If you don’t work in tech or financial services – or fintech – you might not know about Monzo, although it gets coverage in the mainstream press so isn’t exactly in stealth mode. Monzo is the self-proclaimed “bank of the future. Built for your smartphone, this is banking like never before.”

I’ve been a Monzo customer since 1 April and thought I’d share my initial experiences.

Firstly, the card. Using it reminds me of when I first got the BMW i3 – it’s impossible to use without people wanting to talk to me about it. Every time I use it, there’s a conversation that usually starts with “Blimey, that’s a colourful card. You won’t lose that in a hurry. What bank is that?” 10 out of 10 for branding leading the word-of-mouth, Monzo. The story behind the ‘hot coral’ colour choice is great – have a read at Monzo 2 years on – the startup threat big banks still “don’t get”.

In practical terms, because Monzo only recently got the full banking licence to allow it to offer current accounts, the card that I’ve got is a prepaid MasterCard debit card. What that means is I have to load money onto the card before I spend on it. Hassle, right? Well, not as much as you might think, at least on an iPhone. When I need to top up, I can use Apple Pay which is set up with my ye olde bank debit card, so I can do the whole top-up thing in the Monzo app using touch ID, without having to look up card numbers or arrange bank transfers. I can top up in a matter of seconds, not minutes.

Given that Monzo’s built to run off your phone, the app’s crucial to the whole experience and it doesn’t disappoint.

The app displays your history in an easy-to-read timeline. When I say it’s easy to read, I mean the whole shebang of how the content’s displayed, so money coming in versus money being spent is laid out in the way a normal human being thinks about it, not put in ‘credit’ or ‘debit’ columns, labelled CR/DR, or mashed up with confusing running balances on the same line, like you get with the dinosaur banks whose statements are designed for… well, are they designed? It’s also way easier to see where you’ve used the card. You can also add notes, if you want. I can see this being especially useful when you use the card for work expenses.

Speaking of which, you can categorise each transaction. Monzo does a good job of auto-categorising for you (eg, ‘Eating out’, ‘Groceries’) but if you want to separate out your work expenses, there’s an ‘Expenses’ category. You can also take a picture of your receipt and attach it to a transaction. If you’re on a budget, or just like to keep track of where your money’s going, the ‘Spending’ part of the app lets you see the how much you’ve spent in each category. It’s of limited use to me right now because I don’t use Monzo for everything yet. And, to be honest, while I can get cashback for using a certain credit card, that will always be the first choice.

Other things that are great:

  • Easy-to-get PIN
    I’m pretty bloody brilliant about remembering PINs (if I do say so myself) but I do appreciate the ability to get the PIN directly through the app if need be.
  • Easy to freeze
    There’s been many an occasion where I’ve mislaid a card and a temporary freeze rather than a call to the bank to cancel a card that might turn up when I’ve had a proper look would be much more appropriate. You can do that via the app and unfreeze the card easily, too.
  • Location-based security
    I’ll get a chance to try this fully on an international basis in a couple of months but turning this on should make fraud detection somewhat smarter so the location of your phone is used to make sure your Monzo card is with you.

The future

So it’s been a great start for Monzo from my point of view and I’m looking forward to trying out the current account when I can get my hands on it.

My main fear is that one of the old banks will wake up to the threat of Monzo and swallow them up. There’ll be a lot of talk about ‘Monzo will be independent and remain its own brand, blah blah blah’ but I would bet my mortgage on any old bank buyer ruining Monzo in short order. Buying it to kill it, basically.

Instead of buying Monzo, let’s say there’s a unicorn that exists in one of the old banks – one that’s allowed to spin up a competitor to Monzo. What’s to stop one of the old banks copying Monzo, and using its bigger marketing budgets and the perceived safety of sticking with one of the old banks? Well, nothing. Except having seen what counts as innovation at an old bank from the inside, it would be genuinely shocking to me if one of the old banks were capable of coming close to competing with Monzo, both in quality of experience and speed of implementation.

The other risk is, of course, that once Monzo gets to a certain size of customer base and headcount, it’ll just get crap and lose focus on the customer experience – basically it’ll become like all the old banks. If it stays true to the culture established so far and avoid hiring too many people who have worked in banks – or at least those who have become institutionalised into working within the old banking world’s way of thinking – then I think Monzo will be fine.

I don’t know what Monzo’s end game is – they might be looking to be acquired in the end – but I hope they stick around.

Edit to add: Via a comment on LinkedIn, I found out Monzo are designing with mental health in mind. In fact, Zander Brade, product designer at Monzo is talking about ‘Designing a product with mental health in mind’ at the UXPA UK Global Accessibility Awareness Day event on 18 May 2017. Tickets are available via Eventbrite.

Staggeringly clever and astonishingly naive

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