Using Simple Is Easy, Signing Up Is Hard

What's Next In Payments®
6:27 AM EDT August 19th, 2013

By Pete Rizzo, Editor (@pete_rizzo)

At first glance, you might confuse Simple’s social media page for an interest group dedicated to positivity. It’s a place where customers beam over handwritten birthday cards, greet customer service reps with strings of superlatives and fling exclamation points about like confetti all in an effort to convince others that Simple really is what it says it is: the company that’s reinventing personal banking.

Part mobile app, part financial assistant and part bank, the Portland, Oregon-based company has made its name by catering to consumers who are disillusioned by what they consider the profit-first mentality of big banks. If you believe its most ardent supporters, the company is more than just another bank. It’s a modern-day Bailey Building and Loan Association out to stick it to the greedy Mr. Potters.

But, with such high expectations, does Simple live up to the hype?

After a few weeks of consideration, I applied for the not-quite bank, not-quite mobile app on June 21. In my mind, I wasn’t just getting a new financial product, I was getting on the bus for a new experience that would alter my financial state-of-mind.

It wasn’t until July 26 that I made my first payment. In between, I learned one fact the hard way: signing up for Simple isn’t all that simple.

First Stage: The Rush Of Optimism

Receiving an invite to Simple feels like going to one of those Oscar buzz films you just can’t wait to brag about. There’s a rush of excitement and a feeling that you can’t wait to impress on others. How else can you describe signing up for a service that could help you leave your current bank?

I thought that in two days tops I’d be banking away, tracking my savings, waving around my Simple white-on-white Visa card like a toddler with the coolest toy lightsaber.

I’d replied to invitations for exclusive, up-and-coming services before and received invites within the day. I expected the same from Simple.

The trouble with Simple is it truly can’t sign up all the users who apply. Even workers within the company told PYMNTS.com they’ve experienced issues with enrollment. After all, try as it may, Simple is still a bank, and banks need to ensure their customers will be reliable.

However, Simple doesn’t directly approve customers for its accounts. Its partner, The Bancorp Bank, handles this part of the job, and it evaluates users based on many of the same methods as traditional banks. Customers may be rejected if they are in bad standing with their current bank, have no or little banking history or have a work-only Social Security number, among other concerns.

As with traditional banks, explanations for denials aren’t always forthcoming.

“I applied online and then a couple of weeks later got a letter from their partner bank saying that the application had been denied,” Pete Ludlow, an engineering student living in New York, told PYMNTS.com. “There was no reason given, but I guessed it was because I’m not a permanent resident and I think they were not accepting applications from non-permanent residents at that time. I was a bit disappointed not to receive any explanation.”

Ludlow has tried to contact the company for comment and is still awaiting a response.

Phase Two: Paperwork And Disillusionment

My application wasn’t halted by the same concerns as Ludlow’s. As it turns out, I would fall victim to another oddity in the application process – I recently relocated to a new apartment and all the utilities were in my roommate’s name. No matter, I thought. I’m sure there’s another way for me to verify my identity.

Undeterred, I looked at a list of acceptable documents, took a picture of my license and sent it to Simple. A few days later I was greeted by the same email, once again asking for my personal information.

Confused, I emailed. A few days passed. My license address was out of date. I would need to use my lease. I scanned, I uploaded, I added it to an email, I sent an email. No answer. A vague rejection email again.

I called customer service on the subway. A tunnel. I talked with a representative. They needed my signature. Days passed. Another email. “We have an update on your application status.” I scan, I upload, I add, I send. Days passed. And on and on.

Until at last, approval. Finally, a little white card arrives. Plastic, the same as the others.

Simple Lives Up To The Hype

After the ordeal passed, I warmed up to Simple enough to integrate it into my payments rotation. Even if my expectations could never compete with the reality, Simple is what you want it to be: a helpful, user-friendly banking service.

So far, I’ve found the service works best as a missing link between my wallet and my primary accounts and a handy way to deposit checks.

After making my necessary payments each pay cycle, I transfer what’s left to Simple. There, I use the app’s Goals feature to sort my funds.

This feature allows me to set personal goals and to donate a small amount daily that is put aside for this purchase. (I’m currently saving for weekly groceries, a new suit for my birthday and a vacation at the end of the year).

I’m not free from the big banks, but at least now I have a great app that helps with my finances. If I have a problem, there’s a chat feature directly in the app. There, I can type my issue and hear back from a customer services representative, usually within a few hours.

What sets Simple apart is the little differences, the pleasantries and perks that big banks are too busy to provide. Together, they turn Simple’s simple idea into something that consumers certainly won’t ignore.

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