The online banking startup Simple makes no bones about its mission to advocate for consumers:
“We started Simple because retail banks have forgotten who their customers are.”
Consumers’ frustration with big, bad banks—not to mention a personal run-in with Chase—helped inspire Joshua Reich, Shamir Kakal and Alex Payne to found the Brooklyn-based company in 2010.
Consumers form the bedrock of everything Simple does, from hiring service reps to designing its sleek mobile app, said Reich.
Unlike traditional bricks-and-mortar banks, Simple manages the user experience by providing one debit card and one account and partnering with small- and mid-sized banks to take care of the back end, insuring accounts and managing payments. Simple provides the customer service; the banks process the accounts.
“We’re very good at managing tech and people, and we partner with banks that are great at managing money,” Reich said.
Putting customers at the centre of its business helped generate massive buzz for the company last year, and as a wave of startups like SmartyPig and Venmo look to revive consumers’ faith in retail banking, it might also be what sets it apart from its competitors.
Reich spoke to Your Money about the unique ways Simple, which launched last November but is still rolling out invites, is using customer feedback to change the face of online banking:
Service reps are hired based on personality and passion. Whether they worked in the finance sector before is irrelevant, said Reich, adding that the company “cast a bit of a wider net” when it first started hiring to seek out employees with a different perspective on forging relationships with customers.
Service reps are also given “power” to do what they need to do.
“One experience I’ve heard from a lot of customers is that it’s so hard to find someone who can solve a problem at a big bank,” said Reich. “You tell your story to one person, and they say they want to help, and then they transfer you and you have to tell your story all over again because that person has no idea who to contact.”
To combat phone-tree fatigue, Simple established a unified customer record so that “everything the customer does is held in a single spot,” said Reich. When a customer calls for help, they get a real, live human on the line who “has the power to do the right thing for you,” be it cancelling a card or a freezing an account.
Consumer behaviour shapes company strategy. Simple is loaded with tracking systems that provide real-time snapshots of how customers use and engage with the product, said Reich.
“If someone comes to our website first because of Twitter, we receive all that info at a glance. We look at how long it takes people to choose their password, for example, then use that info to refine our password policy. We just learn a lot from what people say and watching them.”
The site speaks users’ language. Simple’s predictive money management model enables users to set and work toward goals without having to think about money in nuts and bolts terms that tend to belittle, bore or confuse them.
Said Reich when describing how consumers set money goals: “Some banks let you set up rules, but no one knows how to set up efficient rules. The way we do it, we say, ‘Hey, I want to save $5,000 for my wedding and get a new laptop for $1,000 in six months.’ Simple looks at your spending and saving patterns to move money every day to help you reach those goals.”
And the bank works hard to keep you from overdrafting, too.
“If something unfortunate happens and that’s going to cost more than you have, we’ll take money out of your less-important goal to fund the purchase and avoid the overdraft.”
Putting the customer first might just pay off.