Skepticism Greets Simple's New Savings Tool

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The branchless bank Simple (formerly BankSimple), which in 2010 set out to build "a bank that doesn't suck," now has "several thousand" customers among the 125,000 who have requested accounts, says Josh Reich, chief executive of the parent company Simple Finance Technology Corp. 

The online bank, which is working with The Bancorp Bank, is doubling the number of customers on its platform every week. Reich says that by the end of the year the wait time to become a Simple customer will be cut from years to a matter of months. But no date has been set for when account holders will be able to sign up instantaneously, he says.

Reich discussed the company's next project. In about six weeks early users of Simple will be offered a Goals program that will help them sock away cash without ever breaking their bottom line.

The saving tool mimics some of the financial decisions folks make when, say, they only have $1,000 left in their checking account at the end of the month, but have a plan of saving $1,200 every four weeks with the goal of saving $2,400 over the next eight.

The software will measure how much money is in accounts along with typical payments (rent, utilities, etc.) that a customer makes in a month, keeping their goals in line with reality, and giving a user the chance to automatically have less or more funds drawn from the account in the future.

"We look at your upcoming payments. We look at your scheduled payments. We take all that stuff into account when we are doing the Goals calculations," Reich says. The same predictive model will move over to other financial services products, such as lines of credit, that Simple plans to offer in the future.

Today, Simple gives its customers a similarly focused "safe to spend" balance that shows them how much they can safely spend without missing upcoming bills or breaking goals. The software basically does the math.

Not everyone is impressed.

It's "nice, but 'features' aren't enough to attract a lot of customers, and not a lot of [people] do goal planning," says Ron Shevlin, a senior analyst at Aite Group. People "won't pay for" personal financial management tools.

The technology will only really work if Simple goes past its own relationships with customers and begins to bring all of a user's banking relationships — across, perhaps, many different financial services companies — into focus, says James Van Dyke, the president and founder of Javelin Strategy and Research.

"The thing that keeps this from becoming a reality is that no consumer can get a single view of their finances," he says. "I just want to make sure that it's not a piecemeal solution that will only look at relationships that are at" Simple.

Still, Van Dyke says: "This is what consumers want. They need the ability to have their next spending decisions, whether it's a late or a big spending decision, like buying a car … to be determined by their overall financial condition."

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Comments (1)
We applaud what Simple is doing to make people rethink how they manage their money. They are one of the more high profile companies innovating in this space.
At Betterment (www.betterment.com), we've found goals to be hugely successful.
Customers who set specific goal targets and horizons (3 years, 20 years, etc.) are more likely to automate their investing behavior. Not surprisingly, we've found that the people who auto-deposit do better than those who don't - on average saving 2 times as much. We've found that if people can visualize the outcomes, they are more likely to succeed. In addition to increasing contributions, it helps people to stay the course when the market gets rocky, which is the best approach for long term savings.
Posted by johannascott | Friday, July 27 2012 at 12:10PM ET
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