If I weren’t doing this web and marketing gig, I’d be a banker. Why a banker? Because the opportunity to make a bank that doesn’t completely suck seems well within our grasp in 2014. At least it should be.
I’ve banked at a lot of different banks over the years, but I want to stay mobile and don’t want to get tied down to a bank that exists in one particular region. But I also don’t want a “Big Bank” like Citi, Bank of America, Chase, etc. I want something small, intimate, and operates like we do at SuperPixel.
For my personal checking I use Simple (I have invites, if anyone wants one). It’s a checking account with software that looks great, functions well, and even has built in saving features. So while not attached to a savings account I can have it sock money away for me and keep it out of my “Safe to Spend” balance. For example, I wanted $1,000 saved up for a rainy day between now and June 1. It’s tucking away about $5 a day for me automatically.
When I call Simple, on the rare times I need to call, someone picks up the phone. I can email them and get a response usually in the same day. They’ve staffed up, they support their customers, they take pride in their work and use their own service. In a sense, they operate exactly like me and SuperPixel on a service level.
So it’s a bummer they don’t support small business accounts. I get that there are laws, particularly after the Patriot Act, that put a lot of pressure on banks. I get that you have to rethink your application process to verify a business entity and the executive of the account. Simple says they’re working on it. I just wish it’d come sooner than later.
What small business banking needs
I went in search of the “Simple alternative for small businesses” and came up mostly empty handed. My requirements for a bank are straightforward:
- No fee checking for my LLC
- A Visa debit card
- Check deposit through my iPhone/camera
- I don’t ever want to have to go to a bank branch or office
- Online bill pay to people and companies (with or without account numbers)
- Fast email and phone response to inquiries and issues
Everyone needs a checking account, and so does every small business. We don’t have a ton of transactions each month, so I’m after something that’s free or very low-cost (like, $2-$3 a month max). I’m stashing money in a safe place at the rate of hundreds and a few thousand dollars at a time, not millions. I get that banks need to make money, but that’s what investments are for, not fees.
I also don’t think it’s unreasonable that I should be able to sign up for and fund the account without going to an office. I should be able to deposit a check through my iPhone’s camera and a bank app. We know the technology exists.
This is not how business banking and banks see it. To them, you either have to drag your check into the bank like a pilgrim or deposit it using a “convenient check scanner”. To a bank, this is “convenient”:
- Have a TWAIN-compatible scanner (what is this, 1991? This means no Doxie scanners or WiFi scanners.)
- Connect your scanner to a PC. No Macs. (Because Macs evidently aren’t for business?)
- Install the bank’s software for check processing.
- Upon scanning a check, lock and store the check securely for up to 60 days.
- Wait 2-3 business days for money to appear in your account.
On what planet does that seem convenient? This is the era of PayPal and instant money transfers.
The competition – SmallBusiness Bank, PNC Bank, and EverBank
I stumbled across EverBank.com and was intrigued by their high interest rates, great looking site and app, but the $14.95 a month fee is too much. SuperPixel is all about keeping prices low and that’s $14.95 a month we don’t have to charge a client if we don’t have to. EverBank has a low-cost checking account for low transaction volume businesses, but it’s not open to LLCs. I have no idea why not.
I’ve used PNC Bank in the past, but it’s regional and the phone support is slow at best thanks to a series of prompts and call centers. It’s not personal, and their services for business aren’t exactly attractive from a user interaction and experience perspective. Yet, given my issues with SmallBusinessBank.com, I’d probably recommend PNC’s free business checking. It’s just not good enough to warrant switching.
We’re currently using SmallBusinessBank.com, a Gardner Bank subsidiary based in Kansas. It’s effectively Gardner Bank with an alternate domain name. SmallBusinessBank.com has about 1,500 businesses to their rolls and a staff of 1. The rest is just wrapped around Gardner Bank’s existing online banking and systems.
My review of SmallBusinessBank and Gardner Bank would be not to recommend them, but they offer free checking, iPhone mobile deposits, and everything can be done online. However, of the first four transactions I tried with my debit card (branded as Gardner Bank), it failed on two of them. One because it was outside the country (okay, fine) and another because it was Yelp. That’s right. Because it was Yelp.
We pay for a handful of Yelp ads, nothing much, just a handful of impressions per month. To setup an account with Yelp you have to give it a credit or debit card number so they can bill your account after the month when they tally your total due. This seems logical, right? But to SmallBusinessBank/Gardner, this is a security issue.
Because Yelp wants to verify my card, they charge the card $0 to see if it’s legitimate. Gardner sees this and says, “Why would you ever want to charge $0? Deny.” I have confirmed this with their staff. It’s a security issue that Yelp has never seen before, and one the bank isn’t intersted in dealing with.
I will say that calling Gardner is generally easy and quick. Emailing was promised to be fast, but it’s been 9 days now since my last email to the branch manager (the 1 employee) and that message hasn’t been returned. They sent me a bunch of free checks, which I get cost money, but I’ll never write a check. That’s what the online bill pay is for, right?
To say SBB’s web and iPhone app are a comedy of user interaction and service errors is an understatement. Their website asked me three different challenge quicks over three different screens when I wanted to add a bill pay client. It’s like Windows Vista. Their bill pay is seemingly impossible to do correctly anyway. The options for their bill pay are:
- An individual
- A company with an account number
The notion there could be a company without an account number is evidently lost. I’ve paid bills to companies as “an individual” and I just hope it works.
The search for a bank continues
My search for a bank continues, but I’ve giving up for now because I’m convinced there are no good banks for small businesses with low transaction volume. And no one seems to be doing anything about it.
So if you’re reading this and thinking of starting a business. Start a bank, and tailor it to small business LLCs with the same passion and effort Simple does for individuals.