Simple: Future of Banking?

“Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!” is a common rallying cry among the Occupy Wall Street protesters. The deep-seated dissatisfaction with the current banking system has led to a public demand to create real change within the industry. It also points to a major question: how can you innovate in a way that empowers consumers?

BankSimple, now called just Simple, is an exciting possible answer to this question. It opened its doors to its first round of customers this week. Many of us at Wolff Olins are fascinated by the innovative possibilities Simple offers and its potential to turn the banking industry on its head.

Rather than imposing its own system of doing things, Simple is built on people’s existing relationship to and behaviors around money.

Everyone knows that they should keep track of their balance, save money and plan for the future, but how many people actually do it, and do it well? Diet! Quit smoking! Resist that new iPhone! It comes down to making better choices, but we all know temptation is huge and change is difficult. 

In some ways, the current system of banking is incentivized for people to fail. As CEO Josh Reich puts it in Fast Company, “Banks make the most money when you make mistakes.” Navigating the banking system is often an intentionally confusing and opaque process.

Behavioral economics tells us that businesses shouldn’t coerce or tell people what to do, but rather create an environment that nudges people to make better decisions. Simple creates an architecture that helps people make better decisions about their money. 

What Simple does is translate the numbers and jargon into meaningful, everyday terms. Instead of just laying out your “available balance” and “actual balance,” it tells you your “safe-to-spend balance.” Their insight is that the top reason people check their account is to see if they can actually afford to make their next purchase.

In a Fast Company article, Simple Creative Director Bill DeRouchey says, “We do that math for them. Our UX philosophy is, let’s do all that stuff – let’s make it nearly impossible for you to fail with your personal banking.”

It takes the personal finance dashboard of Mint to the next level.  As an alternative to traditional banking, with FDIC institutions as partners, Simple doesn’t only aggregate your existing bank accounts into easy-to-grasp infographics, but also acts as a trustworthy agent that legitimately seems to have your best interests at heart.

Occupy Wall Street and Bank of America debit fee fiasco demonstrates a deep frustration with – and skepticism of – the status quo. A banking alternative that empowers customers to change their behavior and achieve their money goals may be one part of the solution. In order to survive in the future, traditional banks will need to vastly innovate their offer in a way that puts the customer at the heart of it. 

(Melissa Andrada @themelissard)

Melissa Andrada is a brand and content strategist at Wolff Olins New York. 

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