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When I moved to New York in 2010, it made sense to ditch my account with PNC National Bank — which only has two branches in Manhattan — and switch to Chase, which seemed to be on every corner.But I wondered if big banks would always be my only option. With Chase’s bevy of confusing fees, unfriendly online banking interface, and lackluster customer support, I was finally fed up enough to look for an alternative.
Credit unions and local banks are known for offering friendlier consumer terms, but the idea of a completely web-based bank interested me more.
A friend told me about Simple (formerly BankSimple), a bank replacement that offers the same functionality of its brick-and-mortar competitors. Simple offers interest-bearing checking accounts from its partner bank, Bancorp, which is FDIC-insured.
By the time Simple released remote check deposits last week, I had seen enough. I closed my Chase account on my lunch break that same day.
I thought long and hard about my decision, as should anyone before they switch banks. Here’s the criteria I considered:
Fees: Since Simple doesn’t have to worry about all the extra costs of running physical branches, it passes those savings on to customers. It doesn’t charge monthly debit card fees, nor does it require a minimum balance. You can find Simple’s full schedule of fees here.
Like a lot of big banks, Chase charges a monthly service fee ($10 to $12 per month) for its Chase Total Checking accounts. The only ways to avoid this fee are to either meet Chase’s $1,500 daily minimum balance requirement, have a regular monthly direct deposit of more than $500, or hold a daily average of $5,000 or more in your account. That’s not exactly easy for people who don’t have a steady income, or who would rather keep the bulk of their cash in savings, rather than checking. You can read all about Chase’s fee specifics here.
ATMs: Simple has over 40,000 ATMs nationwide through the AllPoint network. Unlike big banks, it won’t charge you for using a non-network ATM. All you have to worry about is the fee the ATM itself may charge you. Chase has fewer than half as many ATMs and charges every time you use one out of its network. Read the specifics here.
Support: Simple’s support centre, both online and mobile, has a clean interface similar to a blank email. Questions are always answered with a conversational tone, and responses are returned within minutes. Submitting support queries on the mobile app feels much like texting a friend. Phone calls to Simple support are a breeze too. Just call and wait. There are no automated menus to deal with.
Chase’s online support interface isn’t as straightforward as Simple’s. You must fill out several fields of information before even being able to send a message. They answer within 24 hours, but response speed has never been as fast as Simple, as far as I’ve noticed. And of course there are the usual automated hoops to jump through when calling Chase support.
Functionality: Simple issues users a Visa card that works like any other. And in addition to modern banking tools like goal-tracking and the Safe-to-Spend balance, which factors in pending transactions to your current balance, Simple allows you to add tags to keep tabs on groups of purchases. You can also file transactions under categories like rent, dining, etc., making it way easier to look up specific transactions in the future.
Chase has no search function for your account transactions, nor any capacity to add tags to specific transactions.
The bottom line: This is the happiest I’ve ever been after a breakup.
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