customers, too.

champing at the bit

BankSimple is not a bank. Think of them as a user-friendly GUI over a group of banks. As to where money actually gets deposited, it probably depends on which bank offers the best deal at any given time.

Doesn't mean that GUI doesn't have control of your financial interactions, moving your financial accounts between underlying banks, or being involved in any of the interchanges (ACH/Debit/Credit Rails, etc)

Your statement confuses me. Are you suggesting that GUI has control?

That is how I understand it to work, yes.

> As to where money actually gets deposited, it probably depends on which bank offers the best deal at any given time.

Is this what is referred to in the industry as a 'brokered deposit' ?

I'm still trying to nail the business model here.

"BankSimple account plus BankSimple debit card replaces your existing personal bank account. Make deposits, withdraw cash, pay bills, earn interest, and more.

However, BankSimple is not a "bank." We partner with chartered banks who provide FDIC-insured products, leaving us free to concentrate on designing the complete consumer banking experience, via the web and your smartphone."

From the looks of it, it appears as if Bank Simple is going to be gathering deposits for the actual banks they partner with. In exchange, those deposits will be fenced in and administered by Bank Simple via the online and mobile presence.

The mention of debit cards at first made me think that maybe they would be able to split fees, so Bank Simple would get a cut of the interchange fees that occur whenever a debit card is used... but those fees will go away because of the Durbin Amendment (this is putting the squeeze on every major bank in the US and will result in an increase in fees for customers -- see Jamie Dimon's comments at the recent Barclays Conference).

Maybe the partner banks will split some of the interest they make off of the deposits? Presumably, Bank Simple's value proposition to them would be that they are providing something that is slightly more than zero cost funding but less than a CD rate. So they could earn a little bit in that area.

The only thing that is left then, that I could think of, is that Bank Simple will mainly try to make money by cross-selling products. Bank Simple Brokerage Accounts. Bank Simple Mutual Funds. Bank Simple Pre-Paid Debit Cards. That sort of thing, where they'd be able to gain market share. This would work out pretty well I think.

For reference, the average American uses 16 different financial products, with about 2 products per bank. A good bank like Wells Fargo boasts a ratio of 5.5-6 products per customer. Your typical bank earns its money on an 80/20 split, where 80% comes from the interest spread (borrow at 3%, lend at 6%, net 3%) and 20% comes from fees (overdraft, interchange, fees for other products). But a trust bank will have a 60/40 split, where they earn extra fees by offering wealth management services to the majority of their wealthy customers.

from the FAQ (https://www.banksimple.com/faq/)

> If you don’t charge hidden fees, how do you make money? We make money from two sources: interchange and interest margin. Interest margin is the revenue earned from lending, less what they pay on deposits. For example a bank may charge a customer 12% to borrow money, but pay 5% interest on a savings account. The difference, less any defaults on the loan, is revenue to the bank. Interchange is a small revenue source that card issuing banks earn whenever that card is used at a store. Typically banks earn less than 1% for each time the card is used to make a purchase. These are both great revenue streams, but banks got greedy and started charging additional fees to bolster their revenue. Without hundreds or thousands of branches, our operation is low cost, so we don’t need to rely on extraneous fee revenue.

Average net interest margin for Q3 2010 is 3.75% per FDIC. http://www2.fdic.gov/qbp/2010sep/qbp.pdf


Interesting. Except the Federal Reserve has absolutely no intention of raising short term interest rates above 0.25% for several years. The spreads in the real world will be much, much thinner than the example above suggests. Although it's possible to make money from thinner spreads, doing so exposes the trade to greater interest rate risk.

The model sounds interesting, but I hope these guys have stellar risk management.

The Durbin Amendment only applies to banks with >$10bn balance sheets.

I don't have the latest numbers, but in '08, the large banks were making closer to 45/55, not 80/20.

That's a really good point about the size issue with the Durbin Amendment, so in that case, then yeah - interchange fees should be a great income stream for Bank Simple.

I don't know too much about how it works for an affiliate debit card like Bank Simple is proposing -- obviously they are partnering with large banks for the deposits, but I wonder how the process works for the debit cards.

I'm not a fan of the "affiliate" phrase. Most affiliate banking relationships are purely marketing relationships. Stick a logo on another bank's card and call it done.

While our relationship with banks is similar from a regulatory perspective, we have deep technology integrations that allows us to provide a much better end-to-end user experience.

This is why it is possible to launch an 'affiliate' card in a matter of weeks, but it is taking much longer for us. We first had to find banks that shared our vision, were willing to cede control of fees and user experience to us and had the technical chops to integrate with us. It was a tall order, but we'll be making some key announcements on this front real-soon-now.

So you're trying to do the iPhone of the retail banking industry? Get the weaker but competent operations to cede control over fees and the user to you, to do something other than the short-term diphittery that's plagued the industry forever, and make everyone piles of money.

I do hope that you tone down the designery stuff once you launch. Google Analytics gets a pass on the front end, but I definitely don't need XSR from MixPanel and TypeKit all up in my banking experience. I know it's heresy to designerbros, but the UX problem with existing banking has nothing to do with typography and everything to do with 3270 emulation & petty bureaucracy.

Mixpanel is not something to get pissed about. It's an amazing source of insight for people who are trying to make good sites, and the data we collect with it is unreal.

My personal opinion is that Mixpanel is part of the ever-rising bar of things rich application sites should start to include. If I see a complex company site that _isn't_ using mixpanel, it will put them down a peg in my estimation. The data you can collect is just that valuable.

It doesn't matter how scrumtrelescent MixPanel is, cross-site javascript inclusion from third parties is extraordinarily unwelcome on a site that exposes full access to my banking to the DOM.

How you can not understand this and still work at a fucking bank? (even an affiliate one)

Weird, because my local bank (https://www.mechbank.com) has Google Analytics embedded on their main page.

And I'm pretty sure they would consider themselves to work at a fucking bank (an FDIC one).

Do they have it embedded anywhere past the login?

I sure as hell hope not, and I trust Google a hell of a lot more than I trust MixPanel or TypeKit.

Does BankSimple have it embedded anywhere past the login?

Hint: you don't know.

If only there were solutions or compromises in this business of building sites. Sadly, the complexity of such solutions eludes the both of us.

Does that mean you're only going to use them on the brochure side of the site?

There is no way I'm going to be your customer if you intentionally leak my financial actions to two third-parties to get analytics or grant full client-side access to my bank account to them along with a third just for fancy fonts. Sure I could block them in my browser but I'm not going to use a bank that would even try that shit.

"Does that mean you're only going to use them on the brochure side of the site?"

Congratulations. You're actually attributing a bit of reason to us. Conversations will be much more productive now. In any case, Mixpanel is easier to integrate on pages with secure data than typekit. There are ways, albeit ways that further narrow our browser compatibility profile.

But I can't get past the idea that you trust Google's scripts with your financial data. They're the single biggest target on the internet; if anyone wants a big score GA is going to be where they hit first. Even 5 minutes serving to GA pages could potentially result in millions of stolen passwords.

I'd assumed that at first but your statement about how absolutely every rich site should be using MixPanel hinted at something so unreasonable that it made me "take you down a peg in my estimation".

I don't trust Google that much, I just trust the others far less — there are degrees of infinitesimals! Besides, an untargeted score on GA would be such a hueg firehose that y'all would be way down the list of people to sift through data for much less prewrite an exploit for.

Even you writing your own code to ship specifically detuned events to MixPanel makes me somewhat uneasy.

> Even you writing your own code to ship specifically detuned events to MixPanel makes me somewhat uneasy.

Why this, specifically?

Yes, it's called affiliate banking. It's how a lot of prepaid debit card companies operate.

Can you cite your source please? or a source? thanks.

<i>For reference, the average American uses 16 different financial products, with about 2 products per bank. A good bank like Wells Fargo boasts a ratio of 5.5-6 products per customer. Your typical bank earns its money on an 80/20 split, where 80% comes from the interest spread (borrow at 3%, lend at 6%, net 3%) and 20% comes from fees (overdraft, interchange, fees for other products). </i>

In the meanwhile, I've been very happy with Charles Schwab's checking account. Free as in beer, you're allowed to overdraft with no overdraft fees, free ATM fees at all ATMs (including international!)

Ditto. I ditched Bank of America and switched to Schwab, it's great.

Yeah, me too. And when I've called customer service, it has always been fantastic. I've never felt like the rep has just been reading a script.

I just opened a checking account with Schwab (and the requisite brokerage account that goes along with it). As I was registering the account online, the web system threw an error, and I couldn't finish.

The next day I got a voicemail from one of their operators inquiring about my account with a number to call him back. The number went straight to him, and my account was straightened out in a few minutes. They also sent me checks, something I had never bothered paying for with my account at Chase.

And I haven't even put any money in the account yet. So far I'm very impressed.

Another happy Schwab customer here. I've got secondary accounts at ING and they're great too.

I was thinking about switching from BofA to ING but the unavailability of ATMs near me, is the show stopper.

All 7/11's and Safeway's in my area have ATMs.

I also have a USAA account, which reimburses up to $15 in ATM transactions AND has mobile deposit via Android or iOS.

seconded. I live in Boston and I am almost never further than a single block from a BofA ATM here. Their ATMs now allow me to make deposits at nearly all ATMs, so until I move out of Boston there's no reason to switch.

Same. The web interface leaves something to be desired (e.g. focus events firing while I try to type my password, broken middle-click behavior, etc.), but the reimbursed ATM fees are so cash.

I'm wondering how they got around the state banking laws requiring them to be a chartered bank if they want to use the word "Bank" in their name (for example, in New York, Banking Law Section 132). All the confusion in this forum as to whether they are actually a "bank" makes me think they may not yet have heard of these laws...

We have certainly heard of that law and similar rulings and are in fairly regular contact with the regulators.

BankSimple is the name of our product, our company is Simple Finance Technology Corp. (rolls off the tongue...) There is plenty of precedent for our situation - not being a chartered bank but having 'bank' in our product name and URL. BankFreedom, BankRate, FindABetterBank, etc. Not comparable businesses, but face similar issues.

IANAL, but, by god, we pay them handsomely to deal with this and many other banking issues.

The signup form doesn't work if you use autocomplete to enter your name and email address. Had to delete random letters and retype them to get the button to light up.

Yeah, they are probably using the javascript change event to trigger the enabling of that submit button. Unfortunately, most autocomplete functions don't trigger the change event.

It's a real pain; you end up having to poll the form fields for changes and then trigger the change event manually.

I always add autocomplete="off" to my inputs, cuts down on this type of thing.

That would just annoy me more, I use autocomplete wherever and whenever -- any site that doesn't let me autocomplete something that should be autocomplete-able always gets on my nerves.

Disabling an useful feature in order to make coding slightly easier seems a bit backwards.

Had the same issue and thought the form was just broken until I saw your comment. This is probably losing them a lot of signups.

This should be working much better now, thanks for all the feedback on this. If you're interested we just open sourced the MooTools class that handles the validation - https://github.com/BankSimple/ValidateSimple

It's unclear what Bank Simple actually is. Hopefully (for their sake) it will be clear when they launch.

I didn't see a link to the FAQ anywhere. I see now it is a small link at the very bottom.

Regardless, I still don't see what the great value proposition is other than that they are friendly. My bank (a small local bank) has never charged me a overdraft fee, never had to wait more than a minute, and I can only remember one time that I paid an ATM fee. I must have just been lucky enough to get one of the non-evil banks.

Hi, I’m Allen. I’m an employee at BankSimple.

We think that’s great.

In the past, we’ve shown animosity toward banks without too much distinction. In retrospect, this might’ve been a mistake. Hopefully, we’re a refuge for resentful and puzzled customers of a certain subset of national banks rather than a competitor to a non-profit credit union. We wholly realize the necessary and worthy function that credits unions fulfill that neither we nor any national bank could accomplish. While we realize we might not be the right fit for some customers, we believe we’ll be a worthwhile alternative for many others.

Lastly, I’ve personally spent a significant amount of time thinking about ways in which BankSimple and other financial service startups could further bolster credit union adoption and satisfaction to better pursue their mission (e.g. opening financial research to nonprofits and academics or technology sharing). I’d love to hear from anyone who has thoughts on this.

It's a bit hasty to read that into his comment and break out the copypasta keyed under "credit unions"

There's plenty of small local banks that are non-evil, at least until they get swallowed up by progressively more dastardly banks in a long chain of semi-annual M&A transactions.

My email has a . before the @ and was deemed invalid ...

You mean like foo.bar@mail.com? Mine does too (most gmail addys do), and it worked. It did say my email address was invalid, but focusing and unfocusing the textbox fixed it. I don't think it's an issue with the email format, just the form is buggy.

Unless it has changed recently, Gmail ignores the dots anyway. So if you find a form that wont validate your john.smith@gmail.com, you can use johnsmith@gmail.com and still receive it.

Good work guys. A few text/spelling errors you might want to fix. On the careers page after clicking for more detail in the "smart and talented?" section, there are about 5 places where two words are getting smushed together. Maybe a line break problem or something. And then in the thank you email after signing up, the first line, "thank you requesting ..." should be "thank you for requesting ..."

Thanks, good catches. I just fixed the email text, and the job listing should be getting fixed soon as well.

I also noticed that right away and sent a heads-up to @al3x on Twitter about an hour before I saw the story hit HN.

This bank "overlay" concept appears to be very similar to what SmartyPig (http://www.smartypig.com) has been doing for a couple years. The revenue model is slightly different (SmartyPig partners with retailers to offer cash back bonuses to customers if they convert their savings goal into a retailer gift card or load it on to the SmartyPig Cash Rewards Card), but the general model of leveraging existing banks for client deposits is the same. I will be interested to see how competitive BankSimple's interest rates are and if they can differentiate themselves in a meaningful way from the many great online banks that already exist (INGDirect, Ally, etc.).

I'm very excited to see how this pans out. Even though i'm not a country they're going to support, if they do well it will set a good precedent and maybe we can finally see banking stirred up a bit. Banks are my most hated companies as a whole.

What countries will they support?

The US.

For the time being, we are concentrating on the US market. Banking regulation and service levels vary widely around the world. After we launch in the US, we may look at international expansion.

Here's hoping that it works in Puerto Rico.

I'm sure BankSimple trusts Banco Popular :)

I'm just curious - what exactly is banksimple selling? Just regular banking + better UI?

The same way Zappos just sells shoes?

A nice UI, efficient operations and customer service which doesn't actively hate you can make a pretty compelling value proposition.

True, but we all have such a sour taste from our experience with all banks that we are rightly a little squeamish to the concept.

I think the subconscious reaction is "yeah right, trust another banker?"

This got me:

"...designing the complete consumer banking experience, via the web and your smartphone.."

I am not sure how good this will be, I mean, credit unions were supposed to be the answer to big banks issues - but they are largely aggregating under umbrella ownership as well. Their overdraft fees are a large percentage of their revenue (mine for example advertises the $500K per month they take in in overdraft fees as a primary asset directly on the wall in front of the tellers (Valley Credit Union))


What people really need is fundamental help with managing their spending and finances.

Though the following is overly complex, for illustration imagine the following:

You bring home $10K per month. You allocate a particular budget online.

But you have certain cards for certain classifications which are allotted a % of your spending budget after certain bills are accounted for (rent, utils, ins, legal req's (child support/tuition, etc).

These cards can only be used for the intended purpose. You'd have a "Food card", "Car card", "Entertainment card" etc...

The types of cards, their budget % and what not could be based off understanding you spending needs, habits and goals dependent on your history and other factors that you've already been measuring through the use of Mint. And manually set based on your own preferences.

The "food card" works at any grocery, restaurant, cafe, etc (based on the establishments profile ID in Mint, as an example) -- but will not work at Kragen, the gas station, etc..

This system could be used to teach people to allocate funds to a bucket - and ideally prevent them from over spending.

(Sure, there will be plenty of people on HN who will say "PSHAW! only an idiot would need to have such granular control over their spending - look at me, I don't spend beyond my means, blah blah blah" -- but there are literally HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of people who DO -- thus all the financial issues that people have, and the preying on such people that many financial institutions, rent-to-own etc type establishments that exist.

There really is a deep need for material hand-holding in financial issues in the world. Hand-holding to a degree that some people don't want or need, but many many others do.

If the system could have a measurable view; such as it requires that you select a >5% savings number that is not as easily accessed (e.g. like transferring from your savings to checking whimsically) and that gives you a constant and real-time view of your credit rating, payment standing and history on credit-based accounts etc...

With incentive offerings to provide a bit of gamification to the entire service "Pay your X bill on time for N months and get Y months free Z service", automatically - without the user required to do anything.

Rewards on brand loyalty simply built into their purchases, integrated group coupons for the users of the financial training instruments etc...

There is a serious and deep need for a pivot of the entire financial industry that differs from the centuries old taking that the industry is known for, and there is a universe of room for innovation in this area....

What people really need is fundamental help with managing their spending and finances.

Check the "Know what you can safely spend" blurb under The Product section. It seems like it's in the ballpark of your grand vision. You can allocate spending/saving buckets, and it will tell you — based on your income/spending streams — how much discretionary money you have at any given point. Seems really handy.

Doesn't https://www.banksimple.com/faq/ answer your question?

Also, as they offer at the end of the faq:

Why haven’t you answered X?

If there is anything you’d like answered, feel free to shoot us an email at hello@banksimple.com.

My bad, I didn't see the FAQ. I didn't even realize their page scrolled, I was navigating it sideways via their tabs ("putting people first", "no surprise fees", etc) rather than vertically.

Ah i see. It's an interesting navigation concept. :)

Has been said before but: if it was available in the UK, I'd sign up in an instant.

Love the reference to Joseph Schumpeter in the debit card image. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Schumpeter

I guess it is a testament to how messed up the banking industry is, that I actually dream (quite literally in my case) about the launch of this bank/site.

The most annoying thing is that I don't live in the US any more, so even when this launches I won't be able to partake - but I have been longing for tech entrepreneurs to take a stab at some 'traditional' foundational businesses.

Banking is one of those things that really needs some TLC. Plus, there doesn't have to be branches.

We need a bank for tech entrepreneurs. Not just based in the US dammit.

I got a message from BankSimple telling me that I was going to get an invite soon and asking me for feedback. I got really excited and responded with an e-mail, but never heard back from them. I'm not sure if I misinterpreted the original e-mail, but this was a huge letdown.

Did this happen to anyone else? In any case, best of luck to BankSimple. I can't wait to actually get to try the service. :)

If possible, resend the e-mail. I'll look into it.

Is this going to support third-world countries? Will I be able to sign up and get the card and bank account running?

The FAQ says they'll concentrate on the US market initially.

I love the UI for signing up for an account (the bank check-like interface). That's a nice touch.

Ok, probably this might be a bit beside the point, but I really liked the red-tinted logo. The new blue one looks boring. I'm guessing "blue signifies stability" or some reasoning for that, but still, the old logo looked much more distinctive.

The site has an easter egg. Keyboard navigation: Try j,k,Esc,1-7

(its explained at the bottom of the page)

The keyboard nav isn't really an easter egg.

HINT: The site does have two easter eggs. I'll spoil one; try clicking in the far top left of the guilloche background. Didn't you wonder how we got the page to load so fast with such a huge image?

That's just canvas, it's no surprise. The four seperate webfonts as data URIs are bigger than that canvas would have been as an image anyway.

Try typing <script into one of the signup fields for the real easter egg!

Now who told you about that, I wonder...? :)

Surely someone _told_ you about it. You didn't try to XSS our form just for fun, surely.

I saw the trollface in the sprite and went sourcedigging :)

Nice! I see some mootools? Is that a standard feature or something specially awesome?

I really like their site, they put a lot of effort in it and it shows. Good work!

The unminified js with comments is public: https://www.banksimple.com/js/brawndo.js

The real easter egg is typing the following into the address bar while your on the page:


Havn't read the code to work out what triggers it just yet...

Scratch that. Try dropping a table ;)

Alex talks about BankSimple and more in this podcast. http://thisdeveloperslife.com/post/1475231255/1-0-7-audacity

I like new design. Very cool. Good luck guys.

When I first started scrolling I got a little confused b/c I didn't realize the header was fixed. The sign up button disappeared and I couldn't figure out how to get it back.

Yeah I find it confusing too. It didn't feel like I was scrolling down, just covering the sign in page. It's weird and non-simple.

I'm not sold on the idea of having all content combined into a single page. It's awkward to navigate, but an interesting choice nonetheless.

I understand it's not the only thing behind BankSimple, but I'd love to see that UI on top of my current Internet banking.

The first time I connected, Safari 5.0.3 threw an invalid-issuer SSL warning. Can't seem to reproduce it, though.

Only for the US

SSL. Respect.

Indeed. But I wish the certificate had 'BankSimple' rather than 'Simple Finance Technology Corp'. Who the hell are they? (rhetorical)

Anyone else having issues signing up for the beta?

What issue are you having?

The button wasn't lightning up for me if I used autocomplete to enter name + email.

Looks great, but scrolling is choppy on my computer

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