Banking should be Simple

Despite another late night, I meet a friend for lunch ontime at 11:30 in the morning for more amazing tacos (and melon juice!). On the drive home, I listen to the convention's official keynote address by Bruce Springsteen that is being broadcast on a local radio station.

Carl doesn't work until 7 pm, so I drag him to see Girls at another free showcase. We park the car (for free this time!) on a side street and bike over to the same area as the previous night. The showcase is in an airplane hanger and it's hotter than hell in the metal can. For the very first time, I'm thankful that the sets are only 45 minutes long during SouthBy. Showcases have 5 bands on average, and most venues host 2 showcases a day. With setup time and sound checking, musicians only have time for about 6-8 songs.

I've seen Girls before at FunFunFunFest in November, but I'm more familiar with their music now, and I'm relieved when they encore with my favorite song "Hellhole Ratrace." The band sounds like a mix of Buddy Holly's vocals, beach-y guitar tremolo and the self-deprecation of Weezer. One of the 3 ladies from the backing choir belts out an earth-moving solo and the signature flowers on the mic stand get thrown out into the crowd. We're by the soundbooth watching our friend run sound, and I'm telling Carl about the lyrics, prompting him to pull out his journal. We hang around the venue, cooling off outside, more free stuff to be had. We try to make plans with the friend (a former Puebloan, incidentally) who is in town for one day only with the band , but he's hard at work so we leave in search of dinner.

The food truck industry gets noticeably bigger every time I'm in Austin. Carl says there wasn't a single one when he arrived 5 years ago, now there's parking lots full of them. I look around the loop of trailers for something unusual on the menus, but the fish and chips and malt vinegar are calling my name. Carl has an hour before he has to report to the coffee shop, so we stop by the convention center for Flatstock, an exhibit of graphic artists, mostly featuring posters made for well-known touring bands. The exhibit has just shut down for the day so he heads into work early and I head south over the Congress Street bridge.

Auditorium Shores is a great outdoor venue that can hold thousands of people. It backs to Town Lake (newly renamed LadyBird Lake, but no one calls it that, only maps) and downtown Austin. The tall buildings provide a stunning backdrop to the stage in various lighting situations throughout the day. During SX, free concerts showcase popular notable acts, and tonight, The Shins are headlining. The locals talk about the year prior when the Strokes were playing and people were trampled when the gates were closed to more entrants. Luckily, the amount of people avoiding the venue makes for a mellower experience that night.

James Mercer and crew play plenty of old sing-along favorites: "Phantom Limb", "Red Rabbits", "Young Pimgrims", "New Slang", "Saint Simon" returning to the stage for an encore with just-released "Port of Morrow", and closing out with the one I'm waiting for: "Sleeping Lessons". My life feels complete at that moment.

The bike ride back downtown is frustrating and I'm mostly walking it through the crowds, until a line of jaywalkers shut down car traffic and I break on through (to the other side), and about 5 other cyclists follow me, one who is yelling to me, "WE OWN THE BRIDGE!" over and over. I make it back to home base sweaty and grinning for another shot of espresso. Glancing at the daily Chronicle's event listings, I find a show nearby, another official showcase and walk over.

I arrive at Frank to a VERY long line that nearly scares me away, but it's for next door where Jack Black's Tenacious D is playing, and I walk right in to a nearly empty venue. I take a seat on the balcony and fall in love with yet another band. Southeast Engine sounds very slow, country and folky at first, but the pace picks up to upbeat, clean and bright melodies that remind me of Band of Horses, and local Americana band The Broken Spoke. "Preparing for the Flood" ends in epic fashion, with a driving piano and organ.

The next band in Misra Record's (also home to Great Lake Swimmers, Destroyer and Shearwater) showcase is R. Ring. I'm not so into their sound, so I make friends with the girl sitting alone next to me. However, half of the two-piece on stage is power woman Kelley Deal of The Breeders, and that's pretty cool. Even if I don't like their style, it's easy to see that they're good at what they do, like everyone at SX. The final band is Seryn, who played 2 nights in Pueblo and 1 in Colorado Springs to rave reviews.

By the time they start their set, the venue is completely packed full of people, all there specifically to see Seryn. There's 5 people on stage, and throughout the set, they each play several instuments, drums, violins, banjos, guitars, a xylophone, trumpet, and 4 part vocal harmonies. At one point, the members are using bows on all of the instruments. The easiest band comparison is to the Local Natives, and I'm completely blown away by the energy and emotion, just like I was when I saw the Local Natives open for Arcade Fire. Yet another total score for last minute ideas.

I walk back to the coffee shop in time for the 3 am closing time freak show. People are begging to be let in to use the bathroom or charge their phone, as Carl and Daniel are ushering people out the door. This is one of the times that I see how much people in the service industry hate this week, and I make a mental note to try to be nice and patient to everyone I buy something from. The boys get the door locked and invite me to join them up on the roof while they have a smoke break. It's a secret world up there, surrounded by beautiful, ornate buildings that used to be the heart of downtown. Back inside, I lay down on a couch and stay out of their way while they go about their routine. All the while I'm having a nostalgic moment, thinking a year back in time to when Carl and I tried to buy this place, realizing this place was almost mine. Passersby are pounding on the door numerous times, 2 girls decide to pop a squat on the offset threshold, drawing Daniel's ire. It's 4 am before we leave, nearly an hour late when we get home (frozen pizza and cereal in hand) to the 8 people who are sleeping over and 8 am before we all are calmed down enough for sleep.

I’ve yet to meet a single person who will give me a raving review about the company they bank with. Sure, there might be a few things the bank does well. Or a clerk that takes care of customers and is pleasant to deal with. But those statements are always followed with a statement covering the downfalls of that bank. Whether it’s excessive fees for no apparent reason other than charging a fee, or lack of Online bill pay there’s always something to complain about when it comes to banking.

Technology has a way of disrupting entire industries, flipping the business norm on its head and making people rethink how a particular industry should work. Just look at the pushback the popular taxi replacement service Uber has received as it launches in new cities. That list includes Denver where it’s fighting new targeted legislation that would put it out of business. Big business is afraid of change.

One industry primed for disruption is banking, and Simple is the company that plans on using technology to do make it happen.

Simple is a bank, but not in the classic sense. The only way to deal with Simple, be it depositing money, making a payment or balancing your account is to open an app on your smart phone. There aren’t Simple branches across the country in grocery stores and strip malls filled with unhappy employees. There’s a Web site, an Android app and an iPhone app. That’s it. If you want to deal with Simple, those are your options. And in our connected world, do we really need more than that?

At first, the idea of not having a branch to visit incase you really need something is a bit of a shock. But then you realize that you can get ahold of a real person, not an automated service, 24-hours a day 7-days a week by picking up the phone and dialing a phone number. Or if you’re shy and would rather communicate in a text message-like thread, Simple allows for that too.

Since there’s not a branch for you to visit when you need to deposit money, Simple has built check deposit software into the app itself. Simply (no pun intended) sign the check and include your account number on the back and then take a photo of the check. The entire process can be carried out from anywhere your smart phone has a signal. And of course Simple supports direct deposit from your employer, as most older banks do.

The thought of not having a physical branch to visit while a shock and a big change from the status quo isn’t something that will disrupt the banking industry. Where Simple really sets itself apart from traditional banks is its no fee approach. You won’t find ATM fees, transfer fees (excluding International transfers), over-draft fees, minimum balance fees or any-other-type of fees you can think of when you’re a Simple customer.

Simple is absolutely free.

In a time when most banks are trying to find ways to nickel and dime customers, creating new fees to increase its own revenue stream, Simple is giving banking customers a free alternative. And it promises to stay that way.

Alright so far we have free banking, no branches, smart phone apps and real people on the other end of the phone. All of which are great improvements over the current banking system, but there’s still more that can be done.

Simple allows users to tag, and categorize transactions. When you buy something from Starbucks, you can tag it with #coffee or a similar tag and at any given time you can view your spending habits for the tag. This tagging feature many not sound like a big deal, but once you’re adjusted to tagging transactions I don’t see how you’ll be able to go back to a normal bank statement.

After you begin using Simple you’ll have a feature called Goals enabled on your account. Goals allows you to set aside money for a specific reason. One example would be to buy a puppy. You can enter “buy a puppy” as your goal on the site, a dollar amount and the date you’d like to have the money set aside for it. Simple will then take your goal and make it happen. Every day you’ll see a set amount of money taken out of the “Safe to spend” category and put into the Goals category.

If you get into a bind and need the money you’ve set aside to pay for something, you can always spend it, but a psychological barrier is formed in your mind when you see money broken up into a safe and unsafe category; making it less likely you’ll spend past the safe zone.

What would a modern bank be without some sort of bill pay? Since Simple only provides its members with a debit card, and no physical checks, you can send checks to individuals and businesses in just a few taps on your phone. Again, there’s no fee for Simple printing off and mailing a check on your behalf, it’s just one of the many perks of being a member.

In the past I have ran into issues with banks having to mail a bill pay check for my because the business didn’t accept electronic payments. I would send out the check, marked for the due date, and that would end up being the day the bank sent the check. This would result in late fees and monthly calculations of when I needed to send the check for it to be received on time. With Simple, you let it know what day the bill is due on, and the check will be there on that date.

All of these features combined make for an appealing banking experience. There are shortfalls the company will have to overcome, such as the inability for members to deposit cash, and the lack of joint accounts (or a savings account if Goals just aren’t your thing), but it’s on the right path. Still in an invite only phase, you’ll have to visit Simple.com to sign up and wait to gain access. Or if you bump into me around town, ask if I have a spare invite to send you.

I waited 7 months for my invite to arrive, and it was well worth it.

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