Josh Reich hopes to be at the fore of a new wave in bank gestation, one in which the automation frontier and anti-establishment branding merge into a single strategy to lure disgruntled consumers away from existing financial institutions.
"There's really no need to come into a branch anymore," says Reich, CEO of Simple Finance Technology Corp., which plans to launch BankSimple in the U.S. later this year with a mashup of tech acumen and clenched fists. "Large banks in North America make money by keeping customers confused to get fees and charges."
Bank Simple is part of a group of emerging startups focused on social media, open source and other Web innovation to forge a low fee, highly efficient customer experience. The baby banks also hope the financial crisis has provided a rapt audience.
"It's significant how angry people are in terms of trust," says James Van Dyke, president of Javelin Research, which recently measured consumer sentiment toward banks, and found that the number of people who presently say trust in banks is "much worse" is nine times higher than those who say trust is "somewhat" or "a lot better" than a year ago. Van Dyke says a skilled tech bench is important for these startups, particularly tech skills combined with marketing and startup expertise.
Simple Finance has only a handful of staffers, but it's a group that has computer chips in their blood. Reich and cofounder Shamir Karkal are both computer scientists who met at Carnegie Mellon, and Reich is the principal at i2pi-a firm that consults on data management. BankSimple will have no physical presence to maintain. It will offer a free ATM network, email, phone and chat to give customers live help, and mobile phone remote check deposit.
Even new banks that plan a brick and mortar presence are counting on IT expertise to draw attention. "IT is a fantastic tool to use, particularly to get the message out about what we're doing" says Peregrine Banbury, one of the founders of BoringBank of Cambridge in the UK, which is using Web marketing to spread the bank's message of "simple" lending-focused on local relationships. The bank, which plans to be open later this year, has a founding team that includes David Gill, a former technology and innovation chief at HSBC.
Making IT pros part of the startup team isn't the only option. Veteran bank entrepreneurs are outsourcing IT for their startups, but are still leveraging tech sophistication to claim superiority via CRM and personalized service. "An integrated 'single client view' will give us a tremendous advantage. It's a unique service in Britain," says Vernon Hill, founder of the former Commerce Bank (NJ) who's new venture, Metro Bank, expects to open its first UK branches in May. The institution is promising "rapid service" and a "robust" Web site. To accomplish this, it's outsourcing tech to Temenos, a core vendor Hill hopes will help bring superior CRM to the British market.