First Look: BankSimple's iPhone App Aims To Reimagine Your Money

BankSimple CEO Josh Reich gives Co.Design an exclusive preview of its mobile interface—and explains how sweating the details of decimal-point placement pays off in user experience.

BankSimple has gotten a lot of buzz since we first wrote about its user-friendly design philosophy back in March. With good reason: The user experience of online banking is wretched. As BankSimple CEO Josh Reich tells Co.Design, "Banks make the most money when you make mistakes." His bank is designed for the opposite purpose: to help you better understand your personal finances so that you can actually accomplish your goals. He gave Co.Design a tour of BankSimple’s soon-to-launch iPhone app, which was so important to BankSimple’s strategy that they designed it before the desktop browser version.

After unlocking the app with a PIN (this is your banking information, after all), the user is greeted with a friendly, clear list of transations auto-categorized by BankSimple, with the firm’s signature "Safe To Spend" figure highlighted in a red box at the top. "There are two main reasons people want to look at banking info on their mobile device," says Reich. "Number one: what’s my balance, and number two, has my paycheck come in? In other words, 'can I afford this?'" Tap the Safe to Spend box and the display drops down to display a brief summary of how BankSimple calculated it. After all, if you’re using BankSimple to tell you whether or not you can responsibly spring for that fancy dinner or new gadget, you need to trust it — so having app’s signature feature "show its work" is a savvy UX move.

According to Reich, BankSimple’s designers sweated details down to the placement of individual decimal points. "The typeface is Gotham, with a proper numeric format that ensures that all the decimal points in the figures line up exactly," he effuses. "That makes the magnitudes of the numbers easy to visually assess when you’re scrolling through a long list on a small screen."

Making sure that the app updates itself in real time was also critically important to the design. "We want to close the haptic feedback loop with purchases," he says. "When you swipe your debit card, we want you to be able to see the effects immediately in our app—not an hour or a day later." This, too, builds trust in that central "Safe to Spend" feature.

Other subtle-but-genius interface details include automatic geolocating of transactions—"all banks have this, but they just throw it out," says Reich—so that if you can’t remember the details of a purchase from the written description, you can call up a map of exactly where you were when the transaction happened. This also reduces annoying false positives in fraud detection "because you have your phone with you while you’re transacting, and our app knows where you are," Reich explains. No more pulling out your debit card while on vacation only to find that your bank has accidentally locked it out.

Reich says that BankSimple adopted its "mobile first" design strategy not only to address the obvious use cases, but because "it’s a good creative constraining device. What are the bare essentials that we have to get right?" There are a few more features being added to BankSimple’s app before launch (including mobile check depositing), but if this preview is any indication, they’ve gotten a hell of a lot more right than their competition ever will.

[Read more about BankSimple]

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  • Nospam

    What about information sharing? Marketing and advertising opt-outs? Tracking opt-outs? Sure, it's got a sleek UI, but to get my business, I want to know you're not compiling some massive and intricate profile on my banking and buying habits to be sold to the highest bidder for goodness knows how much more targeting, marketing, and spam to my post or email boxes. 

  • not god

    Finally someone's doing something innovative in this space to compete with Mint. Very cool, I'll be using them both.

  • Marcin Chłodnicki

    BankSimple - great start! Is that all you can imagine bank could do with an iPhone? UX is only a first step, I hope. Otherwise you'll gain an advantage of 2-4 weeks ahead of all the followers. It's not enough time to make their clients yours. Unless you won't stop for long where you are now. Cheers :)


    i like teh idea of iphone banking but i'm worried what might happen when my kids play with my phone and press just about every key possible.

  • guest

    It's a very smart design. I hope other corporations continue to take their cue from this type of idea. The only thing I don't really like as much as that it seems from the surface to have relatively little control for someone who would like to customize things or people who tend towards conventional budgets, but I haven't used it yet. I'm hoping that it might be something that exceeds my expectations. 

  • Garrick Zinecker

    Is there going to be and Android/WP7 version of the app? Very interested in this, but I do not have an iPhone, and I want the mobile experience as well as the desktop.

  • Carson J Gallo

    I've been 18 a little over a month, and my Bank Life has felt as long and complicated as The Da Vinci Code, this Bank is a God Send for me.

  • Ironshu

    Ugly? Really? Granted, it's somewhat minimal, but exactly what are you expecting (visually) from a banking app? Shouldn't minimalism and simplicity trump 'fancy' when it comes to dealing with your money?

  • Phil Larson

    Well I was more interested in BankSimple BEFORE seeing these ugly screenshots.

  • angelack

    They should acquire Lemon - merging the two together would make the entire experience of tracking transactions significantly easier and intuitive for consumers on the go.

  • robert411

    Reich says that BankSimple adopted its "mobile first" design strategy not only to address the obvious use cases, but because "it's a good creative constraining device. What are the bare essentials that we have to get right?" There are a few more features make $85/hour on the computer. like my sister sherry has been without a job for 7 months but last month her check was $7330 just working on the computer for a few hours. I started 5 days ago and am doing great! Read about it here: lazycash5.c@m(replace @ with letter 'o')

  • R.A. Bernardini

    Good article, John.

    Feel free to ignore  'Anemail'.  I did.
    He/she/ it is just having a bad hair day.

    The thinking behind this mobile interface is translated into good design.
    The concept of 'user-friendliness', which some here have argued is redundant to good design itself, is totally applicable for bank customers who can use this information to help in selecting the bank they want to handle their money - the ultimate reason for the work (and the article, no?).

    Thanks for your informative piece.

  • Shawn's app may not have a few of these handy features (maps, etc.) but accomplishes the same basic goal: keeping you on track with your finances. In fact, I'd say Mint's approach is far more robust, better-designed, and more article-worthy. 

  • Anemailnot5342347345767

    I have read a lot of these fastcodesign articles. All have been informative and interesting, until this one. It is comically bad over and over in a way that seems like it has to be deliberate. Did JP hate this assignment?

  • ripperzane

    I really love JP Morgan Chase's ability to do photo deposits. It may nopt affect my life on the daily, but it is super handy.