Couples Can Spy on Each Other's Spending With This New Bank Account
As long as there's been money, couples have been fighting about it.
Almost one in three couples argue about finances at least once a month, according to a survey of 1,500 couples released this month. It's surprising that's all. In the same survey, by Ameriprise Financial, 73 percent of respondents said they made financial decisions differently from their partner, and about 70 percent said they buy things without telling their partner.
Could a souped-up joint bank account ease some of the strife? Simple, an online-only bank based in Portland, Ore., is launching a feature today that lets any two customers open a shared account. It's intended not just for couples but for any two people with a financial link, including roommates and parents and children. And it's designed to reduce simmering resentments over money by allowing each member of the couple to share—or keep private—as many financial details as he or she wishes.
Couples are far more likely to be jointly managing their money than in the past, said Ron Shevlin, director of research at Cornerstone Advisors. But banks haven't spent much time or effort building more sophisticated ways for couples to share financial control. "It's surprising how weak the capabilities are among the big banks," Shevlin said. 1
Banks' traditional product for couples is the joint bank account. To open one, couples typically need to walk into a bank branch together and fill out the paperwork. That can feel like a big step for unmarried couples, who often wait until after marriage. "That's when they start having financial conversations," and it's a mistake to wait so long, said Simple's co-founder and chief executive officer, Joshua Reich. Better to get to know each other's money habits earlier in a relationship and work out your differences then, he said.
Joint bank account statements also typically don't break out who spent what. Reich remembers navigating this problem in a previous relationship. He has a background in mathematical finance. She was a management consultant.
"Who was spending more? We couldn't work it out," he said.
This can lead to fights, if one person suspects—perhaps incorrectly—that the other is bleeding him or her dry. It can also make it hard to spot fraudulent charges. You end up assuming your partner is responsible for any charges you don't recognize.
Simple's shared account is easy to set up and track in real time. You establish your own bank account, and your partner (or roommate, or kid) does the same. Then you send a request, a bit like a Facebook request. If you both agree, you now have a third, shared account. Simple sends each of you a second debit card, with a different design from the regular Simple debit card so you don't mix them up at the cash register. To switch between accounts in the app, press and hold the corner of your phone screen.
"What we wanted to do is make this as seamless as possible," said Derek Zumsteg, a product manager at the bank.
Everything you do in your own account is private, while everything that happens in your shared account is visible to both of you. You can get real-time notifications on your phone of spending from the shared account. That way you can track your partner's movements, financial and otherwise, in real time. If your boyfriend stops at the grocery store in the evening, for example, you'll know much he bought, down to the cent. You'll also know he'll probably be home soon.
Wait, is that seamless or incendiary? Do you really want to know how much your wife spends on coffee or how many parking tickets your boyfriend collects?
Simple's idea is to let people share some financial details while keeping as much of their money private as they want. Roommates might use the joint account only to pay for rent and utilities. Couples early in a relationship might use it only to save together for a vacation. They can gradually move more money into their shared accounts over time. Or either owner of the account can close it down. "You give both halves of the partnership equal power," Zumsteg said.
Unless you set up the rules thoughtfully, it's easy to imagine your partner becoming suspicious about the stuff you don't reveal simply because you aren't revealing it. And it's entirely possible that more financial transparency between couples will lead to more fights rather than fewer.
That's OK, Reich said. "I'd rather have that friction happening in real time" than building up over time into deep resentment, he said. "It's far more healthy. It's a better way to live your life."
Blow $100 on a fancy weekday lunch, and your partner can immediately text: "You're nuts!" You can have a fight about it that night.
Simple, which has almost 400 employees, was started in 2009 and acquired in 2014 by a large Spanish bank, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, or BBVA. Its youth is an advantage when introducing new features. Older banks' technology platforms, built over several decades, can make it daunting to build new products or make existing processes more user-friendly. Simple won't disclose its assets or number of customers but says it has "hundreds of thousands of customers," up 43 percent over the past six months.