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BankSimple May be First Invite-Only Retail Bank Launch

The Bank nightclub, Las VegasI’m not sure what BankSimple told investors, but it worked. The non-bank bank startup grabbed $3 million in VC money last week. The company is positioning itself as a tech company rather than a financial services provider, a smart move for valuations.

imageI finally caught up with co-founder Joshua Reich a few days ago. I came away from that conversation even more impressed. These guys are really trying to reshape the banking experience. They talk more like a credit union than a bank, meaning they are maximizing the customer experience instead of the shareholder one (see note 1).

Granted it hasn’t launched yet, but so far the “better experience” strategy is working wonderfully. The startup has a 20,000-person wait list for an account. Think about that, a waiting list…to join a bank. I never thought I’d write that sentence. If 75% convert to actual customers, BankSimple will have already hit its first-year goal. A nice problem to have.

Graphic from BankSimple website

And the beauty of so-called scarcity marketing is that you can use invite codes as a sort of virtual currency to reward existing customers and other influencers. BankSimple plans to use invite codes to encourage certain unspecified behaviors from existing customers. It’s a page out of the Silicon Valley playbook. Google kept Gmail invite-only for several years. There was a even a time where people paid real money on eBay for a Gmail invite. The same could happen at BankSimple.

Other things I learned:

  • 42% of its prospect base already uses Mint, so BankSimple is content to let someone else handle the heavy lifting in the aggregation space. At launch anyway, they will show activity only with direct BankSimple partners.
  • As previously reported, the bank is committed to mobile remote deposit. They’ve spent considerable time working the kinks out of that. They even looked at extending the concept to bill payment, allowing users to simply scan bills and have them automatically paid; however, too many tech problems surfaced, so the effort has been shelved.
  • Focused on real-time everything. They may be the first bank (at least in the United States) to have everything they do occur in real time. They think that will greatly reduce customer service headaches and expense.

1. But clearly BankSimple is no nonprofit. The VCs are there because they smell a 10x return, not because they don’t like banking fees.
2. Photo credit: The Bank nightclub in Las Vegas.
3. Previous posts on BankSimple here.