Replacing Simple Bank
Almost everyone else is still a decade behind the soon-to-close neobank16 min read
NOTE: This article is being heavily reworked… I also recently got debit cards for many of these options and have been giving them more of a try. I’ll blast social media when I have a but update to share!
This sucks. BBVA US is closing Simple, migrating away from the revolutionary site and app to the BBVA US yet-another-bank-app. I’ve been talking about this a little bit on Twitter off and on, and have found a ton of other folks—including a Change.org petition—facing the same dilemma: what now? What can possibly replace Simple? So here’s my journey in looking for a replacement.
What Makes Simple Good?
I joined Simple soon after it launched as an invite-only beta in 2012, and it immediately replaced my previous big bank account. My wife joined when we got married, and we managed two individual accounts for a while. When Simple launched Simple Shared, we were first in line—nearly literally; we beta tested it as soon as they announced it. Over the past decade, we have come to love and depend on the awesome features and incredibly straightforward experience of Simple.
Here’s how we currently use Simple, and the four things we value most:
1. A Bank, First and Foremost
So technically, Simple—and most online “banks”—will tell you they are a banking service and not explicitly a bank; in Simple’s case, BBVA US handles the actual bank side of things. But it was important to us that our online bank operated, well, like a bank. We were interested in a real bank account (with routing and account numbers), with real debit cards (e.g. provided by Visa or Mastercard), designed around being the primary way money comes into and goes out of our life.
This distinction is important in the modern age of “neobanks,” where so many are designed around cash advances, cryptocurrencies, penny investing, peer-to-peer transactions, merchant-specific perks, and a thousand other things that feel like they distract from the core of what a bank should be. Many of these neobanks also lack table-stakes features like check deposits or bill payment. Simple, on the other hand, has steadily added all the bank-like features we’ve needed to be our one and only bank account while living our financial lives as usual.
2. Excellent User Experience
Everything from the website to the notifications and emails they send, to—of course—the stellar mobile app are well designed and well thought out. It’s a classic case of deceptively simple, too; other banks have tried to copy the trendy design and typography, but don’t seem to be in the same league when it comes to the actual experience. Simple was good when it first came out, and they’ve constantly improved and refined it over the past decade.
The app is the big one, as it’s one of the few banking apps that closely follows native Android guidelines while having its own distinct look and feel. It’s fast, smooth, easy to do everything you can possibly do with your account right in the app. It also supports the system dark style out of the box.
Seriously, user experience is mainly where all other banks are years behind.
3. Simple Shared + Personal accounts
Simple started with personal accounts, but added well-integrated Shared accounts a few years ago. Shared is a bank account with its own account number under the hood (though you don’t have to think about that). Its balance, transactions, goals, and expenses are visible to both users, and each person has a designated Shared debit card in addition to their personal debit card.
By default, my wife and I each log into our account and see the Shared account. When one of our Shared cards is used, we both get a push notification with the merchant and amount, and the transaction is tagged with the profile picture of whoever’s card was used. This is where all incoming money (i.e. paychecks) go, and from where the vast majority of debits are made.
We use our personal accounts as our own pocket money. Simple has easy instant transfer to/from Shared and Personal accounts, so part of our budget is a small amount of money that we transfer from Shared into each of our Personal accounts with each pay period. We then use our Personal balances however we see fit, whether it’s for videogames, impulse purchases, personal subscriptions, or saving up for larger personal purchases that we don’t justify including in our Shared budget. We also transfer our gift giving budget for one another (i.e. for birthdays and Christmas) into our Personal accounts to avoid spoiling gift purchases. We each have our own Personal debit card for this discretionary spending.
4. Goals + Expenses
Goals are where you set aside money (like cash in an envelope) for expected purchases that month, or save money for longer-term expenses (like contributing some money each month to an end of the year Christmas budget). Simple always defaults to showing your “Safe-to-Spend” balance, which is your account balance minus any Goals or Expenses. Under the hood, transactions come out of your actual balance (and thus the Safe-to-Spend), but can later be marked as coming out of a Goal.
My wife and I use a “zero-based budget” with “envelopes” in the form of 31 different Goals. Some of our Goals include Restaurants, Groceries, Home supplies, Auto maintenance, and “sinking funds” for things like a self-insured vision fund (for contacts or glasses), and smartphone upgrades/replacements.
Expenses are a newer feature of Simple, and they’re like automated Goals. They’re automatically-funded and withdrawn-from buckets of money for known recurring things—and they’re even pay-period-aware, only setting money aside when your paycheck actually comes in, and managable based on your pay schedule. You can choose a specific merchant or category to come out of any given expense.
We have 20 Expenses for things like rent, Internet service, and subscriptions like YouTube Music and Disney+. This means we can set and forget these things; the Expense is “filled” when we are paid, and then the transactions automatically come out of the appropriate Expense when we’re charged.
We generally keep our Safe-to-Spend at $50–100 as a buffer for any small, unexpected things. But it is effectively a zero-based budget, and all managed within the Simple app thanks to Goals and Expenses.
Here are the alternatives to Simple that have been recommended to me (or that I’ve found), and how they measure up compared to Simple. Spoiler alert: nothing is quite on the same level yet.
Looks slick, but no shared/joint account support; however, Shared Pockets might work! Doesn’t appear to be as much automation as is built into Simple Expenses, though.
✔️ Designed to be a bank service, nothing else. The default view in the app is your Pockets of money and recent transactions, another tab houses ways to move money (transferring in our out), and another tab shows details including your profile, card information, liked accounts, and statements. It’s all very much bank stuff, and that’s it.
✔️ Great app design; feels distinct and native on Android. No dark style support at the moment though. 🙈️
❓️ Shared Pockets between personal accounts instead of a joint Simple Shared account; but I still need to see if this is workable as a replacement.
❓️ Pockets for envelope-style budgeting (replacing Simple Goals). But it sounds like you have to mark your card as spending from a Pocket before the transaction, which would be a huge pain for e.g. online purchases and recurring charges; I’m waiting to learn more. I also have to look into Pockets and their automation more to see if they can replace Simple Expenses.
One sounds really close, and for some, it might be a workable replacement to Simple. But personally, marking a card as spending from a Pocket before the transaction goes through sounds untenable.
Probably the best-looking app on the surface. Only 2 “Spaces”—nowhere near equivalent to the unlimited amount of Goals and Expenses in Simple, nor our 31 Goals and 20 Expenses in use. Bummer.
✔️ Mostly just bank stuff in their app and on their website; the home tab has your balance and quick actions, the Spaces tab shows your envelope-style buckets of money, and the Cards tab shows your debit card information along with account numbers and some account-related actions. There is an Explore tab that shows some cashback perks and other partner offers, but it’s pretty limited—and doesn’t feel like it’s trying to take over the whole app.
✔️ Great app design; feels native on Android and feels really well thought out. Automatic or manual dark style, plus interesting, innovative features like “discrete mode” where dollar amounts are hidden when you wave your hand over the screen (enabled with the proximity sensor).
❌️ Joint/shared accounts not mentioned anywhere in their docs or app. The personal account doesn’t appear to inter-operate with other personal accounts, either.
❌️ Spaces are limited to two. While Rules exist for automating Spaces, it’s not practical to replace Simple Expenses since it’s so limited
If you’re looking for a very, very simple personal replacement for Simple, N26 might do it for you. I am considering using it for my personal pocket money if I don’t find a complete replacement for Simple Shared + Personal; but for anyone using more than two goals or expenses, it’s not an option.
No information on their website or help center about joint/shared accounts, so unfortunately not looking like an option. They do have group “Vaults” and group-pay for bills, so it might be worth looking into more.
❌️ Not a bank service up front; Revolut seems to be designed around international travelers and currency conversion. You can dig deep in the app and find an account and routing number, but there is so much going on: a “Wealth” tab hawking cryptocurrencies alongide savings “Vaults,” peer-to-peer payments and bill splitting, tons of third-party offers and rewards that opt you into marketing emails and push notifications, travel features like access to airport lounges, and then the near-constant upsell to pay a monthly fee for a “Premium” or “Metal” account with even more features. It’s all a bit overwhelming.
✔️ Extremely polished app and design; it’s very trendy, relatively well organized even with the tons of functionality packed in, and has plenty of slick and smooth animations that help communicate the spatial design. Automatic or manual dark style support.
❌️ Joint/shared accounts not supported, though they have group “Vaults” and group-pay for bills. Personal accounts exist, if you can find the account details. Peer-to-peer transfers do help two personal accounts interoperate.
❓️ Category-based budgeting plus Vaults for expenses and saving. You can set a budget for different categories per-month, and you can transfer money in and out of Vaults. But the categories are really limited, and you can’t associate a transaction with a Vault; you have to manually transfer money out of it.
Update: After initially looking into their exceptionally slick app, someone shared this with me: Revolut insiders reveal the human cost of a fintech unicorn’s wild rise (Wired). Given that, I’ve lost interest in pursuing them more.
No joint/shared accounts.. They are also in the middle of a class-action lawsuit due to a multi-day outage, which sounds pretty rough and turned me off from spending much time with it or transferring much money in to try it out.
✔️ Designed to be a bank based on their website, app store listings, and available screenshots. The Home tab shows your balance and recent transactions, a Move Money tab houses transfers, a Pay Friends tab handles peer-to-peer payments, and an ATM Map helps you find places to withdraw cash.
❓️ Okay app that I didn’t spend much time with (see above). It seems well laid-out, but doesn’t feel entirely at home on Android. And no dark style support; it’s blinding white all the time.
❌️ Joint/shared accunts not supported, though they say they’re aware of the want and working on a solution. While peer-to-peer transfers exist, there doesn’t seem to be any way to share a balance between two people.
❌️ No envelope budgeting. Chime offers a Spending and a Savings account, but no envelope- or Goals-style budgeting tools.
Chime might work for an individual account without budgeting needs, but it just seems too barebones for me.
Looks interesting—based around the envelope budgeting style like Simple, but is in beta. Qube Couples has not launched yet.
✔️ Designed to be a bank with only checking and saving bank-related things presented in the app.
❌️ Not a fan of their app, as it seems simultaneously dated and over-designed. I kind of feel like it’s an iOS port or something, as the design patterns don’t feel at home on Android. No dark style support.
❌️ Qube Couples is supposedly in the works, but not available yet.
❓️ Qubes appear to be some sort of envelope-like system using virtual card numbers, but it isn’t as seamless as Goals or Expenses.
Qube looks like it could be a contender some day, but I would not recommend it in its current beta state; too many base features are missing.
Cash App was initially a barebones peer-to-peer payment app launched by payment processor Square, but it has grown into an interesting potential bank replacement for some people.
❌️ Not a bank, though—it’s still built around peer-to-peer payments with “investing” via Bitcoin or stocks bolted on. You can get a debit card to spend your balance, and can find the account and routing numbers under the hood for things like direct deposits or transfers. But it’s clearly not designed to replace a regular bank.
✔️ Well-designed app that has blossomed from an almost brutally-minimalist peer-to-peer app to something that helps you manage your balance and card, send or request money, and invest.
❌️ No joint support, though peer-to-peer payments do make sending money back and forth easy and instant.
❌️ No budgeting tools whatsoever.
If I were to use one of these apps as a pool for my own pocket money alongside a joint account, it would be Cash App thanks to its simplicity—plus most people I need to pay have it as well, making it instant to pay people back or request a few bucks for something.
One of the earliest and most popular peer-to-peer payment apps, Venmo was bought out by PayPal but continues to be its own thing.
❌️ Not a bank; built around social peer-to-peer payments. Like Cash App, you can get a debit card to spend your balance, but it’s clearly not designed to replace a regular bank.
❌️ Confusing app that doesn’t feel native to Android at all. I feel like it used to be more straightforward, but the latest design update since it was bought by PayPal made it feel like a poorly-ported iOS app, and it’s very confusing to use—even without a whole lot of functionality here.
❌️ No joint support, but again, instant peer-to-peer transfers are here.
❌️ No budgeting tools whatsoever.
At this point, Venmo seems to only be convenient if you have others in your life who use Venmo and are willing to put up with the convoluted app. But I’d recommend Cash App for a much better-designed app and service.
These options were recommended to me or came up in my search for a replacement, but haven’t launched yet or didn’t meet the bar for me to actually sign up and try them out.
Looks nice, but no joint account support.
Seems focused on cash advances and side hustles which isn’t appealing to me at all. No information on their site about shared/joint accounts or anything like Simple Goals.
Qapital charges $3/month for their basic savings features, $6/month for a debit card and investment features, and $12/month for their “Master” plan with “Money Missions” and early access to new features. I didn’t sign up just to try it out, so I don’t feel comfortable judging it alongside the options I did try.
Not launched in the US; on a waitlist system.
Not yet launched; coming this year.
Every local one has the same decade-old looking mobile app and don’t support anything like Simple Goals or Expenses.
So that’s where I’m at. I’m currently looking more into One Finance, as it seems like the best option I’ve found. It’s also possible the BBVA US app will be fine if they find a way to transfer over the Goals and Expenses from Simple, but I’m not that optimistic.
I will continue this search and update this post with more details and options as I get them!