Simple, The Startup That Replaces Your Bank, Experiences First Outage [Updated: Simple's Response]

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Simple (formerly BankSimple), a startup that promises to replace your bank, today reminds early adopters why it can be problematic to put all your funds in one basket, so to speak. Over the past hour, bank account holders at Simple, a service still in private testing we should note, have had issues sending money, viewing transactions (including deposits), and experienced some issues with Goals, too.

The company began updating its Twitter account today to note the outages and keep its users informed. For Simple users, the outages were confusing, because it wasn’t initially clear whether the deposits themselves were failing, or whether they were just failing to display in the Simple user interface. Users have been reporting that Simple says “transactions unavailable,” when they go to view their account.

TechCrunch’s Drew Olanoff says he experienced a card decline today because a direct deposit didn’t seem to go through – that points to an issue with the deposit process itself or maybe Simple’s servers, not just the ability to view transactions. But Simple’s tweets seem to imply it’s just an issue with displaying the deposits in its interface, which of course would be the less worrisome situation. (Although I suppose that’s easy for me to say as someone who doesn’t keep my paycheck in Simple.)

More recent tweets point to Simple having additional problems, including possible connection and database issues, although this is not confirmed.

We’re waiting for additional clarification on this from the company, and will update when we hear back. See Simple’s response below. Simple confirms this is not a financial outage. 

Of course, all this could just point to a startup experiencing growing pains – as a closed service still in testing, news of an outage shouldn’t be all that surprising. In addition, as someone who banks at a small, community bank myself, I can’t tell you how many times online banking goes down…it’s really not uncommon, sadly.

But Simple is trying to make things easier on banking customers, not more cumbersome. Its accounts are actually held at a FDIC-insured bank (The Bancorp Bank), since Simple is not one. Still, in traditional banking scenarios, even when online banking goes down, banking itself and transactions tend to remain functional.  As someone who even used to install banking software back in the day, I know that even the smallest banks have plans in place for offline scenarios and disasters. Simple needs to as well.

Update: Here’s is Simple’s response, from CEO Joshua Reich:

We have a modular architecture. This morning we started experiencing a slow down in the service that provides payment contact information to the web and mobile front-end. We took that component of the front end off line as we resolve the underlying issue.

The key point is that this isn’t a financial outage. Our cards still work, scheduled payments are still being sent. People’s deposits are still arriving. They may not display in the web or mobile app immediately because of the front-end issues, but our customers money is fully accounted for.

If customers don’t see a transaction that they were expecting to see immediately, it should arrive as we address the slow down. If they have any questions, they can always get in touch with our team via in-app messaging or on the phone. Our back-end systems are all functioning normally and we can confirm transactions that may not yet have appeared in the front end.

As always, we keep a live update of all issues available on status.simple.com

We’re on track to be processing an annualized $400m in volume by the end of this year. Not a single penny has been unaccounted for over this time and there is no reason for that to change today.

Update #2: This situation with Simple’s issues today is not as Simple (ha!) as you would think. Simple is determined that the situation be clarified as a slowdown, not an outage. In a follow-up, responding to some questions we had, the company said the following:

This morning, Simple experienced a roughly two hour slowdown that delayed the appearance of new transactions for customers in both our web and mobile app. During this time, we received just one unrelated customer report of a card decline. 

 The slowdown had no financial customer impact – card swipes, deposits and previously scheduled bill payments processed as normal. We temporarily turned off Send Money, which allows customers to create new bill payments and send money to anyone, while we diagnosed the issue. All systems are back up and running as normal.

Parsing this statement, what this means is that the company is responding directly to Drew’s situation mentioned above, and saying it’s a one-off. (“Just one unrelated customer report of a card decline.”) Simple is saying that the only functionality that was actually “down” (as in an “outage”), was taken down on purpose – that being the “Send Money” option referenced in the public tweets. Long story short, Simple does not think it’s fair to characterize this as an outage, even though their back-end slowed down, and their front-end showed users the message “unavailable.” It sounds like splitting hairs to us, and probably did to the users who couldn’t view their accounts today. But that’s the message the company wants to get across.

For what it’s worth, there’s one more bit to this story which we didn’t report on earlier – and that was Drew’s personal experience with Simple’s customer support. Drew tells me that when he phoned support, he said his name and asked if his deposit was posted through direct deposit or not. No one asked him to confirm his identity, which is troublesome. At the time, no one knew why his card wasn’t working. Simple told Drew his deposit was posted, and while he was on the phone with them, they asked him to run the card again. It still showed declined. Simple does not know why that happened, but later followed up with a message saying the issue “seems to be unrelated” and that the card should work now. It does. Drew says did not care for the giggle he got from customer support, either. “I said ‘not really funny,’” he tells me. There are a number of reasons why cards decline, but unfortunately, there’s no way to tell definitively what the issue was today.