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Why You Won’t Read a SmartyPig Review Today

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A couple of weeks back the fine folks at SmartyPig wrote me to tell me about their new service. They even offered me a $50 gift card to either try the service or give away to a reader. I decided to keep it for three reasons:

  • I have had a bad history with giveaways in the past. Even recently, I was afforded the ability to give out Lending Club lending accounts with $50 in them - only to have them stop allowing people to lend for undisclosed amount of time. Given that I've never used this new service, I didn't feel comfortable subjecting readers to another potential debacle.
  • By using the card, I can sign up with the service and actually give an informed review.
  • I like $50.

So today, I went to sign up with SmartPig to redeem the gift card they sent me. I can't think of a more difficult process. I realize it's a bank and needs to take security seriously, but they really take it to an extremely level. On thing that I noticed from the register page is that you have to have a driver's license. I really don't know why driving is a prerequisite for saving money, but luckily I'm one of the many people who do drive.

There's a standard register screen were you give you basic information. Part of this is choosing a password. Since they are the only bank or online service that requires one upper case, one lower case, and one numerical character, I have to make up a completely new password rather than use the very complex set of case insensitive characters that have kept my accounts safe for more than ten years.

After the password, I have to pick five security questions. I keep looking to see if they've left up their April Fools page, but it seems that's not the case. After answering the questions, I come away feeling that SmartyPig knows me well enough to figure out what color underwear I have on.

I finish with the security questions and I have to pick a security phrase. If you are curious my phrase exhibits the frustration that I have with SmartyPig's sign-up process. I would have used some colorful language, but I'm afraid that they'll make me start over if I pick an unfriendly word. After the phrase I need to pick a picture that they'll show me when I log-in to prevent phishing. The choices are mostly fruit, bugs, and island themes. It would have killed them to have something like a baseball or a football.

Just when I think I'm done with the registration process, they throw me the biggest curve of all. They look up my credit report and make me answer four questions based on it. There are two easy ones, which of the following are streets and cities where you lived. There's a tougher one about how much my mortgage is. I had to log into my bank to look up my scheduled payments to find out if it was fell into the under $1450-1550 range or the $1551-1650 range, just two of the five options they gave me.

The last question was impossible for me to answer. They asked the creditor of my mortgage. As some of you know, mortgages are sold fairly often after getting them. All I know is that I schedule my payment to PHH Mortgage and can go online to MortgageQuestions.com to view my account. Of course neither of these are one of the 4 options available to me. So I select the 5th - None of The Above. It didn't seem to like that. I tried it again, because I am me and that's the correct information to the best of my knowledge.

Of course it was wrong the second time. So now I have to do with the consequences - "After two failed attempts, your application will be cancelled. For security reasons, you must wait 72 hours before resubmitting your application to SmartyPig."

I'm left to write the company representative who gave me the gift card and tell them why I can't register for their service. I hope that they can restore my canceled account, because I'm not sure it's worth my time to try to sign up again. If I didn't have the direct e-mail address of their representatives I would definitely have given up on this service. And while I didn't intend to write a review since I couldn't sign up, I realize that I did indeed review the service - probably the most important part.

Last updated on August 1, 2011.

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31 Responses to “Why You Won’t Read a SmartyPig Review Today”

  1. Nice new layout Lazy man! It’s refreshing :)

  2. Andrew says:

    Hi Lazy Man – also like the new blog layout.

    Having built a similar process to what SmartyPig made you go through, I understand your frustration, but I also feel for them. The regulatory requirements around “knowing your customer” are stronger than ever, and unfortunately we’re forced to make you choose cryptic passwords, answer questions about your account balances, and other stupidities. For what it’s worth, sometimes it’s not completely their fault. (Although 5 security questions does seem ridiculous.)

    The part that I don’t get yet about SmartyPig is why I have to take my withdrawal as part of a gift card. Those credit card company gift cards are ridiculous, with transaction fees and all sorts of loaded gimmicks. Just send my money back to the bank account you took it from!

  3. Mark Krusen says:

    Sounds like you have to work way to hard to get the benefit. I’m not afraid of work but this sound like it’s over the top to me.To much mucking around in the “slop”.

  4. Jon Gaskell says:

    Lazy Man, sorry you had such a difficult time trying to open a SmartyPig account today. We partner with Equifax, one of the world’s largest identity verification services providers, to produce our ID quiz. Our identity verification process places a “soft” post to the consumer’s credit file, so there is no communication back to SmartyPig about your quiz or why you failed it. We just know they weren’t satisfied with the information you provided. As for your other observations regarding the registration process, we use the latest in dual-factor authentication. In reality, as larger banks enhance their own security, these same practices are being implemented. For those who fail the quiz we mail out a document for them to sign so they can be manually processed. Of course, there will always be individuals who find our security procedure to be intense, but we’d rather err on the side of caution when it comes to the security of our customers and their money.

    Much appreciation, Jon Gaskell Co-Founder, SmartyPig

    @Andrew ““ starting immediately we are offering the third option for customers to redeem their savings plus interest at no charge with a check. We are making a formal announcement Monday. Thanks for your interest!

  5. Lazy Man says:

    I understand the need for security – it is just too much – especially for someone just wanting to try something out to see if it’s right for them. Or provide some phone number support to get people up and running… I’ll be happy to answer any questions about me that I actually have a way of knowing. Just don’t make me wait for snail mail.

    Plus, if someone ever wants to create a bank account in my name and add funds to it, be my guest…

  6. DebtKid says:

    Lazy ~ I like the new logo. Very cool. I haven’t looked at Smarty yet. Likely won’t, just because I can’t really spend any extra cashola at the moment

  7. Cos says:

    ouch! yeah, that’s a bit excessive. other sites do some of this but not to that level. prosper asks a couple of questions based on your credit report (if i remember correctly) but they seemed spot-on when i went through it a while back.

    i’m a big fan of security, huge fan .. it needs to be done, but more importantly, needs to be done right.

    in other news: lazy, i have a *special* offer for you or one of your readers! ;)

  8. Mrs. Micah says:

    I have experienced similar frustrations through the whole not having a credit history and identity thing. I’m hoping that since I just got approved as a joint account holder, I won’t have as much of a problem.

    Even my dad has been stumped by the mortgage one…because he doesn’t think it’s the right company but then “none of the above” doesn’t work either.

  9. Love the new logo and layout! Although, the page still loads slow.

    Another one of the joys of banking with a Credit Union is that they rarely resell the loan. I can walk across the street from work and speak with my note holder.

    I have run through that same torture test on another financial website (can’t remember which one right now) but I did feel lucky to pass it even though it is supposed to be my information.

  10. jim says:

    What color underwear do you have on? I need it to get access to your account. k thx bye

  11. Anca says:

    You can get a “drivers license” even if you don’t drive. It’s called an ID card and you get it at the same place. Otherwise people without passports who don’t drive wouldn’t be able to pass airport security for domestic flights.

    That mortgage question will prevent you from accessing your credit report from Equifax. It’s a pain.

  12. Lazy Man says:

    I know you can get an ID card, but the site doesn’t ask for that – it asks for a “drivers license.” That, to me, means you have to pass a drivers test. If SmartyPig only requires an ID card, I highly recommend they update their site to specify that.

  13. deepali says:

    I think it’s a reasonable (though frustrating) application process. I’ve worked in fraud and compliance at an online bank, and it’s amazing how many fake applications we get (and a number of them are successfully open). Not to mention, with ACH transfers, we then had to deal with fake accounts at other banks. It’s a mess.

    You don’t want someone opening a false account and funding it in your name…. when it gets caught and reported to the credit agencies, that’s your credit history that’s wrecked.

    You really should know where your mortgage is sitting (mine has been sold twice, and the last company was then bought)… particularly in an environment of failing financial institutions. Who do you make payments to?

  14. Lazy Man says:

    I know who has my mortgage and who I make payments to. However that company is not listed by Equifax during the registration process of SmartyPig. If my mortgage company was listed for me to select, I would have an account now.

  15. Mike Ferrari says:

    Thanks for your input as it relates to our online registration process. I’ve been watching the thread and thought I would drop my own thoughts. As Deepali suggests, our application process is similar to those found at many online banking and financial sites due to the inherent fraud risk and banking regulations. Am sure there are others out there with less stringent setup procedures but I know of others that go to even greater lengths. With that said, there is one thing at SmartyPig I can assure you of. And that is we listen. To the good and bad. We take every blog post seriously and if there are lessons to learn and changes to be made, we are big enough to admit it. Lazy Man, your Drivers License # comment is spot on. And that field on our registration should say “Driver’s License # or State Issued ID #”. Could not agree with you more and talked with our development group over the weekend to discuss getting that updated to the site in our next build. As for Equifax, we have realized that it is not always perfect. And to Jon’s point, we don’t know immediately why you failed but we can begin the investigatory process on your behalf. When issues like these arise, we react quickly to remedy the situation. Keep in mind, a failure on an identification quiz can also occur for other reasons. Such as if a customer has issued a fraud alert on their own credit file (as a precautionary measure), a credit freeze or they have recently moved and are using a new address not recognized. In these instances, regardless of how you answer the questions, a failure is returned. Again, mandated by our banking partner with the customer’s security as an absolute priority. Our fall back is the dreaded snail mail, as you alluded to above. Not a preferred method by any means. We recognize fully the inconvenience and are working hard to implement a more rapid approval process. Truly do appreciate the feedback. Feel free to email me direct anytime at mferrariATsmartypig.com. Mike Ferrari, Co-Founder, SmartyPig

  16. deepali says:

    @ Lazy Man, it sounds like you might need to check with Equifax to see what they’ve got reported. Everytime my mortgage got sold, it took a while for the credit bureaus to catch on. One of them still has an address that I haven’t lived at in 4 years.

    @ the SmartyPig folks, the other downside to online banking is the terrible customer service (I’ve been on both sides of that). Hopefully, you won’t have that problem…

  17. Lazy Man says:

    Well if my mortgage has been sold, I still write the check to the same place (and have it cashed by the same company) and have the same online website to manage it.

    Equifax should be reporting one of these two numbers or they should use something a little more stable as a verification question, perhaps having me confirm a credit card that I actively use or a national bank that I’ve been a member of for 15 years.

  18. Amber says:

    I understand the need for that kind of security from a place such as Prosper where you take out loans, but this place is just a “community” savings right? I’ve opened up several online savings accounts online and have never had to go through that much hassle.

  19. Laurel says:

    Hey Lazy Man,
    I had just recently learned about smartypig myself and yesterday I attempted to sign up for an account. I must say that the information required of me/the security process was more difficult/involved than when I signed up for either a checking account,IngDirect savings account, a “Saveyourself” account through TDAmeritrade or signing up for my 401K through work! I too, was told that I had failed the security quiz! Its rather surreal/daunting to think that I’m having trouble proving that I am myself! This may have to do with some information regarding my student loan and the quiz asking me what lender it was through in 2004. I had reconsolidated it and then it was bought back by Sallie Mae. So, maybe one of the questions was like a trick question? At any rate, now I’m supposed to see if I get sent an affidavit letter through the mail or not, so I could possibly open a smartypig account. Since smartypig requires so much info. my mom wonders if smartypig is even legitimate or some sort of scam. Oh well, at least I am not alone in this frustration.

  20. Mike says:



    Many banks now require the multiple security questions, and the trend is growing. Get used to it.

    Perhaps you are simply one of those people who are (and I know many of them) technologically helpless? If things are not dead easy you give up and spend more time crying about how hard it was than you would have spent simply trying harder?

    And, the drivers license thing is and was very clearly explained as needed for the war on terrorism and money laundering. If you walk into a bank to open an account, you are required to have such identification, why should opening an online account be any different?

    Now, I can understand that when you signed on and tried the service you wrote about how hard it was to sing on. I could understand if you signed on and found it aggravating to not be able to delete a linked bank account from the interface and had to call customer service to get it done.

    However, you did none of that. You simple gave up and whined. Not the best introduction to your blog I must say, but I admit I am curious to see if you offer anything worth my time on this blog, or if it is more of the same.

    And trust me, if I find something useful, my comments will reflect it… after all, you may have simply been having a bad day.


  21. Lazy Man says:

    Thanks for stopping by… I realize that it might not be the best first impression, but the idea of the blog is that I write my real experiences. If you gave David Pogue a cell phone and he had the difficulties I did, and had no support other than snail mail, you can bet he’d give it a pretty poor review as well.

    For a little personal background, I do have have a degree in computer science from a top 25 school and I built the search engine for ZDNet, a top 20 Internet company in 1999. I didn’t see anything

    The article you commented on is was 15 months old. Back then many banks still didn’t require multiple security questions… at least my Bank of America didn’t. As you say the trend is growing… and has already grown over the last 15 months. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good trend. Even today, I stand by what I said in comment #5:

    “I understand the need for security ““ it is just too much ““ especially for someone just wanting to try something out to see if it’s right for them. Or provide some phone number support to get people up and running – I’ll be happy to answer any questions about me that I actually have a way of knowing. Just don’t make me wait for snail mail.

    Plus, if someone ever wants to create a bank account in my name and add funds to it, be my guest – ”

    In the end, their cofounder – Mike Ferrari in comment #16 seemed to agree with me in all points, except said that it’s what the bank they partnered with requires. I understand it, but if customers can’t sign up (as they admitted can happen for numerous reasons), it’s a fundamentally flawed business.

    How would you feel if your friend gave you a $25 SmartyPig gift card for your birthday and it took you multiple hours (or days) of your time to redeem it? I know I’d be thinking, “Why couldn’t they have just given me a Visa Check Card, any restaurant card, Target Card… anything else?” I’m hesitant to link you to another complaining post (I really don’t have that many), but the idea of a SmartyPig gift card is a candidate for the worst gifts to get.

  22. Tina says:

    I was looking to see if smartypig might be a scam or fraudulent company. Instead I came across your article complaining about how secure they are. THANKS! This article gave me the confidence I needed to allow them help me save my money!

  23. Gayle Gordon says:

    I wonder why this happened?

    You have either failed the online identity verification questionnaire or we were unable to provide you with an online identity verification questionnaire based on the information you provided. Your account is being reviewed. If you are eligible for a SmartyPig account, within the next few business days, SmartyPig will mail you a letter to the address you provided during registration. When you receive the letter, please sign and mail back to SmartyPig in the pre-paid envelope. Once we receive your signed affidavit, we will review your application and you will be notified via email with next steps. This application will expire in 60 days.

  24. Bob E says:

    I am researching to see if SmartyPig is a “real” organization but i don’t find info certifying SPig.

    I need some external verification that can give me the confidence this is a legit business. For instance, are you a Better Business Bureau organization. What other sources can you provide me regarding the validity of SPG?

    Secondly, As a savings bank, and I am only depositing and withdrawing the money I deposit plus a little interest, why then is my mortgage information required? This is not necessary. Neither is my SSN.

    Bob E.

  25. Ralph says:

    Interest rate is WAAAY down now (0.5%) and they squeeze you by making you wait 5-10 business days to close your goal. Not a place to keep your money if you ever really need it even in a little hurry.

  26. Ron says:

    I see both co-founders of SmartyPig have commented on this post. I am a CPA with no debt and also have added credit Freezes to all three credit reporting agencies. My application was rejected because they said that I would need to remove the credit freeze so that they could verifiy my financial information. Well I am not going to spend $10 to have the freeze removed so that I can go through their verification process. I spoke to their customer service representative and she said that this comes up quite often. I recommend that all my tax clients place credit freezes on their credit files to prevent credit fraud. So I guess I will not be getting a SmartyPig account. I do however have and ING account, an Emigrant Direct account, an account with Ally bank, Fidelity and Charles Schwab.

  27. April says:

    Pretty upset that it is easy to transfer money to the account but getting it back is insaine. Had an emergency come up only needed a mere $40.00 transfered back to my main account due to a vehicle needed repaired and couldn’t cover all of it out of my normal account. Instead of being able to get to my account I had to wait for my last tranfer to happen a week later then wait another 5 days now I am waiting to see where my money is. Not showing on my bank side yet. This is intollerable. Two and a half weeks later to get to my emergency fund. You bet your donkey I am not putting anything back into smartypig EVER.

  28. Jessica Sethman says:

    I started using SmartyPig last year and the interest rate was just over 3%. Savings accounts have never shown a really rate of interest. Maybe 5% in days gone by (someone correct me if I’m too low there).

  29. McNugget says:

    ABOFA (American Banco of Asia) interest rates are 1.27% monthly! That is over 15,30% per year. And this is if you only have a balance of $1000. Some higher deposit amounts have higher interest rates and additional options.

    For me, the BEST is American Banco of Asia. I started using ABOFA savings accounts last year. They pay interest rates on time(I selected the quarterly payment option). They have quick online support to answer my questions. I fully recommend ABOFA.

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