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Announcing Photo Check Deposit (simple.com)
32 points by jacobwg on Nov 28, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 63 comments

I currently use Simple for my discretionary spending account. I really love the interface. However, if they are serious about converting people to use it as their main bank then their entire focus should be on allowing multiple people on one account. I can't add my wife to my account means this can't be my primary bank. It's that Simple!

...oh and after that, please create a mobile site that allows me to login from any device. I despise having to use my wife's iPhone to check my balance!

I've worked in the banking industry for five years. I've watched dozens of focus groups and seen countless quantitative research projects that mostly all indicate how extremely difficult it is to get people to leave their current bank. Even cash incentives ($100 to open a new Chase checking account, etc) don't seem to move the needle very much in terms of attracting people to switch. The reason features like Bill Pay are free to users--and actually cost banks $1+ per user/mo--is because it will make your relationship with a bank that much stickier and difficult to change. Photo check deposit only brings Simple to feature parity with other banks, almost all of which are using the same provider (Mitek or similar). This isn't to say Simple can't do really well attracting new customers; I just don't think they will be effective even in the medium term at convincing people with an existing banking relationship to completely leave their bank for Simple.

I currently bank with Wells Fargo, and am gradually making the switch over to Simple. Couple reasons why:

– like most banks, WF have a ludicrously outdated web interface that makes doing the simplest thing inordinately painful.

– like most banks, WF suck at providing a complete historical transaction history and search. Case in point – a couple weeks ago I wanted to query a transaction on an older account, after checking online and being transferred between at least four different customer service agents in different divisions, I was none the wiser. The best they could do was offer to send me printed statements, at a $100 cost.

- like most banks, WF make obscene profits while engaging in shady practices - e.g., trying to upsell me every single time I call them, mailing me an offer for a "free" credit score service (that, if you read the small print, is actually a subscription) and not least discriminatory lending practices (c.f., recent settlement with Justice Dept)

Bottom line, they don't deserve my business.

Once I called Wells Fargo to ask about a fee on my account that didn't make sense, and when I looked back later I noticed they had added a charge of $2 for the privilege of talking to them on the phone about the original suspicious fee. They are not trustworthy at all.

I then moved over to ING. It has been great, but they were bought by Capital One and I am worried that things will go downhill (and I don't particularly want to do business with Capital One). Simple looks like a great alternative--I wish I could get a guarantee that they won't be bought by some shady megabank a year after I take the time to change over.

All of your reasons are common complaints, and I share them (with the exception of USAA). I work at such a bank, and can tell you from painful firsthand experience how difficult it is to do good UX design work inside of a traditional banking environment. I think Simple had the right idea to essentially decouple the "backend banking" stuff from the UX by partnering with a bank and somewhat removing many of the constraints a full-on bank has to wrangle with.

What's interesting though is that despite these complaints, consumers generally are averse to switching their banks.

I've worked at a bank for several years, and agree 100%. It's basically impossible for them to pull off something like Simple.

So the question is – how valid is that research given consumers haven't had a real alternative?

Now that we're (finally) moving away from paper payments, seems to me that it's a bad idea to bank on consumer complacency. Either way, I'm just happy that there's a decent alternative.

People said a lot of similar things before the iPhone launched.

I agree that this is just incremental improvement that actually already exists some places, but it seems like Simple is the first "bank" that deeply understands both software and the importance of user experience. (And perhaps also platforms, which could be incredible in banking/finance.)

That's pretty unique. And it's taken them a remarkably short time to catch-up to current banks. Personal finance is definitely a schlep industry.

Simple is going to compete on experience, not features. This has worked time and time again for lots of product companies, so it will be interesting to see if it works in banking.

Hi - Josh here, co-founder at Simple.

You've nailed it. We can't outcompete banks with gimmicks. We can't afford to lure people in with teaser rates or rewards programs that look great in an ad, but never work as well in reality.

Instead, we're competing on experience. Crafting that experience, especially given the cruft of banking, is a schlep. And its a huge competitive advantage for us.

To the grandparent poster, yes, switching banks is hard, but $30bn of revenue switches retail banks each year because of negative experiences. Thats a tiny amount for the top 4 banks, but a large market for a startup. If you can deal with the schlep.

As I mentioned downthread, it is incredibly tough to do good UX design inside of a traditional bank. I actually gave a talk on this recently for World Usability Day. You have regulatory and compliance issues, a patchwork of legacy systems and a huge array of 3rd party vendors to contend with. It's not that banks don't understand the importance of UX; it's just a very difficult environment to actually deliver it. Simple did a great job abstracting most of that by partnering with a bank instead of actually being one.

I have a "premiere" relationship and "personal banker" at my main bank, yet having used Simple for a year I'm actively evangelizing those I know to try Simple, and have switched to Simple for my everyday wallet. The Simple banking experience for what most people need is like the original iPhone was to 2006 era smartphones -- the "feature" list is not the real story.

Simple offers an extraordinarily low frustration factor between you and your goal, and this isn't captured by the "tech specs".

You mention you still have a "main bank". What are the reasons you maintain that relationship and don't completely sever ties? Do you plan to make a full switch to Simple? I'm not being facetious, I just want to point out that this is pretty common--for people to have a "side account" separate from their primary bank (we saw lots of people using prepaid debit cards in this way).

Until now, you couldn't deposit a check to Simple.

You still can't get a savings account, joint account, or a checkbook, so for most people it can't be the only account.

Since this is an area of interest for you, here's more detail:

I'd say I've switched to Simple from cash, not to Simple from another bank. But seeing most people's banking usage, I think they might be well served to switch to Simple from their regular bank barring business reasons not to. My wife is switching to Simple from her bank, for example.

My main bank is HSBC. I rely on their international account features, and enjoy their premiere world card and travel friendly banking and currency capabilities. I can walk into a local branch here in the US and withdraw cash in Euros, for example, or trade them back in, at official banking currency rates, not usurious money exchange rates.

Previously a longtime Citibank, BoA (was Fleet, bought by BoA), and Wells Fargo customer, I have found HSBC to have by far the most customer friendly statements (both the bank and the card), and by far the least hassle as far as upselling, cross selling, fees, etc. Maybe this is why HSBC got a first place ranking as "most ethical company" ahead of Intel ranked number 2:


HSBC is also the only bank I've worked with that lets me use my true credit card (not debit card) as my main ATM card as well. This replaces the high fee high interest "cash advance" role that most credit cards offer, with the true ATM/debit card role of the bank's dedicated ATM card. This way I can carry a single card for both normal CC use and no-fee cash and ATM features. HSBC's online systems are fully integrated across both banking and card services, their bill pay system is fewer steps than Citi's. They also offer high interest "online only" savings rates matching online only offerings like ING Direct. HSBC do not, however, have mobile check deposit.

I'm such a fan of HSBC that when First Niagara recently bought the branch I'd opened my account in and I couldn't move due to banking regs, I reestablished my banking relationship with HSBC all over again. (Meanwhile, First Niagara is the worst online banking experience of any bank I've experienced. It's worth noting that the underlying DNS names of their various online services all point to third parties, suggesting First Niagara outsources all this. They're bad, and they should feel bad.)

After a year with Simple, I've recently closed all the other accounts but Citi which I keep as my business account to keep things separate.

HSBC feels the most ethical of the banks I've worked with, Citibank the most convenient, and Simple the most ... simple. Above I compared Simple to the iPhone. Perhaps HSBC = Nokia, Citibank = Blackberry, and Simple = iPhone.

A small business owner should try Citi, a world traveler should try HSBC, and an everyday consumer should try Simple.

It's also worth mentioning that the customer service really is phenomenal, and I'm hoping that they scale this up at the same rate as the rest of the business.

Part of the magic in the support is having a button on the side of the site where I can just open up a ticket and describe an issue, and in short time get a response back from a real human being. For instance, I went to Mexico a week or so ago and sent them a message asking them to note this on my account. They quickly responded back stating that they had noted this, and including a list of fees and limitations that I could expect when using my card down there. This was a far superior experience to sitting on the phone, punching in prompts, and answering security questions.

If you do need phone support (I have once so far), the number rings through to a real person, and is superior to big banks in response time and helpfulness in my experience as well.

I'm a big fan of the service, as much for what it is now as for what I'm sure it's going to become as it continues to grow.

> I've watched dozens of focus groups and seen countless quantitative research projects that mostly all indicate how extremely difficult it is to get people to leave their current bank.

Apparently none of them thought to try offering higher interest rates. We moved for a 1/4 point.

I'm always skeptical of banks trying to use small interest rate differences to get me to open an account. The bank can simply change the interest rate on my account 6 months later, after I've moved over my bill payments.

A bit off topic, but the one thing that is stopping me from using Simple is the lack of paper checks. I know you can send checks directly to recipients, but there are too many instances where I need to write a check and hand it to the recipient directly.

I've complained about the same issue to Simple and they've informed me that they have no plans to ever offer paper checks. I'm getting around this issue by taking out money orders using my Simple card. It's a minor hassle but it works just fine.

> I know you can send checks directly to recipients,

I wonder if these are "real" checks against your account, or just checks against some single account that Simple owns. Because if they are real checks, it would be simple enough to get your own checks printed up with the routing info.

Real, and yes, you have a real ABA and routing number and can print your own.

Just in case someone was thinking of doing this, Josh from Simple said: if someone produced checks with one of our customer's account numbers, our systems are set up to reject them.


If you need to hand a check to someone and know the amount in advance (babysitter, maid), make it out to her name and mail it to yourself. Then hand it to them.

I have a Simple account but haven't moved any money to it yet. I'm not really sure why I'm hesitant. At first I was definitely going to do it if they came out with the electronic check deposit before Bank of America (which took BOA FOREVER to do).

But I use Mint and BOA and am having a hard time seeing any other major benefits except for a nice UI and better customer service. However, I've probably only contacted BOA's customer service maybe 2 times in the last 5 years.

No paper checks seem to be another pain point to get over

I also have a Simple account and have yet to really use it. I use ING for my main account and love it (waiting to see what the shift to Capital One does). Before this, they were at a serious detriment to every other bank I have used.

I love the ideas, but it seems to me like this is a classic example of needing to be 10x better to convince even folks like HN readers that this is a useful change to make.

All this being said, after a few weeks of not using the card and not setting up direct deposit, I got a FANTASTIC email asking me to come back and use it - great job engaging inactive users.

I think one of the problems is that you only gain the benefits of using their app if you use their debit card. Credit card points are just too good to pass up.

If you're on payroll, some employers let you split your paycheck between multiple accounts. That's a useful way to get some money in and try the service without having to totally go all in.

The reason why I hate features like this is because it now puts the onus on customers to detect fraud, not the banks. If my understanding is correct, you have 60 days to reverse any fraudulent checks on your account. If you're someone like me that doesn't look into their bank account too closely (because you don't spend a lot), then you could be the victim of fraud very easily. And in the age of Photoshop, you can make a very convincing check image very easily.

While I agree with the principles of your objection, there are several mitigating factors.

First, generally deposits are done via an app without choosing a photo from the photo roll. So you'd need to actually print a check to get it through the app, or hack the app to take a digital file. The deposit is tied to your account, and your physical phone, which means if you use it for fraud it is easy to trace back to you. I suppose we could see stolen phones being used to deposit checks, but then they'd have to get the money out of that person's account and move on quickly.

Second, a bank that isn't customer-hostile will have many notification tools available. I get push notifications of large transfers in or out, and the same for low balance warnings or upcoming bill payments.

Moving on to some opining...

I wish I could print one-time use codes (QR or letters) on my checks. It'd be nice for me to submit the amount and the challenge code through my bank's app to authenticate a paper check.

But the fact is, I now write checks very infrequently. Assuming that's a broader trend, I think any major development we see in the handling of checks will be to benefit businesses, which might deal with a lot of them going in and out.

(Josh from Simple here)

Not sure if I quite follow.

We don't let our customers write checks directly. They can send checks from our apps, but they don't get a checkbook. Even if someone produced checks with one of our customer's account numbers, our systems are set up to reject them.

We are working on a way to let our customers write their own checks, but we're taking our time on this feature as we want to shut down that fraud path with a special type of check. More details to come in the future.

The feature we released today is for check deposit. Yes, you could suffer if someone gave you a fraudulent check, but the risk is no different than depositing that same check at a teller.

As a customer it's interesting to learn that you would reject "custom" checks since your app shows me the routing number and I can use that (and have used that) to do EFT which asks for the number off the bottom of a check. You make it look like a check, and it works like the number off a check, but a third party printed check using that same number wouldn't work? Good to know.

They are probably just whitelisting the check numbers that they write, and then rejecting any other check numbers.

I wonder how much longer until the established banks adopt similar ideas.

From looking at (but not using) Simple, it doesn't seem like they have any technical advantages, they were just able to start fresh without the bureaucracy bloat that current banks have and focus on modern convenience.

A number already have. Citibank and USAA have offered this for a while, in fact.

Chase as well. I've been using Citibank and Chase deposit by picture from their mobile apps for a long time.

This is pretty trivial from a technology point of view. The only real difference I've noticed in implementations is the size of the check they allow you to deposit. With Chase I can put in a $1k check I get often, Citibank doesn't allow that, although it has come in handy for the occasional $20 or $50 checks that pop up.

PNC as well. Just used it yesterday.

I had signed up some time ago and forgot that my invite showed up this past July. Upon going through the process of creating an account, the final step was to deposit $200-$500 into the account.

I understand the need to get funds, but with the time energy and passion devoted towards the ease of use of the form and the comprehensive FAQ I could not find the answer as to why this minimum was required.

All the comments here are interesting, and I understand that switching costs are high, but the $200 barrier without explanation made be bounce from the form.

I really want to give this a shot, but I want to understand the required funds first.

Don't all banks require a minimum deposit when opening an account?

Most do (some do not) but it was the lack of explanation and the fact that its $200 that stopped me in my tracks.

I didn't realize cheques (checks) were still widely being used. I haven't written a cheque in almost ten years, either personal or business. We've received a few cheques from large companies, but very rarely.

I assume from the spelling of cheque that you're located outside the US. :) The banking system is ridiculously archaic, compared at least to Europe. For example, there's no simple way for me to directly transfer funds to a friends bank account (we would have to use PayPal, or I would have to pay a "wire transfer" fee). It's also quite common for the payroll department to ask you to bring a "voided check" on your first day at work so they can get your account details.

There's also a big generation gap between those who think checks are ridiculous archaic and those who think they are a heck of a lot simpler than doing it online.

When I saw the title of the posting, I initially thought it was related to checking photographs. :-/

I wish checks would just die. It's amazing that I'd never used a check before moving to the US from Sweden in 1996 and I still have to use them today here!

My bank (Charles Schwab Bank, U.S.) has had this for a while now. Also other cool stuff like two-factor authentication.

I have Charles Schwab Bank as well. The thing that they offer that Simple doesn't is unlimited ATM fee refunds. The ability to go up to any ATM anywhere in the world and pull out cash with no fees is too big of a benefit to give up.

As a small business owner, what I would find to be more useful would be if someone is sending me a check, they could scan it themselves and then email me the scan. I could then process the check with an app on my side.

I don't understand what is this thing for and there's no clear explanation anywhere on the homepage. Can someone enlighten me please? Is it another PayPal killer or something?

Someone writes you a check for your birthday, you don't have to drive to bank (or mail) to deposit. Simply take photo of front/back and send it via app and money is deposited into your account.

Simple is an online-only bank (in essence) that's trying to do a lot of things "right." There's more to it (they call themselves a "bank replacement"), but that's the basic idea.

"bank replacement" - oh, ok. Thanks.

(Hey Simple guys...I know you're watching!)

Is there any video of the interface working? I'm very interested in Simple's approach to the design of theirs.

Talked with one of the Simple guys earlier this fall. Really great guy, he described an amazing company. Congrats, Simple. :-)

>To clear, checks must be endorsed and have your account number designated on the back.

What does endorsing a check really do?

the lack of joint accounts continues to be a barrier for anyone that isn't legally single.

If only they supported Android, I could find myself being interested in this news.

That's coming in early 2013.

Link to source?

If only I could get an invite, I could find myself being interested ...

I requested one at least 5 months ago.

8 months here. The only person I know who has it took 13 months.

http://simple.com in chrome doesn't work?

i love simple! been using it for months. i find it to be super simple to send people money, etc.. yes you have to adjust the lack of actual paper checks, but once you're used to it, its def better.

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