My bank bought me a beer and that’s only one of the reason’s Monzo is great

Photo by Mattias Diesel on Unsplash

A couple of weeks ago I met with my bank, not in a stuffy branch, but in a bar.

Monzo, who I’ve banked with for the last 3 years held their first social in Leeds and it allowed myself and others to meet some of the people who work for Monzo as well as socialise with each other.

It’s a weird premise really, to walk into a bar and talk to people about your bank account but that’s one of the things I think Monzo does really well — It gets people talking about banking.

My history with Monzo

Until I got my Monzo account my only experience with banking was the account I set up as a kid for some birthday money I received and a Barclay’s account I had due to wanting to get a personalised debit card that they offered.

I initially signed up to Monzo when they were in their beta phase with the intent of using the account to help track my non-committal expenses but since they’ve become a fully fledged bank I’ve moved everything over, invested in them and set up a joint account with my girlfriend via Monzo too.

The reason I trust Monzo with my money is that they’re transparent about their business and the social they held only cemented my opinion that they’re the right place for me.

That’s not to say I’ve not seen Monzo fail. A friend of mine used one of my ‘golden tickets’ to create an account during Monzo’s explosive growth a year ago and ended up with his account under the wrong name and unable to change it due to the customer services team being short staffed.

While not on the receiving end of the issue I got to see two things, firstly my friend, frustrated with being unable to solve the issue quickly moved to a competitor bank and secondly Monzo wrote openly about the issues they were experiencing as their customer base grew at a rate they couldn’t keep up with.

I appreciate this honesty mostly because as someone working in the software development industry I understand that building a product isn’t always easy and you have to be agile to meet changing needs, but also because I have seen companies and people have similar issues and fail to admit they are there (which in turn lead to a business I worked in folding under).

What Monzo’s product development culture means to me

As a customer the monthly updates from Monzo on the new functionality they are working on helps me to understand the direction they are heading.

This means that I can opt-in to have early access to features that interest me (such as bill splitting) or if they decide to start working on features I don’t agree with I could decide to shut down my account.

This approach is contrasted to my experience with the bigger banks I’m with who will use the more waterfall approach of sending me a letter to tell me that a new feature is available in the app, and unless it’s revealed in the national news I’ll never learn of any of the dodgy practices they get up to.

The updates also touch on functionality they’re de-prioritising which I think is great. Recently Monzo decided to de-prioritise cheque image cashing (basically allow people to scan cheques to cash them into their account) and issued an update explaining that less than 0.1% had used cheques so it wasn’t seen as important.

As a software developer my team often have to adjust the prioritisation of the functionality in our backlog to ensure that the next increment we work on will deliver the most value to our users, so to see a company that shares they’re decisions with me, the end user is a really amazing level of transparency.

What I’d like to see in the future

After the social I was speaking to Simon, a Community Specialist at Monzo who mentioned that aside from holding more socials outside of London they also wanted to start more hack days against the Monzo APIs.

These two things are probably my biggest wants from Monzo, as I’ve moved out of London I’ve become aware of how London-centric the functionality they work on can be.

I understand why. It’s a small company and the majority of their initial customer base would have been based in London (or at least the South East of England) but as they’ve grown I think they need to look to build more ‘abstract’ functionality.

This would mean instead of offering rewards for 5 chains, only one of which has shops near me that they could look to build functionality to allow any shop to offer Monzo customers rewards, essentially allowing smaller businesses across the UK (or world) to jump onboard.

They could even build an API for this functionality, which I’m now going to use to transition to the next topic — Monzo’s API.

One of the things that initially attracted my interest for Monzo was the APIs they offered but having looked at apps and websites that use the APIs I think the current limitations that are put in place (due to the sensitive nature of what the APIs can do) prevent developers from building mass-market applications.

An app like Bankbar which I used as a base for the development of my Awair Toolbar requires you to register a new app with the Monzo developer console and use that app’s credentials to run it, as there’s a limit of 20 people for OAuth2 applications, this limitation isn’t Monzo’s fault but a PSD2 compliancy one.

While I’ll hopefully be able to attend some of the hack days and learn more about the Monzo APIs and the problems people are looking to solve with them I do have my doubts about how applicable the development efforts of the attendees will be due to these limitations.

Monzo does offer advice on how to gain less limited access on their developer documentation for those who have built something they want to target towards a bigger audience.

In summary

If you want a bank that will be transparent about what they’re building, that you can meet down the pub to discuss what their building and offers an API for you to build apps that solve problems you have then I’d highly recommend Monzo.

I look forward to the second Leeds social and hope to attend a hack day too but for now I look forward to seeing where Monzo goes in the coming months.

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Currently building reciprocal.dev. Interested in building shared understanding, Automated Testing, Dev practises, Metal, Chiptune. All views my own.

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Colin Wren

Colin Wren

Currently building reciprocal.dev. Interested in building shared understanding, Automated Testing, Dev practises, Metal, Chiptune. All views my own.

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