Simple’s Extended Maintenance Shows Problem for FinTech Startups

  • Ian Kar
  • August 8, 2014
  • 3

Simplefailwhale is in many ways the crown jewel of the financial technology startup industry.

With its modern, intuitive, user interface, responsive customer service, mobile-first, branchless strategy, Simple represents the future that financial innovators hope for.

It should be noted that it was announced in February that Simple would be acquired by BBVA, making it, technically, no longer a startup.

So, when it was reported yesterday that Simple has been suffering from “issues” over the past few days that prevented users from accessing their accounts, panic ensued. The incident is an illustrative example of how financial technology startups have an even harder time with routine updates than other tech startups.

Valleywag reported yesterday that Simple users haven’t been able to access their accounts or withdraw funds from their Simple accounts. The comments thread became very lively, with debates raging between Simple-haters and Simple-lovers.

And it doesn’t look like this is the first time Simple users have been locked out of their accounts. One Twitter user reported that this is the fourth instance this year so far. Valleywag focused on the fact that a scheduled maintenance period was not only extended, but issues for users continued even past the extension date. Simple has been telling users to visit status.simple.com for updates and has posted four updates since 8:30 AM PST.

Bank Innovation spoke to Simple about the maintenance period. Users were notified multiple times about the event, according to Simple, and had time to plan accordingly. While the update was extended for certain users, and a small number (around 10%) were still facing problems at press time, Simple emphasized that functionality should now be restored for almost every customer.

Simple said that the issue occurred when the company tried to migrate customer files, and the point of the scheduled maintenance was to lay a foundation for a better service.

Simple reached out to the affected 10% via in-app notifications and worked with them directly to solve any issues. Similarly, the company used its social media reach and customer service to assist its users. Still, this routine scheduled maintenance that panicked users is an example of how FinTech startups are dealt an unfair hand.

Tech companies like Facebook and Twitter suffered major outages when they were the same age as Simple. Twitter was the worst offender — going down randomly at any time and offered no explanation beyond the “Fail Whale” screen. According to Nick Bilton’s book Hatching Twitter, many at Twitter were confused about the backend issues the company was suffering from in its early days.

FinTech startups don’t have the same leeway that was granted to Twitter and Facebook at the time. Yes, people were unhappy when those outages occurred, but, in the grand scheme of things, the outages didn’t matter in any important way.

When Simple’s routine scheduled maintenance was extended, that meant that users wouldn’t be able to access their money for a longer period of time. When it comes to money, people worry a lot more, and with good reason. Fintech startups need to be more cautious when approaching normal upgrades than other startups. Other industries might be able to get away with their service having extended downtime, not financial services.

A big bank that extended a scheduled maintenance period, denying people access to their money, would be slammed, and rightfully so. Where people’s money is concerned, emotions soon follow. It might have been expected that an alliance with one of the world’s largest banks would make processes like this scheduled maintenance period more predictable.

Whatever the truth of the matter, those who think startups are unreliable where money is concerned can hold up this maintenance problem as evidence, and those customers who opened Simple accounts because they dislike big banks can point to this as an example of how banks ruin startups.

It can be assumed Moven and GoBank are watching this extended scheduled maintenance, and its fallout, with intense interest.

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