[Includes updates after using One for four months; scroll to bottom.]
January 7th brought disappointing news to a small contingent of bank users in the US -- Simple, a clever fintech banking experience, informed users it was over. The email was blunt, pointing to BBVA USA (the current back-end housing Simple's deposits) as having "made the strategic decision to close Simple".
This was met with a resounding, gutteral sigh from several of us who had been around since the beginning days in 2009. According to the New York Times, Simple had acquired 20,000+ users and aggregated $200MM in transactions by 2013, likely catalyzing it to be acquired by BBVA USA in 2014. The draw of Simple was its experience -- thoughtful in every aspect, the bank was designed to be helpful to users managing their money. It set itself apart immediately from others in the space and, even to this day, has outclassed competitors in its holistic experience and feature set. (There is likely an obvious explanation why.) With Simple, you could:
- Manage checking and "protected" accounts (essentially savings) in an integrated interface
- View transaction-level data that has apparently been available to any bank forever, but no one cared enough to share, like time of transaction render and location information, and permitted editing vendor name, categories, hashtags, and memos
- Provided a programmatic envelope-divvying system in two ways:
- Expenses, which could be automated to align to date-specific goals that would expense out on a recurring basis (including completion tracking), and pull from direct deposits or other income sources to fund
- Goals, which could be set up ad hoc to dump money in, or aligned to long-term goals with manual/auto-investments daily/monthly to meet the target funding
- Safe-to-Spend, a calculated figure indicating the remainder in your available funds to use outside of Expenses and Goals
- Any transaction could also be aligned/tagged to these Expenses and Goals, allowing for even more organization around money flow and budgeting
- The beauty of this whole system was that it was native to the bank: Goals, Expenses, and Safe-to-Spend were all virtualized over a basic checking account. This was the magic of its execution.
Simple was, and will continue to stand as, the best banking experience ever designed. Alas, a good thing had to come to an end, evidently. When BBVA USA was acquired by PNC very recently, it came as no surprise Simple was getting shuttered. It competes directly with PNC Bank's other products, and likely interferes with brand building. We'll assume the acquisition was userbase and assets.
And so I, like many others, have been looking elsewhere. The banking and fintech landscape has changed significantly in this past decade, but seemingly has not changed much at all in what's uniquely on offer for banking solutions. An influx of new, flashy banking brands have cropped up in much the same way and variety that millennial DTC brands have been bootstrapped through Red Antler's identity marketing program. That includes the omnipresent Chime, but who offers few value propositions aside from early paycheck deposits (like many others now) and, at this time, a decent APY on savings (0.50%). But their fee-free and overdraft-free account programming isn't anything revolutionary. Many have this now. And it's not compelling enough to switch a discerning Simple user.
I've spent a good deal of time scouring Reddit, fintech industry sites, and Twitter to seek the best alternatives. There has been an enormous amount of other folks’ goodwill towards this research, and I'd like to point out one Reddit user in particular who has compiled a comprehensive comparison list of several alternative "neo-banks", alternative banks, and fintech software layers to traditional banking.
I finally found something that should work.
One Finance Review
In all, there isn't a direct replacement for Simple. Nothing does what Simple has done for years, and there's only one bank that comes close: One Finance. But first... there are a couple solid contenders that could evolve in the right direction:
- Envel.ai: has the smarts and the talent backing it, uses envelope-based budgeting as a core component, but the hokey, emoji-heavy aesthetic, and the questionable approach of surrendering your money to AI autopilot “learning” was discouraging.
- Astra: Impressive automation software that layers on top of banking accounts (using Plaid integration only for now, which prohibits some banks) primarily to permit the user to program the movement of money between institutions with instructions like "every two weeks move $from to __". This works, in theory, with any traditional bank you may use, and in practice, this might work for some folks, coming the closest to Simple's recurring expensive and goal funding. It falls short, however, in being a layer atop of bank (not native), not yet being able to recognize income deposits (e.g., paychecks) and then move specified money to the appropriate accounts (only percentage-based). You also can't assign expenses against labeled budgets once they’ve gone through, which was an intrinsic component of managing and organizing in Simple.
- Huntington: One of the national banks actually does feature some smart integration on saving goals and budgeting within its checking and saving accounts, including MoneyScout that auto-saves money from transactions (essentially a “round-up” based on spending habits and cadence), and Savings Goal Getter, a way to divvy up multiple savings buckets for things like vacations. While these could work as an alternative to envelope budgeting, they still don’t allow for the customization of a recurring or transaction-assignments methodology.
One Finance was appealing enough to try, and immediately made the most sense once inside the platform. A short summary of what works well and helps rationalize why I went with this alternative:
- Sub-accounts called Pockets operate as distinct money budget envelopes, with the bonus of having their own unique routing + account number (permitting secure, literal connections to, say, utility bills or investing accounts), and with the bonus of being able to share this with other users (say, your spouse, in an alternative to joint accounts)
- Auto-save (up to 10% of your direct deposit) in an industry-leading APY (3% at this time) or deposit into a strong 1% APY normal savings account (up to $25K)
- Ability to attach your debit card to any given pocket at any time, providing extra security and budget-conscious usage of payment structures (virtual cards coming soon)
- Uses Coastal Community Bank as the back-end, a small regional outfit in Washington. There have been guarantees that there's no intention to attach or sell itself to larger national banks that could wind up putting One in a similar situation as Simple once it was passed from Bancorp to BBVA.
- Incredible goodwill and outreach to the Simple and bank alternative community on the OneFinance subreddit. They've been adamant about intaking community feedback and ideas, and re-engineering their feature roadmap, including a priority of recurring fund movement into Pockets ala Goals/Expenses.
- Checks the other expected boxes of no-fee ATMs (within the Allpoint network), no blatant/overdraft fees, early paycheck deposit, round-up transaction to savings, and a low-risk credit line if these things are of use to you.
Overall, One Finance has an altruistic approach to banking, including a lot of the transparent, no-bullshit values that echo Simple's philosophy. It helps that quite a bit of talent leading One is from Simple (their CEO led Azlo, Simple's sister bank) and similar derivatives. It isn't perfect, though, and it has a lot to prove in the months to come in how efficient and capable they are in meeting their ambitious roadmap. It's missing a significant amount of core features, which is why I'd still recommend having a traditional bank as a contingency plan/hedge on needing to do "normal banking tasks". While several of these are on the imminent roadmap, One currently (Jan 2021) doesn't have check deposits, recurring funding of Pockets, outgoing wires, outbound cash app integration (only inbound), physical checks, data exports, search functionality, or editing transactions (categories, memos, etc.). They aren't dealbreakers if you can bear with the early stages of a company carving its way in an ultra-competitive industry, but time will tell if they can meet their lofty aims.
If you're interested in giving One a shot, try it via either of these links:
➔ Affiliate Link (if you're inclined -- you'll get $50 after an initial $250+ direct deposit set-up)
➔ Non-Affiliate Link to Sign Up
Four Months In - Update
Since I opened an account, I've had several direct deposits from my salaried paycheck drop in (it truly does come a few days early due to the way they pull the trigger quicker than normal banks' ACH acceptance + transfer), have created a handful of Pockets (their version of envelope-budgeting), and set up payment structures with utility companies and investing firms where credit card payments don't work.
What I like:
Pockets. Simple, but also complex envelope-budgeting. You can share them with any other One user, and each one also has a unique account number, meaning you can securely share these with various companies you want to pull money from without risking security exploits or access to your entire account's funds.
Savings. A savings account with 1% APY (at this time) is unheard of. And the way the auto-savings works (a separate account for 3% APY with a max contribution of 10% of all direct deposits) is both a brilliant way to encourage and retaining savings habits, but also an incredible savings rate up to $25K).
Engagement. The team has been highly active on social media and answering thorough questions and feedback on One Finance's subreddit. It's a promising sign from an early start-up.
The team behind it. Ex-Azlo/Simple folks are contributing, and there have been initial promises that One won't face the same fate as Simple with a sell-off to a large national bank. 🤞
A transparent roadmap. This is excellent to see, and reassuring they’re committed to evolving the product over time, like most great software is. Why should the banking experience be any different?
What I don't like (but know will probably be solved for in their roadmap):
Lack of transaction search. [I'm using Monarch in the interim.]
Limited recurring transfer feature (monthly or every week/two weeks just don't cut it for how this should work). Astra does a superior job of acknowledging a deposit amount and moving xx or xx% to a designated place, but is delayed and clunky by comparison due to it being a third-party method and the fact that our current banking infrastructure is slow and cumbersome.
In a recent update on their roadmap, however, they are tackling this in what they’re calling the to their Money Movement update. So again, fantastic to see this be addressed, and so quickly.
Lack of authenticator app-based two-factor authentication (they have installed 2FA via text messages, and will be adding step-up authentication this summer, which is great).
Overall, I'm pleased with the switch and look forward to its future. They've already made good on a number of short-term roadmap promises. Here's a raised glass to them rounding out the feature set this year.