In September 2018, UK-based bank Monzo reached a milestone of 1,000,000 customers - and they’re now reporting more than 20,000 sign-ups to the platform each week. This represents around 15% of all new current accounts in the UK and it goes to show Monzo is well and truly on the way to dethroning the big name high street banks we're all familiar with. So, what is it about them that actually makes it different to the traditional banks we all know? And why are so many people taking the leap and opening a current account with this new kid on the block?
Throughout this blog post we’ll break down various parts of Monzo’s approach to design and development with the aim of proving that the decisions brands make in these areas are fundamental to the experience they provide customers and, in Monzo's case, are responsible for the massive success it has experienced over the years it has been operating.
If you're not already familiar with Monzo, the company was founded in early 2015 and its mission, (according to their website) is to build the best bank account in the world. In August 2016 it became a regulated bank and a team of more than 500 people work from the offices in London, led by CEO Tom Blomfield (pictured below).
Monzo has one of the most prolific identities in the race to bring digital banking to the masses, doing away with physical branches in favour of an experience which runs solely on your phone. Face-to-face customer interaction is a pivotal part of the service traditional banks provide, so scrapping this aspect completely could have been incredibly risky for a finance brand.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that the big name banks have completely ignored recent advancements in technology, most of them offer an online banking service and a mobile app of some variety - yet somehow everything still feels out of date. In the age of services such as Uber and Deliveroo, people look to technology for the solution to their problems more than ever and companies are being forced to either adapt and be on the cutting-edge or risk getting replaced by something new. This is the reality banks are facing at the moment.
To understand how Monzo is any different from the other banks out there, you need to consider the experience people are getting each day when they spend their money.
Typically, if someone makes a transaction on their debit card and then proceeded to check their bank's mobile app, they would see the amount for the transaction in question has been taken out of their available balance. A few days later they can see a short reference for the payment in their recent transactions, giving them a loose idea of where that money was spent.
On the other hand, if someone makes a transaction with Monzo they receive a push notification to their phone immediately. They can see in the app how much they’ve spent straight away and exactly where they spent it, with the specific location of the merchant displayed on a map, as well as a descriptive name and logo for the store, where possible.
These user experiences are incomparable and it’s barely scratching the surface of what Monzo offers. Its app boasts a range of other features, such as the ability to freeze and control your card on the fly, set budgeting targets based on the in-app categories to help you save money, send money between your contacts with ease and even intuitively split the bill at a restaurant.
It is actively trying to solve the problems we face when we’re banking with its competitors and that gives it an immediate advantage.
Monzo posted an article on its blog in 2016 which, albeit a little outdated now, provided a great insight into some of the tools it is using to build its platform. Its product is made up of hundreds of microservices and as a result, it is incredibly modular and flexible.
You can find the full article here if that’s something you’d like to find out more about. The key takeaway from this, however, is not the technology Monzo is using, it’s its overall philosophy when it comes to approaching enhancements to the product. A lot of thought has clearly gone into outlining the requirements of the system and choosing the best tools for the job, which is something all development teams should be spending a reasonable amount of time doing.
Monzo published another article more recently in which it spoke about revisiting old code and keeping it up-to-date with new deployments, which is equally as important as adding new features. Rushing head first into a development task can cause delays in the future, especially if you run into problems that you didn’t foresee at the start of the project.
Monzo also has a great reputation when it comes to dealing with consumer issues, even when it’s not the ones at fault.
In September 2018, British Airways shared details surrounding a data breach that resulted in the theft of personal and financial information belonging to just under 400,000 customers. The issue affected anyone who used the BA website or app to make or change bookings during a two week period at the end of August.
After hearing about the data breach, it took Monzo just three hours to find out which customers had been affected and automatically order replacement cards for every single one of them, before leaving them a message in the app explaining what had happened.
This is not the only time Monzo has performed well in the domain of customer support.
Ticketmaster reported a similar breach of its systems in June 2018, where customer card details were stolen. This scenario played out a bit differently, however, as Monzo responded by informing the customers that were affected that it had detected suspicious activity as a result of the Ticketmaster breach dating back to April. That's two months prior to Ticketmaster publicly acknowledging an issue. Monzo said it had already replaced the cards back when it first discovered the problem and there was no further action required.
It even went on to say that it had tried to work with Ticketmaster to alert it of the breach, however, the company did not acknowledge anything was wrong. These claims are seemingly backed up by a tweet made by a member of their financial crimes team, Daniel Chatfield, from April, as seen below.
The tweet might look completely meaningless at first, however, it was later confirmed to be encrypted text, and when decrypted it reads:
As you can see, the tweet seemingly proves the existence of the Ticketmaster data breach as early as April, just as Monzo had said. This reflects really well on Monzo and gives its customers confidence that they’re being given the very best service.
If you consider the funnel analogy for inbound marketing, customers usually come into the picture at the end of the process - once they've bought the product, they can often be more of an afterthought.
In reality, you want to imagine a wheel for your sales and marketing efforts - remove any friction from this wheel, so the customer is the main priority at all times. You want to continue to impress them even after they have closed a sale for you, and this kind of early problem solving is a great way of achieving this.
If you want to delve deeper into how you can refresh your inbound marketing strategy then you can read our blog post all about it here.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but we can't help but think that most banks would struggle to replicate the kind of action Monzo is taking in these scenarios, as most financial organisations just don’t seem to be set up to accommodate this kind of response at scale.
That hasn't stopped them trying to copy some of Monzo’s features though… Barclays, for example, has been advertising a temporary card freeze feature as part of its mobile app, something that Monzo has had since the very start.
Another great feature that comes as standard within the Monzo app is called the gambling block. Put simply, when enabled by an account holder it prevents any transactions that could be categorised as gambling from going through on the account in question. It takes 48 hours to disable the block on your account as well, preventing you from trying to spend any money in the heat of the moment.
According to the Gambling Commission, the number of problem gamblers in England exceeded 400,000 in 2016 - this is an issue which needs tackling and is a great step in helping to do that. It is designed with those customers in mind that may be struggling with addiction, or have struggled with addiction in the past, and it has had a massive positive impact on those who have used it.
One customer who has benefited notably from this feature is a man named Danny Cheetham, who had his story published by the BBC and a variety of other news outlets at the end of last year. Danny is thought to have lost almost £50,000 as a result of gambling, according to the article, and he mostly credits his recovery to Monzo and the gambling block for helping him break his habit.
The inclusion of this feature doesn't directly benefit the company – it doesn’t make any revenue from it – but the impact it has had on users, has resulted in a lot of positive marketing and no doubt influenced many new customers to join the service.
This goes to show that even if you spend time developing something that doesn’t appear to give you an immediate advantage as a company, it could later result in new business or positive advertisement for your product which is never a bad thing. Removing any friction for your customers will be your biggest ally in gaining new users, and retaining the existing ones. Spending more time as a business working on those development ideas might feel like time misspent, especially for a startup, but they could turn out to be advantageous in the future.
Now, it's safe to say that Monzo cards stand out. If you've never seen one before, it's more than likely to catch your eye. It uses a very vibrant shade of pink for the design of the cards (which they have dubbed 'hot coral') and it has quickly become instantly recognisable as the colour of the Monzo debit card - this wasn't always the intention, though.
The original Monzo cards were designed this way just for the beta program - something for early adopters. Hugh Cornejo, the head of design at the bank, said in a WIRED article last year that the intention was to replace the cards with a more traditional design once the trial period was over. The cards became so popular, however, that Monzo has opted to keep using the original design to this day and for the foreseeable future.
Now, the hot coral card is synonymous with the brand and coincidentally, coral is also Pantone’s colour of the year for 2019. Monzo has since adapted the card into a company mascot (aptly named Hot Chip) which it has used in a number of different fun little animations in the app, some of which you can find here, or just generally on its social media channels.
Being brave with your branding can work in your favour - don’t be afraid to stand out and make bold choices when it comes to design, as long as you’re spending the necessary time considering why you’re making these choices and ensuring they make sense for your brand.
Finance brands need to consider their consumers at all times, and you could use some of these ideas to reinvent your own approach to design and development. Here’s a quick summary of things you could try:
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