Cassidy’s Blog

There’s no good replacement for Simple

Alternatives exist, but they're all lacking in critical ways

17 min read

Replacing Simple Bank

Simple, one of the first and most popular “neo-banks,” is being shut down by parent company BBVA US. As a result of the news, Simple users have taken to social media, Reddit megathreads, collaborative spreadsheets, and—of course—a Change.org petition to deal with the fallout. I’ve spent the last three weeks alongside them, scrambling for a replacement to share with you.

Unfortunately, there really isn’t one. Don’t get me wrong, many modern banking services have flashy apps, usable websites, and plenty of features—but none of them truly capture the deceptive simplicity of Simple.

What Makes Simple Good?

In a nutshell, Simple offers a somewhat opinionated banking service that is extremely straightforward to use, while packing in a lot of smart features under the hood. Things that I’ve gotten used to over the years like automatically showing properly-formatted merchant names, remembering edits to categories and transaction names for future transactions, and smartly “borrowing” from your goals to cover over-spending from your “Safe-to-Spend” balance are core to the experience, but so seamless that I forgot they are fairly complex under-the-hood. No potential replacement matches all of those features, let alone every single feature Simple offers beneath its slick surface.

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 near-decade, we have come to love and depend on both the features and incredibly straightforward experience of Simple.

For some context on where I’m coming from, here’s how we currently use Simple, and the four things I value most about it:

1. A Bank, First and Foremost

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, retail investing (stonks!), 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: a straightforward place to see your transactions and manage your spending/saving.

Many of these neobanks also lack table-stakes bank features like check deposits, a physical checkbook option, and 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 and Material Design 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 Android platform features like per-goal widgets, launcher shortcuts, biometrics, notification channels, and the system dark theme—basically a model Android app.

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.

Simple Shared

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 manageable 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.

How the Alternatives (Don’t) Stack Up

Given how Simple works, I’ve been searching since the news broke to decide where to go. Here are the top alternatives 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—at least yet.

One Finance

One Finance appears to be the closest to Simple on the surface—well designed, straightforward, and focused just on spending and saving. But it’s pretty far behind with features at the moment. On the upside, the One team have been very receptive to Simple converts on social media, are doing their best to explain the transition, and have published roadmaps and discussions of top-requested Simple-like features on the /r/OneFinance subreddit.

  1. ✔️ 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.

  2. ✔️ Great app design; feels distinct and native on Android. No dark theme support at the moment though. 🙈️

  3. ❓️ Shared Pockets between personal accounts instead of a joint Simple Shared account. It’s not exactly the same, but could work.

  4. ❓️ Pockets for envelope-style budgeting (replacing Simple Goals). Currently, you have to mark your card as spending from a Pocket before the transaction, which sounds like a huge pain. For online and recurring charges, the idea is that Pockets will get their own virtual card number, but that feature is still in development. Recurring transfers between Pockets—i.e. as an alternative to Simple Expenses—are also in the works.

One sounds really close, and for some, it might be a workable replacement to Simple today. But personally, marking a card as spending from a Pocket before the transaction goes through sounds untenable, so I’ll be waiting to see how these features develop before jumping in.

N26

N26 is one of the best-looking banking apps on the surface, and like Simple and One—it’s seemingly focused on the core bank features I care about. However, they only support two “Spaces”—nowhere near equivalent to the unlimited amount of Goals and Expenses in Simple, nor our 31 Goals and 20 Expenses in use.

  1. ✔️ 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.

  2. ✔️ Great app design; feels native on Android and feels really well thought out. Automatic or manual dark theme, 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).

  3. ❌️ Joint/shared accounts are not mentioned anywhere in their docs or app. The personal account doesn’t appear to inter-operate with other personal accounts, either.

  4. ❌️ 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 barebones personal replacement for Simple, N26 might do it for you. But for anyone using more than two goals or expenses, it’s not an option.

Revolut

Revolut was suggested to me more than once, but I think I don’t “get it.” It seems to be designed around international travelers and currency conversion, and the fact that there’s a bank account under the hood is coincidental. There is no information on their website or help center about joint/shared accounts, so unfortunately it does not appear to be a viable replacement for Simple Shared.

  1. ❌️ Not a bank service up front; designed around international travel, currency conversion, and retail investing. 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 alongside 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. Frankly, it’s all very overwhelming and the polar opposite of Simple’s straightforward approach.

  2. ✔️ 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 and manual dark theme support are here as well.

  3. ❌️ 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.

  4. ❓️ 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.

After initially looking into Revolut, someone pointed out a report of problematic working conditions at Revolut, which lead me to lose interest in pursuing them more. I don’t think Revolut is trying to be a drop-in replacement to Simple, but feels like it’s trying to be the everything-money-app for world travelers. If that’s what you’re after, it may be worth a look.

Chime

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.

  1. ✔️ 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.

  2. ❓️ 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 theme support; it’s blinding white all the time.

  3. ❌️ Joint/shared accunts not supported, though they say they’re aware of the feature request, and are 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.

  4. ❌️ 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.

Qube

Qube looks interesting, and is based around the envelope budgeting style like Simple, but it is still in beta. Qube Couples, an alternative to Simple Shared, has not launched yet.

  1. ✔️ Designed to be a bank with only checking and saving bank-related things presented in the app.

  2. ❌️ 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 theme support.

  3. ❌️ Qube Couples is supposedly in the works, but not available yet.

  4. ❓️ Qubes appear to be some sort of envelope-like system using virtual card numbers, but it isn’t as seamless as Simple’s 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.

Others Considered

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.

  • Peer-to-peer apps like Cash App or Venmo could replace Simple as a secondary bank account, or for an individual’s pocket money alongside a more full-featured bank. Because they’re focused on peer-to-peer payments and lack almost of of the “real bank” features, I would not suggest them for recurring payments or a primary bank account.

  • Current looks nice, but there is no joint account support, so I did not look into it very much.

  • Dave was suggested to me by a few people, but it seems focused on cash advances and side hustles which aren’t appealing to me at all. There is also no information on their site about shared/joint accounts or anything like Simple Goals.

  • Varo was another repeat suggestion, but again, there are no shared/joint accounts..

  • Qapital came up in my search, but they charge $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.

  • Monzo was highly recommended by friends in Europe, but they have not launched in the US; they’re on an invite waitlist system. From what I’ve heard, the US launch is fairly limited feature-wise when compared to Simple.

  • Google Pay Plex. Google’s upcoming “Plex” banking service is not yet launched. Perhaps it will be worth a look when it goes live later this year.

  • Credit Unions were mentioned a few times, but nearly every local credit union has the same decade-old looking mobile app and doesn’t support anything quite like Simple Goals or Expenses.

  • Over-the-top budgeting tools like Mint and YNAB were mentioned a few times, but they do not offer the same level of integration and simplicity as having Goals or Pockets built into your bank account.

Stick With Simple/BBVA US?

Simple announced that accounts will eventually be transitioned over to the BBVA US app and be serviced like any other account. Honestly, holding onto your Simple account as long as possible might be the best solution for now; your debit cards, bank account and routing numbers, and protected accounts will all continue to work the same for the time being. Once Simple or BBVA US announce a timeline and details for the transition, it will be easier to make a decision—and by then, maybe one of these replacements will have matured and caught up with Simple.