if you have never heard of Monzo it is a mobile-only bank. Monzo started as a prepaid card you could top up and use like your traditional bank, but you would get your transaction history within a mobile app, sounds simple.
I did not think becoming a customer of a startup could teach me so many lessons in how to build a great customer experience, but it did.
Trying to budget in 2015
I had tried many (many) different budgeting apps/tools/services, hooks into my current bank using Yodel or having to manual enter each purchase but all were crap in one way or another. The critical ingredient they were all missing was near real-time data.
I remember the first time I used Monzo card (Mondo back then) and I received a push notification before the receipt had even been printed out.
How annoyance works
Like anyone with a technical background if you have a problem and unable to find a solution, then you try to build it yourself. I had been developing an aggregated budget app to pull in multiple accounts feeds to see in one place, looking to make a simpler version of mint.com (a USA service not coming to the UK anytime soon). I suddenly understood why no one had done this well before; it was hard.
I started to see new “banks” appear on the horizon in the UK, I had heard of Monzo or Monda at the time, as the founding team had built Go Cardless (A way for SMEs to easily offer direct debit functionality). Monzo had a waiting list ready to try to the alpha app; every step was an email with the development progress, this was both exciting to be apart of but also annoying, I wanted in.
I was on the waiting list but concerned I wouldn’t get in the first batch of users, I had no idea how many people had joined the waiting list before me. I tweeted the then CCO (Jason Bates) every day, to the point that in July 2015 he conceded, unfortunately, this was at the time when I had a 30-day delete function to my tweets so you can’t see those tweets but here is the response from Jason.
A lesson in good user interviews
We roll around to the end of 2015, and I go to Monzo HQ in London, well let’s call it an “office” area and meet a guy (Sorry, can’t remember your name) let’s call him Bob, who wants to ask me some user experience questions of the app setup etc.
In reflection, two important things happened here, the questions and flow of the interview were exact, though I can’t recall the questions asked, they were refined. Secondly, Bob did this all on his mobile; I am not sure if this was because he didn’t have a laptop around or if it was intentional but in reflection raised the importance of if your building a mobile product you have to live as a mobile business.
After my user testing, Bob explained how they had just had their first hackathon as the first alpha cards had arrived. I asked for one, he laughed. I then also start laughing but also refuse to leave until I get one. I am not sure if Bob thought I was serious or security were busy but I got my card and was customer 38.
Later that day I met another challenger bank (will remain nameless) who were starting out, in what was a very bizarre exchange and in my opinion less customer driven than at Monzo. Looking back at how both these two banks have evolved over the last few years gaining hundreds of thousands of customers, their execution has been 100% reflective of how they engaged with me in that moment. Showing me the importance of getting things right in the early days.
I missed the investment round, which did fill in record time.. I don’t want to talk about it 😊.
Being a customer
I have been fortunate to see a few startups in the early days and watch them from the sidelines turn into much bigger beasts. I continue to be impressed with how Monzo has not lost their way as they grow their customer base, raising large sums of investment and scaled their team. How they deal with issues and successes is a testament to how startups should operate regardless of the pace of growth.
Who would think a bank could be impressive
Using Monzo on and off during the Alpha days, everyone thinks I am strange by my excitement of a bank, even those in the technology field who should know better. We fast forward to November 2017, I am in attendance at the Twilio developer day in London and get speaking to a young developer about to finish at UCL. She was deciding what to do next as was involved in local meetup groups, event organising etc around the London Shoreditch scene.
We had got on to discussing Monzo, and I advised her of being customer 38 and my refusal to leave without a card, which was met very much with disbelief. This was when I realised both that Monzo was cool and it had hit the tech mainstream.
Having to use my traditional bank
Fast forward to April 2018, I tried to use online banking with my traditional bank to get a small loan for some home improvements, but there was an error with the system, so I had to visit my local branch. It was lunchtime so was told I would need to wait an hour or book an appointment which I do for the following day.
I arrive for the meeting, and we proceed to get the loan (by basically guiding me through the same process I had done at home, but today there was no bug). However, firstly, the not needed small talk, 5 minutes I can’t get back. Then the, when does your home insurance renew, your mortgage is up soon, did you know you can get this benefit if you have this. Then the, what are you doing this weekend line.
I leave the bank with my issue resolved and the person who helped having been polite, did what was needed, but it felt annoying something that could have taken 5 minutes took an hour.
The Monzo way
Now to May 2018, I get a transaction on my Monzo history of somewhere I haven’t shopped, the failure is due to an incorrect expiry date. I contact support via the in-app chat within 15 minutes.. 15 minutes (transcribe below, details omitted for security), the issue has been validated, my identity verified, and a new card dispatched. The card arrived two days later and is activated within 30 seconds all through the app, no phone calls or meetings and no small talk just emoji’s.
This is why traditional banks are gonna be fucked if they don’t address their culture and approach to being customer first. Though challenger banks like Monzo are currently working with a subset of features/services today, that will be resolved over the coming years, then it will come down to customer value and based on my experiences so far I am betting on Monzo.
Monzo keep going, and if you need a first customer to try out joint accounts I am here 😊