For all the improvements banks have made to our personal accounts, it seems they have done little to modernize our joints accounts.
Think about it. We receive email alerts if balances fall below a certain amount and we have tools on our mobile device that can track spending and saving in real time.
Yet joint accounts are still stuck in another era. To the extent they are marketed at all, these accounts are largely geared to married couples, even though adults are marrying later in life than they did a generation ago. They generally lack some simple modern conveniences, like alerts that let one accountholder know what the other is spending, and most are not set up to let both accountholders view account activity simultaneously.
The folks at Simple, a digital-only bank owned by BBVA Compass, have been thinking about these shortcomings with joint accounts and may have hit upon a solution — or at least a partial one.
Its account is called Simple Shared, and the key feature is a real-time alert that lets both accountholders instantly know when money is moving in and out. Krista Berlincourt, a Simple spokeswoman, said a big reason why some people are reluctant to open joint accounts with a partner is because they feel in the dark about what others are spending. Real-time alerts solve that problem, she said. (They could also lead to disputes — "you spent what on tickets to the hockey game?" — but that's a separate issue.)
Another difference is in the way the product is marketed. Simple Shared is still in the beta phase right now, but when it is rolled out sometime in 2017, the bank intends to market it as a product to any two people in some sort of financial partnership, such as roommates, friends, siblings or parents and their children.
It's a start, but Simple Shared doesn't resolve what some see as the biggest problem with joint accounts: Most aren't built to allow both accountholders to view activity at the same time.
Let's say a spouse is thinking of buying a new car. One partner is at the dealership contemplating the purchase and wants to talk it over with the other partner. They both want a clearer view of their finances before making the purchase, but the way joint accounts are set up, only one of them can log on to the account at a time.
"They should both be able to log in with their own passwords, from two different devices, and see this data in real time," Bradley Leimer, head of fintech strategy at Santander U.S., said about the limitations of joint accounts during a conversation at a fall conference.
The point is that if they are both looking at the same information, at the same time, they can make important financial decisions easier and faster. The same goes for joint accountholders with other relationships — say, parents and their college-age children or elderly adults and their grown children.
A case could also be made to allow shared, real-time access on individual accounts. Think of how much easier it would be for trusted tax attorneys or financial advisers to understand your financial situation if they could use a temporary login to see exactly what you are seeing on screen or perhaps a modified version tailored for a third party. It would save time and effort — speaking as someone who has had to print out a lot of documents just for this purpose.
"It's really not that much of a leap," Leimer said, adding that business accounts offer shared access and controls. "It's just a new way to think about designing your consumer application with multiple points of entry."