I hate dealing with banks. In a world where currency has more meaning on screen than it does in hand, you would think that banks would be getting better and not worse. The best bank is typically the one you never have to deal with. I generally have to mentally prepare myself for a few days before I call a bank as I know it is going to raise my blood pressure a few points.
Simple.com aims to change that. They believe that well designed web and mobile applications can improve the overall banking experience. In keeping it simple and beautiful, they believe they can make banking a positive experience.
So far, it’s working
I’ve waited quite a while for an invitation to Simple.com. My venom towards banks (and hope for a solution) had me checking in on Simple.com rather often. After many painstaking months, I finally got that coveted e-mail with my invitation code. The trick to writing a review about Simple.com is going to be to separate the flaws in the banking system with what they are doing from a web and mobile perspective.
What they’ve done is put together a web application that sits on top of a bank in which they have partnered with. Simple.com is not a bank, but a provider of all the services you expect from your bank. Simple.com is the middleman between you and a traditional bank. They take the disaster that is the banking experience and make it much more palatable.
Good Design To The Rescue
Their signup process is quick and easy once you obtain your invitation code. The screens are well laid out, simple, and guide you through the entire process effortlessly. The website is remarkably intuitive throughout the entire online experience. Let that statement permeate in your mind for a little bit.
Finding a web application that has a remarkable user interface is not as common as we would all hope. Most well designed websites have certain areas that look undercooked. For example, I really love the new Outlook.com interface. If you start to dig around, however, portions of that site that seem like they were designed by a different organization. The settings panel feels like an afterthought, and other elements don’t seem to fit with the initial inbox experience.
Simple.com took their time in creating their interfaces. At no point during my usage of their online services have I ever thought “this feels out of place.” Their use of modal pop-ups and modern effects is consistently well designed and executed. Simple.com truly has mastered the art of a complete and beautiful website.
Features You Don’t Have to Search For
The goal of every website should be to accomplish a task in a way that feels natural and cohesive. User experience should be as important as the code powering the application. When you get the experience right, then sometimes the frustration of dealing with the underlying service can be mitigated. The Simple.com homepage is possibly the best use of screen real estate I’ve ever seen. If you need to contact customer service, simply click on the support button and in slides a form that resembles an IM chat. Need to pay a bill? It’s the same thing – in slides all your past payees with the ability to create new ones or pay existing without leaving the Activity page.
You can easily search or filter your transactions, and if enabled, map them out on a Google map. This can appear to be gimmicky, but I found it to be useful when I was verifying at which location a particular purchase was made. The attention to the smaller details is what really closes the deal. For example, closing out the the introduction block will cause the application to gently blink where it was minimized to for easy recall.
Let’s not forget that this is a bank and we all have different objectives when we log on – review balances, check a transaction or pay a bill. Simple.com has managed to distill everything you could possibly want into two main sections: the homepage (or Activity) and Goals.
Goals: Budgets that Make Sense
Goals are a concept that other financial institutions have attempted to bring to market in one way or another. Simple.com’s implementation of goals is brilliant and easy at the same time. It does not require a separate savings account, but instead asks you what you want to save and when you want to meet that goal. It maps out a timetable in specific increments that will automatically deduct from your “Safe-to-Spend” balance.
They aren’t moving any money around, but instead give you a “balance” representing how much you can spend after any known deductions from upcoming bills or set goals. This takes the math out of your head while giving you a visual representation of your progress in route to becoming a financially responsible adult!
Elegant Web and iOS Apps, Working Together
I hate that this part is going to be a mere side note, but Simple.com has a remarkable iPhone app to complement their website. It is equally well thought out and implemented, and I have yet to have a crash or moment where something seemed missing from the experience. The concept of displaying information so that it is not cluttered or difficult to access is replicated on the iPhone app. It does so with a sense of elegance that most apps – not in beta – have a hard time achieving.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Now that I’ve spent the last few paragraphs glowing about Simple.com, am I in the process of migrating all of my finances to this new service? In short – not yet.
As beautiful as the web interface for Simple.com is, it is still lacking some fundamental banking features. For example, the only real way to deposit funds into a Simple.com account is from direct deposit or other general forms of electronic transfer. They’ve recently introduced mail-in deposits, but the process is still relatively new. They have depositing checks via their iPhone application on their roadmap, but it is not available at the time of this writing.
They also do not provide an old school checkbook. Their bill payment service looks really stellar, but some may still prefer to have a checkbook for the just-in-case moments. Lastly, they do not support multiple account holders for a single account. In households where there is more than one signer, this would be a showstopper for general acceptance. To be fair, this is a very exclusive (and deliberate) beta release. I expect that the missing banking components will be complete before they roll out to the masses.
Simple.com is on the path of becoming the quintessential example of being a creative and effective service mash-up. I can’t see how these guys won’t succeed with their combination of activity mapping, Safe-to-Spend assistance, and integrated customer support. In my personal opinion, they should sell their technology to bigger banks in an effort to make me hate them a little less.
In each review, we give the product a score from 1 to 10. I would easily give this site a 10 of 10, but the lack of certain banking functionality does impact how effectively I can use their services in my own household. It almost pains me to hand out a 9 of 10, but I think they will easily blow the top off this scale once they roll out of beta.