The Simple Customer Experience

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It’s rare to have an enjoyable experience with customer service, especially when it is tied to something as emotional as personal finances.

This week, I had a pleasant surprise with Simple’s customer service, widely acknowledged for having a customer experience that is so human it’s innovative. 

Here’s what happened:

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My bike waits for me as I work from a coffee shop in Bandon, OR

I’m on a three-week trip riding my bicycle south along the west coast to FinovateSpring next week. I’ve been working largely from public wifi hotspots at coffee shops and libraries, so I’ve been very wary of the security of my financial information.

I’ve paid for most expenses using my Simple card. When I checked my account last week (under a private wifi network, of course!), here’s what I saw:
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For a person who lives on the west coast and has been making purchases only while traveling down the Oregon coast, the map of my transactions looks as it should– except for one outlier. Florida!?
Upon discovering this inconsistency, I blocked the card to prevent any more unauthorized transactions. Simple is one of the pioneers of this feature.
Then, I immediately contacted Simple’s support via chat. Here’s the conversation:
Me:
Hello, I think there’s a fraudulent charge on my account from a merchant in Florida called CtVcom. 
Do you have any more information on them? The time and place of the transaction doesn’t seem quite right. Thanks.
Heather (Simple):
Hey Julie!
This is actually an ATM withdrawal from an ATM in Bellingham, WA–does that sound more familiar? 
We run our transaction data through a series of calculations in order to provide you with a clean merchant description. We’re typically pretty accurate, but it looks like we didn’t get this one right. I have no idea why it’s showing up as Florida when it was actually in Washington!
If you are ever curious about the details of a transaction, we list the original merchant data in your activity on Simple.com. To view it, select the transaction and click the ‘Edit’ button. The original merchant name will be listed below the modified version.
Let me know if this sounds more familiar, and give a shout if there’s anything else I can help you with!
Me:
Ah-ha! Thanks for the quick reply…
Yes. An ATM withdraw in the town where I live sounds quite right.
Thanks!

Heather (Simple):
No problem, Julie! Glad we were able to get this cleared up!
I just wanted to let you know that your card is still blocked as well. If this was the reason you blocked it, you can feel free to unblock it since it didn’t end up being fraudulent. 🙂
What was done correctly? 
    1. I received a quick reply
    2. The customer service rep (CSR) let me know the back story of how the mistake came about. By being transparent, Simple eased any fears I had of data-sharing, privacy breaches, or major problems with its back-end system.
    3. The CSR gave me instructions on how to figure out merchant information on my own. Empowering the customer with this knowledge has the potential to prevent future calls or chat sessions with CSRs.
Bottom line
Many banks fall short in customer service since thpersonal touch is difficult to scale.
While most customers appreciate being spoken to in a more informal manner, CSRs still need to make sure they remain compliant and don’t trigger any liabilities by slipping up. But there is a customer satisfaction payback to replacing industry jargon with easy-to-understand language, patience, and a smile.


Simple was acquired by BBVA in February. The bank has vowed to leave the Simple team in place. We hope that’s true. 

To see Simple’s platform in action, check out its demo from FinovateFall 2011.

Finovate Alumni News– March 8, 2014

  • Finovate-F-Logo.jpgActiance partners with Shoutlet to integrate Shoutlet’s social marketing capabilities with Actiance Socialite.
  • PayPal’s Braintree to waive the first $50k of processing fees for startups building on its platform through its new Ignition program.
  • On Deck raises $77 million in funding round led by Tiger Capital.
  • Mechanics Bank’s Bradley Leimer takes a look at the lessons from BBVA’s acquisition of Simple.
  • Simple, Moven, and Numbrs are listed in American Banker’s feature “6 Apps That Are Making Bankers Jealous.”
  • Recode reviews Loop. Check out its new payment tech at FinovateSpring next month.
  • The Tally’s Financial News Fintech Focus column features Kensho.
This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.

Finovate Alumni News– February 25, 2014

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  • Netbanker considers why the BBVA Simple Bank deal is extraordinary.
  • American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators selects Authentify for NSTIC Trusted Online Identities Pilot.
  • ThreatMetrix wins Most Innovative Anti-Malware Solution and Best Product Network Access Control Solution at 2014 Cyber Defense Mag Awards.
  • Tyfone unveils Fluide mobile banking platform.
  • PayPal to be the first payment provider on the latest Samsung Gear 2 smartwatches.
  • Lendio marks a year of record growth.
  • Kapitall announces $13 million in funding in round led by Linden Venture.
  • Wallaby launches Google Glass payment app.
  • ShopKeep POS wins global Gold Stevie Award for Sales & Customer Service for 2nd year in a row.
  • MasterCard partners with Syniverse to pilot location-based, anti-fraud service.
  • MoadBus to offer Allied Payment Network’s PicturePay.
  • ACI Worldwide to power online banking for Trustco Bank.
  • Bankers’ Bank to deploy Aptys SolutionsPayLOGICS originating and processing wire service.
This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.

Why the BBVA Simple Bank Deal is Extraordinary

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I was on vacation when the Simple deal went down last week. So, today I read the 25 or so unique articles published Thursday and Friday on BBVA’s $117 million acquisition of Simple. Of the bunch, only Ron Shevlin dove under the covers as to why a global financial powerhouse plunked down nine figures for a relatively small prepaid debit card portfolio. His take: the brand.

I’ve been a huge Simple junkie, publishing 22 posts on the startup in the past four years. And I was delighted it chose to make its first industry appearance at Finovate in Fall 2011 (video here). But I’m even more excited about this deal, which was remarkable for several reasons:
  • Other than ING’s regulator-mandated divestiture of its U.S. unit to Capital One, this is the first major retail digital bank acquisition in the United States EVER. Yes, EVER.  Since the dawn of what we called “Internet-only” banks in Oct 1995 (note 1), not a single one has been acquired at other than a fire sale (e.g., ING Direct purchase of Netbank after it was closed by the FDIC), (see note 2). 
  • The revenue multiple was off the charts. Simple says it processed $1.7 billion last year. Assuming this was all debit card volume and they split the revenues relatively equally with their processor, The Bancorp Bank (which is Durbin-exempt, note 3), the startup generated somewhat less than $10 million in revenues last year. That’s not at all bad for a bank in its first full year of business. Founder Josh Reich says they were on a path to profitability, not a small feat for a tech company with nearly 100 employees.
  • Banks are usually acquired for some premium of their assets and deposits. Simple had zero financial assets since it only collected deposits. We don’t know their deposit totals, but with an average of 65,000 customers (note 4) making $1.7 billion in purchases, that means each spent about $2,000 per month. Let’s say that each of its 100,000 accounts held double that on average ($4,000), the bank had around $400 mil in deposits at year-end 2013. I’m not sure what banks are paying for demand deposits these days, but it’s not 25%.
  • Simple raised $18 mil since inception, but we don’t know at what valuation. But with the $117 million cash deal, it appears that investors were rewarded adequately. It was no 10x exit, but it could have been 2x to 3x, or more.
  • BBVA paid almost $1,200 per customer. Given that Simple’s entire funding amount of $18 mil had already generated 100,000 customers ($180 per customer), clearly acquiring this customer base was not the main driver of the valuation.
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What it means:
  • Moven, Holvi, Tink, Numbrs, and other digital-only banks will see a bump in their valuations. 
  • Y-Combinator and other accelerators will see a surge in retail banking startups (which leads to more great Finovate presenters)
  • Simple under BBVA will be a fantastic case study with plenty of material for fintech bloggers and analysts (and especially blogging analysts)
  • There will be more legacy financial institutions following this strategy (clearly, there were other bidders to push the valuation above $100 million); however, don’t expect a stampede. Two or three acquisitions in 18 years is hardly a trend.
  • BBVA could very well make Simple its ING Direct-like brand (“BBVA Simple”?) across multiple new international markets (hat-tip to Venture Beat for being the only tech blog to focus on the international opportunity).
  • At least for a few years, before the founding team scatters to new ventures, it will be useful to have a semi-autonomous unit in Portland building out the services.
Finally, I’ll need a new VC-backed retail banking startup to obsess over. Time to get my Moven card activated.
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Notes:
1. The first pure digital bank was Security First Network Bank (SFNB) which was dumped for $13 mil in 1998 after attracting $50 mil in deposits and $14 million in credit card receivables).

2. One could argue that E*Trade’s ill-fated purchase of Telebanc for $1.8 bil in 1998 qualifies, but Telebanc was primarily a direct bank built through the phone channel.
3. Interestingly, as part of BBVA, which is not exempt from Durbin price controls (as far as I can figure), Simple’s interchange rate will likely fall dramatically, making the revenue multiple much higher going forward.

4. The bank started the year with 30,000 accounts and now has 100,000. So, assuming growth was even over the year, the average annual number of accounts = 65,000.
5. For more on pure-play digital banks, see our full Online Banking Report here (published in late 2011, subscription).

Finovate Alumni News– February 24, 2014

  • Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Finovate-F-Logo.jpgNICE Systems named to Fast Company’s 50 most innovative companies list.
  • American Banker takes a look at BBVA’s acquisition of Simple.
  • MasterCard brings in-app payments to MasterPass; acquires m-wallet startup, C-Sam.
  • CNBC Finance hosts Kasasa CEO Gabe Krajicek to discuss the drive to local banks and credit unions.
  • Arxan Technologies partners with IBM to protect mobile apps against attacks.
  • HelloWallet launches Insights app to help HelloWallet users better understand their financial habits.
  • InterAksyon features TransferWise in column about transferring money overseas.
  • Realty Mogul’s real estate portfolio surpasses $85 million mark.
  • ExactCPA Tax Solutions introduces its app of the week: Kashoo Accounting.
This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.

Old Acquires New: BBVA Buys Simple for $117 Million

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In a different take on the story of Old Meets New today, we’ve seen Old Acquires New. Simple, a 5-year-old neobank has been acquired by BBVA, a 150-year-old bank that ranks in the top 15 in the world.

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BBVA purchased Simple, which has raised $15.3 million since being founded in 2009, for $117 million.

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Those of us with Simple accounts need not worry, however, because the Portland-based startup will continue to operate as usual. In a blog post announcing the change, CEO Josh Reich states:

“…we will function as a separate business within the BBVA structure, operating in parallel with BBVA’s existing US banking operations. Furthermore, I’m remaining in my role as CEO and will be joined by the same team that built Simple over the past four years.”

The largest change, Reich states, will be that Simple will have BBVA’s backing of $280 billion in assets that will enable it to grow and continue innovating.

Check out Simple’s demo from FinovateFall 2011 here. BBVA demonstrated its Stockbuzz tech at FinovateEurope last year. Check out the video here.

Finovate Alumni News– January 6, 2014

  • Thumbnail image for Finovate-F-Logo.jpgChecking in with FlexScore is top of the list in this Forbes column on financial planning for those turning 50 this year.
  • Mint, Personal Capital, SavedPlus, and LearnVest earn spots on Fox Business’ list of “5 apps to help keep your 2014 financial goals.”
  • CodeSumBlog names BillGuard as its top financial management productivity app.
  • MasterCard completes acquisition of Provus, Turkey’s leading independent payments processor.
  • Google announces that customers can now activate their Google Wallet card via the mobile app.
  • CurrencyFair highlighted in New York Times column on Ireland’s tech start-up scene.
  • The Financial Post covers FinanceIt’s POS financing solution.
  • Expensify revamps UI and adds executive assistant permissions with new “Wingman” feature.
  • Forbes lists LearnVest, Personal Capital and BillGuard as apps for saving money.
  • Xconomy lists Jemstep and Personal Capital as two new online services to put you back in command of your 401(k).
  • TIO Networks acquires Globex Financial Services to add well-known & respected billers to TIO’s business.
  • Signifyd API adds fraud prevention to ecommerce platforms.
  • Saved Plus, Wallaby, FutureAdvisor, Wealthfront, and Level picked for CNN Money’s list of the 15 best financial sites and apps.
This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.

Finovate Alumni News– October 30, 2013

  • Finovate-F-Logo.jpgPayments News reports: PayPal Launches Startup Blueprint Program.
  • miiCard’s new directory API powers member lookup services to easily confirm ID and expand confidence online.
  • EyeVerify featured in local broadcast on Kansas City’s tech community.
  • GoBank, Moven, and Simple highlighted in Bank Marketing Strategy column on simplicity and bank product proliferation.
  • TradeKing CEO Don Montanaro weighs in on the SEC’s crowdfunding approval announcement.
  • Check releases version 6.26 of their money management app for Android.
This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.

Finovate Alumni News– October 22, 2013

  • Finovate-F-Logo.jpgUS Storage Centers and PayNearMe unveil convenient electronic cash payments for self-storage tenants.
  • Actiance expands partnership with ZL Technologies to deliver enterprise and public social data into unified archive.
  • Blackhawk Network to acquire InteliSpend Prepaid Solutions.
  • Cachet Financial Solutions launches CheckRisk Pro, a tool to mitigate RDC risk.
  • Netbanker: Simple to launch bluetooth-based P2P payments.
  • The American Bankers Association endorses Q2’s enterprise solutions for secure virtual banking.
  • Flint Mobile announces launch of swipe-free mobile payment app for Android.
  • Bloomberg Businessweek takes a look at Motif’s “design-it-yourself investing.”
  • TechWorld Australia features P2P currency exchange innovator, CurrencyFair.
  • Fenergo, Aite Group report: Capital market firms prefer centralized client onboarding.
This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.

Simple to Launch Bluetooth-Based P2P Payments

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I’m  glad I stayed until the end of Money2020. Some time after 5pm on day four (9 Oct 2013) of the biggest financial tradeshow since BAI Retail Delivery in Nov 2000 (see note 1), Josh Reich introduced two members of team Simple, Tom Wanielista and Collin Ruffenach. The duo proceeded to send each other the first Bluetooth-enabled payment I’ve ever seen. It looked a lot like a Bump payment, recently relaunched by Capital One 360, but without the awkward phone gyrations.

The feature is called MoneyDrop, built by Wanielista and Ruffenach, and allows Simple users within a few feet of each other to transfer money with a few finger swipes in the Simple mobile app. It’s easy to use, since other Simple users automatically pop up on the MoneyDrop screen when they are in range (see screenshot below).

The startup didn’t say when the service will be available to Simple’s 65,000 customers, but TechCrunch reports it will hit iOS first (iPhone 4S or above required) with Android in the pipeline.

Bottom line: MoneyDrop is similar to the Palm Pilot “beaming” service PayPal began in 1999, but then quickly abandoned for email p2p model (see note 1). The ubiquity of smartphones makes it much more interesting today. Still, the requirement that both users have a Simple account, and newer smartphones, limits its uptake for now (note 2).

While I didn’t know it at the time of the Money2020 session, Square was about to introduce a drop-dead simple P2P payment system (see Friday’s post). That’s a free and easy way for Simple customers to move money as well. It took just 3.5 hours in my test for money to move from my Chase debit card to my Simple account. Not as cool as instant MoneyDropping, but it works with any Visa/MasterCard debit.

Despite all that, I think it’s a great move by Simple. MoneyDrop provides a tangible leg up on other mobile banking apps, a moderate viral boost, and great publicity.

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Simple MoneyDrop P2P payment service (8 Oct 2013)

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Notes:
1. Retail Delivery topped out around 10,000 attendees (includes exhibitor staff) in 1999/2000. After just two years, Money2020 is at more than 40% of that.
2. A TechCrunch commenter noted that MoneyDrop also sounds like what stealthy Clinkle is planning to unleash on the world. Quite a coup if Simple beat them to market.
3. For more info on peer-to-peer payments (P2P), see our Online Banking Report issue devoted to the topic (Dec 2009, subscription).

Finovate Alumni News– October 10, 2013

  • Finovate-F-Logo.jpgBackbase on Track to Expand into UK Market. 
  • Arroweye Solutions launches EMV On-Demand.
  • ICBA Mortgage extends its agreement with D+H Mortgagebot.
  • InComm partners with Jackson Hewitt Tax Service to unveil new GPR card.
  • Digital Insight working with Delta Community CU to offer members digital banking services and solutions.
  • Guardian Analytics announces FraudMAP Connect, real-time collaboration platform & fraud intelligence community.
  • Cachet Financial Solutions launches new mobile money management application and platform, Select Mobile Money.
  • Equifax enhances underwriting decisions for lenders and businesses with release of advanced decisioning attributes.
  • Simple announces new MoneyDrop, instant P2P $$ transfer technology.
  • OnDeck ranked #20 in SellingPower Magazine’s 50 Best Companies to Sell For List.
  • Ven partners ValidSoft to secure virtual currency transactions.
  • SecondMarket CEO explains latest Bitcoin move.
  • Tyfone powers P2P m-payments in BVCU m-banking platform.
  • MasterCard joins Fast IDentity Online (FIDO) Alliance in support of innovation in online authentication.
  • Inaugural issue of FIS’s digital magazine FIS InMotion now available.
This post will be updated throughout the day as news and developments emerge. You can also follow all the alumni news headlines on the Finovate Twitter account.

Simple Revamps Homepage

image Sometime in the past few days, Simple swapped out its homepage for one befitting its name. A Google-esque white-on-white beauty that lets visitors do only two things (above the fold):

  • Request an invite by entering your email
  • Watch a 2-min video showcasing its platform (with great use case of saving/spending on new dog)

The record-low eleven words of copy focus on the basics:

  • No monthly fees
  • No min balance

Below the fold, prospective customers can gather more info as the homepage unfolds with more features an and benefits (see third screenshot).

Interestingly, if you’ve been to the site previously (as determined with cookies), you get a more stylized page promoting goal-based savings rather than the no-fee mantra (see second screenshot).

Bottom line: From a UI perspective, Simple is the Apple of banking, and its worth looking at how they pull off a very hip look online. This approach may not be right for your target audience, but there are lessons here for everyone in how to simplify website messaging, especially for first-time visitors.

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After: Simple homepage (above the fold), first visit (17 Sep 2013)

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After: Homepage, after first visit (above the fold)

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Before: Full Simple homepage (4 Sep 2013)

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After: Full Simple homepage accessed via vertical scrolling

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Note: For more info on Simple and other Truly Virtual Banks, see our Oct 2011 Online Banking Report (subscription).