BankSimple responds — or — Rachel is a human being

In my previous post I shared my wishlist for a 21st century bank, a response to BankSimple‘s beta signup confirmation email. Well, Rachel from BankSimple responded to my email (additionally I’ve received some tweets from BankSimple and employees). As someone who was around when The Cluetrain Manifesto was penned I still find it refreshing to encounter a company that “gets it”. So thank you, Rachel, BankSimple, @takeo, and @btmerr for conversing with me in a genuine voice. Thank you for asking to talk.

So Rachel isn’t a bot. Nor is she a mechanical turk, nor disinterested. Entirely the opposite. She’s a human with a sense of humor. And a self-professed Star Trek nerd.

Rachel’s response, followed by mine:

 

From: Rachel <rachel@banksimple.org>
To: Tim Taylor <tim@tool-man.org>
Date: Fri, 04 Mar 2011 13:44:57 -0500
Subject: Re: Thank You from BankSimple

Hey Tim,

Wow. Thanks for the thoughts! I can see why you opted to turn it into a blog post! (I was in fact going to comment on your blog post, but I didn’t know if you’d like that, and I wanted to make sure you knew the response was really coming from me. If you’d still like a comment, let me know! And of course feel free to use this email on the blog if you like [and if you post it, you have permission to also post my email address].)

On my worst days, I’m probably something like a clever bot (at best), but most days I’m a real, actual person sitting at a desk in Brooklyn. Today is one of those days. I’m wearing a purple dress. Hi. For the record, the email you received was just an autoresponder, but it’s a mashup of my and my colleagues’ real feelings about what we *really* want to know from our prospective customers. Yes, BankSimple was smart enough to hire people who *really, actually* want to HEAR from customers. On the days when the autoresponder has my name on it, I really do get all the responses to it in my inbox, where it takes me anywhere between a few minutes or a few months to respond. If people put a lot of time and effort into their emails, I try to do the same with my reply. My plan is to try respond to all of the 300+ people left in my inbox! Whew!

And the reason I’m responding to you now is not that you questioned my very existence on a blog, but rather that I really love Star Trek: TNG. I too believe matter replication technology will (eventually, after it fuels brutal, tyrannical oligarchies for awhile) bring about an end to poverty and greed, and lead to more societal equality. However, that would be out-of-canon (the United Federation of Planets was formed well before the advent of replication), and I’m honestly not sure whether I’m more philosophically committed to global peace and equality, or keeping things in the Star Trek universe straight. Toss up. Anyway, a discussion for another time.

I also have to say that it means a lot that you took this opportunity for introspection. We deeply value our customers’ passionate and thoughtful responses to our request for input. Even though we knew there would be a lot of ire out there toward banks, especially the big guys, I am kind of overwhelmed at how damn *constructive* people’s thoughts have been. It’s so great to know that we’ll have some really awesome customers who will appreciate small touches and hard work, but also keep us in check.

Anyway, on to your list:

- “If it feels like a chore I’ll eventually stop doing it” — YES. Taking off my banker hat (cough) and putting on my psychologist hat (COUGH), your email contained far too much financial management guilt! Of *course* managing your money is a pain in the butt. Of *course* it sucks. We very much aim to take the suck out of banking. We’re creating simple, easy-to-use tools that (we hope) are a joy to use. (I’m sure you’ve seen it, but in case you haven’t, please take a look at this article for more on our UX philosophy and how we hope it makes banking suck a lot less: http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663315/banksimple-wants-to-shake-up-banking-with-cutting-edge-ui-design)

- Yo famileh– You and Chuck should both make sure you’re signed up. One of the features we’re planning (but likely won’t have as we launch– soon after) is to have a way for couples to do exactly what you said– have separate accounts, but share expenses and save together for big purchases, and have a view of the “coupled” part of your account. In the meantime, you and Chuck (and anyone with a BankSimple account) will be able to easily and instantly transfer funds between your accounts.

- Outsourcing– Honestly, you are the first person I’ve had request a feature like this. We don’t have plans for anything of this nature, but I’d love to hear a little more about what you envision. How would it work? How might it be protected against fraud? How would you feel secure doing this?

- Automation– This is going to be one of the great strengths of our service, I think. Your automatic bill-pay with credit card will be set up more or less as you do it now. And even if you don’t set it up right away, your account will “learn” about your bill-paying habits, and make suggestions. For those payees who only accept checks, you can also set up your account to actually mail them an actual paper check each billing cycle. Don’t tell Chuck, or you’ll have to pay the electric bill ;)

- Needlessly separate accounts– You’ve got the right idea. Your account with BankSimple will be conceptualized as one basic account– some of which is being saved/hoarded/set aside, and some of which is safe to spend. If you spend more than you have in your safe-to-spend area, we’ll draw from the savings area. No fee; it’s all your money. The way you put it is right on- “my bank thinks I have 2 accounts, whereas I think of them as the ways I get money I already have to people via whichever method they’ll accept.”

- RESTful API– check! Join the Google Group here: https://banksimple.com/api/

- Mobile– We designed our service around the mobile app. You’ll be able to customize the alerts you receive, and you’ll be able to deposit checks via your smartphone. And view your transaction history, etc. It’ll also be used as a second authentication factor for certain things, like wire transfers.

- Rewards– We’re a little old-school on this one, to be honest. Most bank rewards programs are paid for with penalty fees like overdraft or foreign ATM fees. We won’t be charging those, and we think our customers will get a better experience if we aren’t trying to shoehorn them into this program or that. We’re building great tools to help you make the most of your money by spending and saving wisely. So you’ll still come out with more money in the long run (we hope)!

- Getting your statements– Honestly, I’m not sure yet exactly how this is going to work, but you will be able to grab all your transaction data from BankSimple, either by downloading it into some data format (like .csv), or by creating a .pdf of your history. As I said, the mechanism of this hasn’t been completely fleshed out, but your data won’t have to live in BankSimple exclusively.

- Smartphone payments– this isn’t currently in the works, but we know a lot of our customers want it, and we are keeping abreast of forthcoming technologies with an eye toward how we could make a feature like this secure, smart, and hassle-free.

*whew*!  Okay. Once again, thanks so much for your thoughts, and please keep in touch if you have any further questions/comments/rants/Star Trek references/etc. I just want to say again how much it means that you are willing to put in so much time to let us know what you want. I know that if you’re willing to be patient, and to grow with us, we’ll be the sort of bank you want. And our team is really, really amazing, so I wouldn’t put matter replication past them. Personally, I’m hoping for warp drive first, so that we can make first contact with the Vulcans by the canon date of 2063. (I didn’t even have to look that up. /nerd) I’m forwarding them this email to see if they can get on that.

Hearts and stars,
Rachel
BankSimple Customer Relations
rachel@banksimple.org

 

To: Rachel <rachel@banksimple.org>
From: Tim Taylor <tim@tool-man.org>
Date: Fri, 4 Mar 2011 15:31:02 -0500
Subject: Re: Thank You from BankSimple

Rachel,

Thanks for the thorough reply. Conversing with you and BankSimple evokes the memory of when I first read The Cluetrain Manifesto. I will post the follow up on my blog. Thanks for permission to use your email.

In case there was confusion, I was in no way offended by the auto-responder. Quite the opposite: the quality of the template gave me the strong impression there were real, interested people on the other end.

I took your request for my “loves, hates, quibbles, desires, hopes, and dreams…” literally. That largely unfiltered dump was more raw material for you to mine than prioritized list of must-haves, and clearly got dreamier the further I went. I knew of your plans for rockin’ mobile. I included that to affirm your choice to emphasize that. I missed the part about couples sharing until a more thorough exploration of your site after my email/blog post. I’m quite pleased to learn there’s an API. Overall, I’m feeling optimism that a clueful, (I’m assuming) agile company is going to get much closer to “right” for me than old-guard banking with their programmers chained to terminals, faces illuminated by amber glowing text.

The Outsourcing Idea

The outsourcing thing is more wish than fully formed idea. I’ve recently been introduced to the idea of using virtual personal assistants. I’m not sure I’d ever trust a VPA to my account, but what about an accountant? How’s that different than owning a business and hiring an accountant. That’s semi-rhetorical: if you’re smart then you’re an LLC or incorporated. But still, if you’re a small business owner, having your business tanked by an unscrupulous employee can be devastating regardless of whether they were isolated from your “personal” finances because you probably invested a lot of that into your business (especially in the early days).

So the theory in my mind, that granting some limited abilities to a third party (who isn’t my SO), could be an acceptable risk when compared to what I know happens (financial stress and struggle) without the help. The magic here is “limited abilities”. A system of permissions and limits and alerts, well, managing that could turn out to be just as complex as doing all the work myself. Fail. A simple solution might restrict the assistant too much so I still have much do to on my own. Fail. So I haven’t any concrete ideas on how this might work. I’m just back to wishing for the personal finance genie who’ll take care of my finances, always working in my best interest, while I code or play Angry Birds all day long.

So for now, I’ll hope that simplified banking with BankSimple will be easy-breezy, I’ll overcome my current avoidance issues, find an accountant or advisor who actually helps to simplify my financial life, and realize that the amount of actual work left for me is manageable, nay, enjoyable. I almost believe it’s possible, which is a big improvement from a few days ago when I hadn’t heard of BankSimple.

Joyously,
Tim
@toolbear74

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ronald Lewis
    Mar 06, 2011 @ 00:39:42

    Good stuff, Tim .Wonderful response from BankSimple. Just thinking about what they’re working gives me the chills. I know they’re developing an awesome banking platform. Banking will never be the same.

    Reply

    • Tim Taylor
      Mar 10, 2011 @ 17:35:04

      @Ronald my optimism oscillates between exuberant and cautious. Whether BankSimple succeeds (and I think they will), I’m immensely pleased they’re trying in the first place.

      Reply

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