I had the opportunity to ask the CEO of PerkStreet, Dan O’Malley, a few questions via email near the end of last week, courtesy of their COO Jason Henrichs. As you know, PerkStreet announced they’d be shutting down  and would not be paying out any outstanding perks.
People were understandably
upset livid. Social media exploded and the poor employees, who would soon be out of the job, were trying to put out raging infernos with spoonfuls of water.
Maybe I can be calmer about it because I didn’t have a PerkStreet account (I thought their mission was great, I just didn’t need a debit card and I’d been trying to simplify my finances ), but things got really nasty and personal very quickly. PerkStreet wasn’t really a bank, it was a startup with a very ambitious goal, and they failed. They ran out of money, couldn’t secure more, and had to shut down.
Dave Ramsey, on his show, called them slimeballs. That’s a gross overreaction. But he had to say that, he was embarrassed that he was paid to endorse a product and the product failed. What was he going to say to callers who were upset? (in fairness to Ramsey, he did say that any losses people had in perks weren’t going to be big, that you weren’t getting rich off rewards, and that people should calm down)
I asked Dan a few questions to get to the human side of it because I figured anything “official” would have to be sent through lawyers and sanitized. Here’s the very brief email interview.
1. How have the last few days gone for you and Perkstreet since the announcement?
It’s been a tough time. We let most of our employees go and had some hard goodbyes with people that have been in the trenches together for a while. We have had a team that has been absolutely committed to what we were doing, that believed we had a shot at changing the industry. While the company was not successful, I believe that we did show that financial services firms can put money back in their customers’ pockets in new ways.
2. Did you anticipate the level of outrage over the closure? Are there plans to try to mitigate that? Dave Ramsey was not pleased on his show.
We understand why customers are unhappy and it’s incredibly disappointing for customers to not get their perks. We just don’t have any other options. If we’re able to find a way for customers to be paid perks, we’ll do it.
3. Are there any plans to try to sell Perkstreet? Perhaps to another bank willing to pay out the perks?
We are continuing to have conversations that could result in the sale of the company or the payment of perks. We’ll continue to try until the very end.
4. What is your opinion of the banking and finance industry and has that changed?
I like working in financial services because you can have a real impact on people’s lives and because the industry needs help. I still believe that. But it is very, very hard to create a new company in the space. And the changes in the industry since the financial collapse have only intensified the difficulty. I don’t think that changes my belief that we need more companies started in financial services, however — it just means you need to be extremely hard-headed to do so.
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently? Anything you want people to know?
Whenever you try to build a company, the list of things that you should have done differently in hindsight is huge. Too long to list here.
Update: If your PerkStreet account was with Provident Bank, you actually got a statement credit  for the full value of your perks on August 15th. If you closed your account, you’ll be getting it as a check in the mail. A nice gesture by Provident Bank, not sure if Bancorp will be following suit.
No one is sailing away on a big luxury yacht… and the big takeaway from this is that it’s not necessarily the end of perks. I wouldn’t hold my breath but the potential for a somewhat positive ending is still there.