Imagine a Web-based bank that lets you deposit checks by simply photographing them with its mobile app. It lets you make cash withdrawals from ATMs all over the country at no cost, sometimes even reimbursing you for fees you get charged by other companies. As a social Web application, the bank offers you all kinds of recommendations and value-added services based on analyzing your private data.

Does that sound crazy? Perhaps no more crazy than an empty box labeled "What are you doing?" sounded three years ago when software developer Alex Payne joined Twitter as its API lead, the position responsible for helping birth the famous ecosystem of outside developers building apps on top of Twitter. Today Payne announced that he's leaving Twitter to co-found an online banking startup with just such a vision, called BankSimple. BankSimple plans to launch to the public later this year; its website is currently down due to overwhelming interest after Payne's announcement.

Financial Industry Disruption

After Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey shifted his focus to Square, Payne becomes at least the second micro-messaging forefather to shift gears into the financial tech market.

BankSimple says it will be "an easy, intuitive, and social bank for people who appreciate simple online services." The company emphasizes its lack of fees, saying that other banks grew greedy when they moved beyond making money from interest on deposits.

The company says it will offer a mobile application to deposit checks by uploading a photo. Such practices are likely to become more common in the future - but they still feel very futuristic. (Readers have pointed out that the United Services Automobile Association's bank does this already.) Intuit is developing software to prepare simple tax filings by mobile photo upload, for example. Banking and personal finance are sectors expected to see major disruption in coming years, thanks largely to developments on the Internet.

Analyst firm Gartner said last month that traditional online banking faces a serious challenge from a new class of service providers focused on more advanced financial operations than mere transactions. "Most bank offerings have limited forecasting and analytical tools and don't cleanly support multiple bank relationships," Gartner's Douglas McKibben wrote. Traditional banks need "a wake-up call," McKibben wrote, "regarding the need for responsive, personalized customer applications." "In the longer term, the concept of a proprietary online commercial banking platform will be obsolete," McKibben wrote in a report with Stessa Cohen, "and banks will only orchestrate and not control access to services and information."

Those conditions appear to be exactly where BankSimple is aimed.

Payne says the other BankSimple founders live in New York, but that he will remain in Portland, Oregon, where he is currently relocating to. In addition to co-founding the company, he will be its Chief Product & Technology Officer. "In a nutshell," he wrote on his personal blog, "I'm going to make sure we build something that's simple, beautiful, and works really really well."

Payne's co-founders include Josh Reich, who previously worked on the very-heady Web-user-data futures-market startup Root Markets, led by serial entrepreuer Seth Goldstein. Goldstein once said Reich had a "beautiful mind." Reich and Payne are joined by Shamir Karkal, an MBA most recently at McKinsey.

Photo by Dave Fayram.