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    Startup banking apps offer service to those on the go

    Smartphone banking apps often allow users to budget money and track spending.
    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press/file
    Smartphone banking apps often allow users to budget money and track spending.

    NEW YORK — The latest banks are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

    Startups such as Moven and Simple offer banking that’s designed specifically for smartphones, enabling users to track their spending on the go. Some things haven’t changed. Like traditional banks, customers open a checking account, get a debit card, and are able to make check deposits and pay their bills. Like many Internet banks before them, they have no maintenance or overdraft fees, there are no physical branches, and depositing cash is a challenge. What makes Moven and Simple different is their apps. Every time a debit card is swiped at a store, a notification is sent to the phone letting the user know how much was spent and how much money is left in the account.

    ‘‘It makes them mindful of what they spend,’’ said Alex Sion, president and cofounder of Moven, comparing it to fitness activity trackers. ‘‘What Fitbit and Nike Fuel does for your health, we do for your wallet.’’


    Both services automatically categorize purchases to provide an overview of what was spent on groceries, dining out, or other areas over time. With Simple, users can set goals, such as saving up for a new bike, and the app will show how much needs to be saved every day to meet that goal.

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    Moven and Simple say most of their users are between the ages of 25 and 36, an age group that is often ignored by bigger banks who are more concerned with customers who have more money in their accounts. Portland, Ore.-based Simple says it has more than 100,000 customers. Moven, which is based in New York, declined to say how many customers it has.

    The two companies make money from fees merchants pay every time customers swipe their debit card. The accounts are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, but Moven and Simple don’t actually hold the money that customers deposit. Moven, which launched for public use in March, partners with CBW Bank, which holds the deposits. Simple, which was acquired by Spanish bank BBVA earlier this year, partners with The Bancorp Bank for its deposits.

    The two services are not for everyone. Neither one offers savings accounts. But both Moven and Simple say that they might be offered in the future.

    No-frills banking is enough for some.


    John Carr opened a Simple account in 2012 when the service was still in being tested by a small group of customers. He keeps a savings account at a military bank in Texas.

    When he wanted to save $1,600 for a new laptop, he used the app to come up with a six-month budget.

    The app also made him realize he was spending too much on fast food and gas. So he cut down on eating out and now rides the subway to get to his information technology job at a Los Angeles movie studio.

    ‘‘It’s saved me so much,’’ Carr said.