BankSimple is a fascinating case study in how to build a brand before you launch using social media and customer service — particularly for a financial services brand that doesn’t have the benefit of physical locations or “coming soon!” signs in neighborhoods.
Leveraging Facebook (bio: “Reinventing personal banking”), Twitter (bio: “Better than a bank”), key media coverage and hitting conferences, its cofounders have been busy beating the drum while getting ready to launch this year. It also helps that one of the executive team was one of the first employees at Twitter.
The BankSimple blog is simple and engaging, already talking up their customer service philosophy “B.C.” (Before Customers, that is).
Buzz about BankSimple surfaced last year as cofounders Josh Reich and Shamir Karkal pitched a “user-friendly electronic home for people's finances,” a virtual bank with no branches and no fees.
“The idea of starting it came from the realization that banks in America make money by keeping their customers confused. We realized that there was a business opportunity there," commented Reich to the Los Angeles Times.
With conventional banks reportedly collecting at least $24 billion a year in overdraft fees, BankSimple’s vision is indeed simple: “Personal banking from a company that respects you.”
"Most people have a horrible relationship with their banks," observed Alex Payne, the former Twitter employee who’s now BankSimple’s CTO, to Fast Company. "We wanted to make the experience a lot more human."
So they focused on the user experience -"human-ness," "plain, simple language," and "no surprise fees, ever."
It’s not an actual bank, but a purely digital, virtual brand: a customer-service/interface for "back-end banks" (Payne’s description) and product focus on flexible spending accounts and pre-paid cards. BankSimple partners with chartered banks who provide FDIC-insured products.
"This isn't itself new — companies that offer prepaid cards have worked in this way for 10 years," Payne continues, "but we're presenting ourselves with a suite of services more like what traditional banks actually offer. We want you to point your direct deposits at us, pay your bills with us, transfer funds with us. We want to be the card you pull out to buy groceries or coffee."
A BankSimple account and BankSimple debit card will replace your existing personal bank account for deposits, withdrawals, paying bills, and earning interest, online or on your smartphone – real-time.
Features like a Safe-to-Spend balance display helps make wiser purchase decisions – factoring typical monthly expenses, predicting upcoming income and bills and calculating what’s left.
BankSimple is also exploring social features like enabling friends to split transactions. They’re also investing substantially in call centers for responsive CSR.
They’ve been testing with friends and family and have more than 30,000 people signed up for the beat-testing. They’re just waiting on banking cards to arrive so their customers can put them to use at 35,000 Allpoint ATMs for free at 7-11 branches and other drug and convenience stores.
“It sounds like a good plan. Marry the utility of PayPal with user experience of ING Direct. Throw in a little Mint-like design and some Twitter hype, and it's a VC's dream,” wrote Jim Bruene.
One interesting requirement for any customer: they must have a smartphone, according to the FAQ. “We do require that all customers have smartphones. We believe that we can deliver the best end-to-end experience to smartphone users. It also allows us to support remote check deposit and provides additional security and fraud prevention mechanisms. At launch, we will support iOS and Android devices. We will expand our device support to meet demand.”
Find out more in this video:
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