From financial exclusion to financial inclusion… the story of Monese
1 May 2018
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey and how Monese began.
I am originally from a small country called Estonia and I arrived in the UK around 18 years ago. When I arrived in the UK, the challenge I initially faced was that I couldn’t open a bank account as I didn’t have a UK credit history. This was very annoying, demeaning and quite a surprise as in Estonia we had a banking system that moved quickly and efficiently, almost in real time.
I sold my previous business in 2013, and I started to think about what I should do next. I remembered my banking experience when arriving in the UK and started to think of various ways I could resolve the banking challenge for millions of UK migrants. The conclusion I came to about the problem many migrants encounter came down to 2 key areas; banks are strictly regulated, and the current banking systems were there to serve the needs of people who are already in the UK and have been so for a long period of time, so they have a strong UK footprint and a roof over their head. This doesn’t work if you’re coming from abroad. Secondly, banks offer free accounts but sell something to recoup the money and they do this by using credit.
I decided to leave credit to one side and see if I could make KYC global, a light touch bank accessible to anyone globally. After becoming regulated, Monese was launched late 2015, becoming the very first mobile current account in the UK.
What do you aim to achieve at Monese by disrupting the banking industry?
What we want to achieve and how we aim to disrupt, is to make banking as inclusive and affordable for everyone and eventually make banking free. We started in the UK initially and then expanded into Europe, right now we are in 20 countries. This is just the starting point for us. We have this very noble goal of moving people from financial exclusion to financial inclusion. We want customers to receive equal treatment wherever they are. It’s more about openness and on a global scale!
To build the most inclusive banking service in the world – this may seem like a bold statement and it is, but we feel that by being as open as we are and really focusing on what
we can do as a business, we can strive to get everyone over the line. How do we make sure that everyone gets an account? This is what drives us!
What are some of the biggest lessons that have impacted the way you work?
I was hugely surprised when I started this journey with Monese, to find out that banking is in a mess! The way big banks have been built up, how the money flows between banks and how existing databases don’t talk to each other, it’s a bit like spaghetti. It’s going to take years and £bns for banks to come out of the coma they are in at the moment. I’m feeling incredibly lucky that with Monese, we have the opportunity to build everything from scratch and reinvent how things should work, without relying on old technology.
What is the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success?
The key is to learn how to overcome your fears and keep swinging in the opposite direction to everyone else. It’s incredibly challenging to make decisions, especially in the early days. You also really have to have a lot of grit, stamina and a ‘never give up’ attitude. Hard work seems to be the way that gives the best possible outcome. Luck comes and goes, the ability to take a massive amount of pain and to still enjoy the journey at the same time is key.
What are the biggest challenges the banking industry will face during the Brexit process?
I don’t know many people who are pro-Brexit. The biggest challenge is the level of uncertainty and the confusion this brings over a number of years. The banking industry doesn’t know what is going to happen, we don’t have any confidence in how things are going to pan out and how that will impact people’s approaches to keeping their businesses running. You have to consider how your business can actually keep running, and all this uncertainty comes at a cost.
What impact will exiting the EU have on the British start-up scene?
As I previously mentioned, I’m from Estonia and know what it feels like to not be part of Europe and the humiliation of having to go through visas if you don’t have the EU passport. I never wanted to go back to this again. However, it seems like this is exactly what is going to happen. Imagine a German national coming to the UK for work today and a few years down the line. Now you can walk through the passport gates very easily with no visa, in the future it’s going to be much harder. Having more barriers has never been good in my opinion and in the long run it doesn’t work. As for British start-ups, one of the challenges will be hiring great people, and we have started to see some start-ups moving their headquarters outside the UK. As an eternal optimist, I see that London and Britain has so many unique features that remain attractive and therefore we at Monese see our headquarters remaining in London for the foreseeable future.
As a successful entrepreneur in the FinTech space, what is your current view of the sector, especially in London?
It’s all about access to capital and talent. It’s very interesting right now to be a Fintech entrepreneur here in London. London still remains the best place to raise money in Fintech, it still attracts the best talent and remains the best City to run your Fintech business. London Fintech space remains thriving and I don’t see this changing anytime soon.
What are some of the most exciting innovations in Fintech this year?
I would say opening up banking so banks can exchange information, enabling customers to be the bosses of their own accounts will really make everything so much easier for customers.
How do you see the Fintech landscape developing over the next 5 years?
Deeper integration between Big Banks and small Fintech companies, either by partnerships, buying up or by intense collaboration. Through all of this, the customers will benefit massively with better prices, accessibility and an overall better experience.