Despite the best intentions of governments worldwide, does anyone really believe that consumer financial services will become simpler anytime soon?
Yet, I’ve been intrigued by Bank Simple and apparently, so have many others. Evidently, Twitter/Square founder Jack Dorsey and TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington talked about Bank Simple on stage at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference this week.
While most articles are hopeful, first-mover skeptics have already posted counterpoints to the startup’s “motherhood and apple pie” messaging (make sure you read the comments on Ron Shevlin’s post).
I can’t remember any financial entity, other than those with celebrity founders (Square, Revolution Money, Virgin Money) receiving this much attention before it even launched (note 1).
I still don’t know exactly what Bank Simple will offer. Certainly, they have a great name and a positioning that’s right for the times. But can they live up to it? Basic banking really is pretty simple. You deposit some cash, earn some interest, then take it out and give it someone else. Rinse. Repeat.
Innovation often creates complexity
Banking got complicated only when new features were introduced. People got tired of going to the bank, pulling cash out of the vault, and hauling it around to pay people. So checks were invented. Payment became much easier, and personal security greatly enhanced. And as a nice by-product, the returned check was the first PFM tool, serving as a handy authenticated record of who was paid for what, when.
That worked great for a couple generations, but then too many people wrote too many bad checks and it started to become a slow and cumbersome process to identify yourself at the point of sale. So debit cards came along to speed the purchasing process, fight fraud, and return some fee income to the issuing banks (note 2). And the electronic records of merchant name and SIC code made record keeping even easier, originally on paper statements and now online.
Those two innovations, checks and debit cards, really helped consumers save time and hassle. But did they make finances simpler? Not really. Those payment services led to NSF/overdraft fees, PIN vs. signature decisions, card authorizations, check-hold times, float, authorization holds, chargebacks, annual fees, check-printing fees, positive pay, reverse positive pay, remote deposit capture, mobile remote deposit capture, Quicken, My Spending Report, Mint, interchange regulation. The list goes on and on.
It may not be simple, but no one (except visitors to this UAE hotel) is going back to carrying gold nuggets to the general store to buy crackers out of a barrel.
Technology MIGHT be the answer
Technology advances often bring wonderful, sometimes life-altering, benefits (think electricity or water purification), but often at a cost of increased complexity. As much as I love, love, love the Internet, it’s not known for its overall ease of use.
But there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon, and you are carrying it in your purse, pocket, or briefcase.
I’m still amazed at my iPhone after more than 2.5 years of continual use (note 3). It’s the one and only device I’ve owned that makes life better AND simpler, albeit at a hefty monthly fee.
And I believe mobile apps will ultimately make banking better AND simpler. Why?
- The phone knows who you are and where you are, vastly simplifying authentication at the point of sale and reducing fraud significantly.
- The phone (via real-time links to the bank and retailer) knows exactly how much money you have and what you are buying, virtually eliminating overdrafts and unknowingly overspending.
- The phone can provide an instant, secure way to pay any person or any business, with immediate settlement.
- The phone has built-in scanning capabilities for depositing checks, capturing receipts, documenting insurance claims, etc.
- The phone has access to every database on the planet to assist in shopping, evaluating, financing, insuring and closing any deal for any thing.
- And if you have a question about any of the above, just speak into the device and you’ll get an answer in moments via voice recognition self-service.
So yes, there is hope for banking/financial simplification, and I think it will almost exclusively come through mobile apps with the occasional visit to an online mission control (note 4). So if you want to compete with Bank Simple, or Bank of America for that matter, get cracking on your mobile strategy (note 5).
1. Now that Twitter’s Alex Payne has been added as a co-founder, Bank Simple could probably be classified as a celebrity-founded company.
2. I’m still using my first-gen phone bought in Oct. 2007. The battery is still very strong, the touch-screen virtually unmarked, system performance seems unchanged, and it only crashes a couple times every year despite being carried, set down, and tucked away day in and day out.
3. This is a vast oversimplification of the move to debit cards, but the point is they disrupted checks at the point of sale.
4. If you are still unconvinced that mobile will overtake online for banking tasks, here’s a thought: Consider how often you go online now to check the local weather. A waste of time — right? — when all you have to do is press a button on your smartphone. The same near-instant response will happen for basic banking info.
5. In our Online Banking Report, we’ve published several reports on mobile banking strategies.