Thursday, September 15, 2011

An Open Letter to BankSimple

On January 18, you impressed me when Rachel Giuliani from BankSimple wrote an email to me unexpectedly asking me for my "loves, hates, quibbles, hopes and dreams" regarding my financial life. Her email seemed surprisingly personal coming from a bank I had signed up to be part of a beta test several months earlier. In her letter, she piqued my interest when she told me she represented a 'new' bank that was committed to building the best possible customer service without surprises.

Her timing was great since I had been a bit upset with my current bank. Not only had my bank changed their fee structure without a clear notification, but they seemed to be looking for new ways to generate fees for actions I had become accustomed to not paying for. Sure, I could avoid the fees as I had in the past by maintaining a steady balance in my account, but even that had been raised to a level that really didn't correspond to the value I felt I was receiving from the bank.

You made it so easy for me to respond to Rachel's email since she even provided her email address ( And, as opposed to feeling like my response would end up in some black hole of customer service or would be responded to by a person not even named Rachel, it was easy to see that my new pen pal had been hired just a week earlier as the first of two customer service representatives to provide 'brilliant customer service'.

I was definitely impressed that almost immediately after a wrote my email to Rachel late at night, she responded within 10 minutes! I was falling in love with your bank even though it hadn't opened yet. I was so impressed that I immediately tweeted about my experience, spoke about my dialogue with Rachel at conferences, and posted a blog entry about my new friend from your bank on this site (A Little Note From Bank Simple, January 18, 2011). That blog post generated by far more traffic than any post I have done before or after. Talk about word of mouth marketing (WOMM)!

As with any new relationship, there were some of my friends (Ron Shevlin) who were naysayers. They said it I was getting my hopes up that the communication between Rachel and I would continue. They said that the proof of a good relationship is in the long term communication and caring, and not just a single series of emails. They said I was getting my hopes up that I had found a new bank and that I might be setting myself up for being disappointed.

I am starting to believe they were right. Not only has Rachel seemed to move on to other friends as your team has grown, but the promises of a great, new banking experience that she spoke of remain just a promise. Maybe my optimistic personality got the best of me again. Sure, your leader Josh Reich tells me about the fact that you have received a lot of new funding and that you have found new corporate partners in Visa, some banks and even TXVia. You even got my hopes up when you hired Alex Payne from Twitter. but it has been 6 months since Rachel last wrote and the only time I hear about BankSimple now is through traditional press releases and trade publication interviews.

Much like in the movie Jerry Maguire, where Renee Zellweger says that Tom Cruise 'had her at hello', you really had me at 'simple'. But now, there are other banks that are starting to look a lot like how you once looked. You have competition in existing banks like Ally, and ING where there are no fees, easy access and even interest on my accounts. You also have a new competitor coming down the road that is compared to you every time they talk to industry insiders. Brett King's MoveNBank seems to be looking for friends also, allowing me to be part of their beta group in 2012. There are some of my friends like Jim Bruene from NetBanker who wonder if MoveNBank may even 'outsimplify BankSimple.

So when is Rachel, Josh, Alex and the rest of your team going to let me see more than promises? I know you have moved to a new headquarters, but to say I am ready is an understatement. Since January, my old bank (yes, I switched once already) has raised fees and cut back the value they provide again, with many of the other large banks following suit thanks to Durbin and other pressures.

If you are not quite ready to let me kick the tires or take your bank for a ride around the block, the least you could do is have Rachel write me again and assume me that our potential relationship is still alive. Otherwise, I will consider the great communication 6 months ago a nice experience, but also another lesson that all banks are alike when it comes to customer service and promises. They love to tease you, but when it comes to delivering on a promise, they fall short.

Please write.

If not you, maybe some of my blog followers can either assure me that I should remain patient or that I should move on.


  1. The following is a copy of my email response from Rachel at BankSimple

    Hi Jim,

    Saw your blog post. I just wanted to let you know that we're on the same wavelength. We're actually planning to send out an update email soon-- after the upcoming Finovate conference, at which we'll be doing a demo. We are sensitive to the fact that a lot of people have been waiting for a long time. We know we have ardent fans who are hungry for something better, and believe me, we feel it every day. You're right: part of our challenge will continue to be not just updating people on what's going on, but keeping them feeling a human connection. Given that we're heads-down working and that we don't want to send people fluff that looks like we're trying to tide them over, it's been a delicate balance.

    That said, the majority of people who've signed up for BankSimple probably don't want to hear from us too much until we can say "it's ready!", so we really want to make sure updates we do give are substantive. We don't want to continually parrot "we're working hard, we'll launch this year." It's very much the truth, but we want it to be meaningful when we say it. For nitty-gritty updates, we've got Twitter and the blog, and of course we keep in touch with people who email us with questions and concerns. And we really are launching later this year!

    Please feel free to get in touch with me if you want to discuss this any further :)

    BankSimple Customer Relations

  2. Posts like yours will help them Jim. They can still save this in terms of customer engagement and yes, Social Media bank launches are certainly new, but as a new golden rule it seems that semi-stealth, uber hyped pre-launches really shouldn't span over two years to keep momentum.

  3. The key will then be whether the actual introduction and entity lives up to the 24 months of hype. There have been more blog posts by them and a bit more media hype. It sounds like Finovate may be the official kick-off. Then right on their tails will be MovenBank.

    Fun stuff.

  4. Let's also remember that although they are promising a lot, they aren't the underlying bank. They are partnering with other banks. Seems like that could also end up causing them some major problems.

  5. Great point. If all you are doing is creating innovative portals to another bank's services with a low cost pricing model, how long can you maintain a differentiated edge over those firms with deep pockets (big five), direct access (Ally, ING/Capital One, USAA) and value positioning (Schwab, Huntington). Also, how needy for deposits will their bank partners be in the long run if nobody borrows. Much out of their control.

  6. Banks really do need an uplift in their image on all fronts.

    I am looking for a bank that cares about its image enough to put the customer first and profits second.

    Of course, the outcome will be much bigger profits and low marketing costs as everyone talks about them and trusts them.

    And when I find that bank I will show them how to lend in a new way that has never been tried before and that is safe for the borrower.

    The public does not just need respect from the banker. They also need competence.

    Anyone wanting to know what my competence is can email me or they can study my blogs to find out all about this.


    There you will find an awesome new view of the future - how borrowing and how savings and pensions can be made so much safer than now.