For investors only, though talks are now public on youtube, investival was a chance to show what Monzo is aiming for in the future and a showcase of what they do to get there — culturally as well as product focused. Below are short summaries of the talks and my key takeaways.

Monzo Points

Points for using your card is coming soon. : a few screenshots and also a table of the most popular vendors for Monzo customers.

Essentially, like Tesco Clubcard, but driven by different brands within Monzo. You will gain points from certain places and be able to spend points in certain places.

Monzo Plus

Essentially, pay £3–6 per month and get features designed for less stress — directly give feedback about Monzo, have personalised offers to save you researching (insurance and broadband), and more.

To me, right now, it is the ability to choose a colour of your Monzo card and to have a direct way to give feedback without using the community. You are paying to be a guinea-pig for early features. It seems unlikely the cost incurred will return to you, right now.

In the future there is potential for insurance, early access to credit cards, loyalty cards integration, young person accounts, airmiles, cashback options and more as they become the managers of your data and finance.

Early Payday

Monzo has a little problem with most users loving the product and being true evangelists of it, but not supporting it / moving their money to it with their paychecks and savings. Why? Two things I suspect: people are lazy(“I don’t want to change my bills over”), and Monzo isn’t clear with its offerings (“they have savings accounts?” — more to come on this). Monzo want to be more than a bank, they want to be a platform for you to know your finances.

“To address this, lets make a fun feature that would appeal to most users, but requires their pay to go to their Monzo.” is what I imagine was said.

I think this is a stroke of genius. Super attractive, I assume easy to implement and hits that business goal — and a lovely dragging action to do so! From a Product perspective this is smart.

Empty Spaces

Monzo has morphed with time, and as such the features aren’t clear. Did you know they is a savings account that offers 1.5%!? I bet not unless you have looked hard for it. This will only get worse as saving’s accounts, loans, external balances (like student loans) become visible, credit scores and credit cards (offhandedly confirmed by accident on the day). The design team have been thinking about this challenge like photo albums.

From the Verge’s Critique of the Photo’s app when it came out 2015

Photo apps allow you to see a high level view and a detailed view very quickly. This is already beginning to be rolled out and should be here soon.

Interestingly, the rollout was staged to staff, then opt-in users, then a proportion of new users and now the wider customer base— learning from each cohort at each stage.

Support at the Speed of Thought

Customer Service can be a thankless job, until Monzo. How are their staff so quick at responding? Well, currently they have 1 helper (a.k.a COps in Monzo) to 3000 people (~670 COps) focused on it. They have a completely custom solution to empower their COps. They have built a platform on a React, Redux, GraphQL and a collection of APIs including Twillio. As well as displaying all relevant information and the customer chat, they also have access to their own policy chat which is assisted by machine learning [very similar to what I worked on at IBM!]. They also know self service will become more and more common and hence are building products with the core product team to integrate. All this with the goal to move to 1:100,000 COps to customer ratio.

One of the most interesting things that was mentioned almost as a throw away was that they were exploring the potential to run customer service with the Uber business model. Very interesting.

The Role of Technology in Supporting Social Inclusion

For me the crooks of this presentation was the image from Microsoft on diversity of product. The talk highlighted that there is a limited but functional site for people without phones, a joining program with the big issue and the #nobarrierstobanking activities of Monzo. It also highlighted how much of this work comes from the company’s equivalent of Googles 20% time — time to do work you find important. Anyone can write a proposal and anyone can then work on it.

Product Culture at Monzo

“Our engineers, designers and product managers tell us what to do”

In a similar sentiment to this post about the new dandelion structure of organisations, Monzo’s culture seems to focus on empowerment. Everyone is given some Monzo time to work on their own thoughts, hackdays are regular etc etc. This extends past just time to do what you find valuable, teams are always cross-functional (product, dev, design, analysts and access to lawyers etc — hence no blockers) and are not prescribed how they should work — teams are scrum, kanban and nothing if they so desire. The culture encourages sharing of their results.

All in all what does this do: voluntary turnover rates are 1% in Monzo; 13.2% is the tech sectors global average (LinkedIn) and supposedly 6.15% is voluntary leaving in a ‘representative’ sample of US tech employees (Kapor Centre).

Hot Chip Science

Hot chip if you don’t know is this little chappy.

In short, bank card design is heavily, heavily, heavily regulated. Some are shape, some are demands to have transaction counters and tables for currency conversion (presumably to trace hacks).

Rika also described a weird ceremony that makes banking secure, a key ceremony — where VIPs securely agree on common keys/passwords.

Building Monzo’s Base

There are over 1000 microservices in Monzo, most written in Go as to deliver ‘as-quick-as-you-like’ service and to provide readable consistency. Python is also regularly used when open source libraries are required— presumably for data science.

The microservices architecture needs to be a polygot — language agnostic — and fault tolerant. Both are baked-in to becoming a microservice.

“No-one should be waking up at 3am to handle something”.

All are also context bound by design, through sharing by communicating not by sharing memory. This enables tight control with a service mesh — “ we need service discovery, automatic retries, error budgets, load balancing and circuit breaking”. They chose Envoy — created by Lyft. Read about that decision here.

Similarly, they do their monitoring with a system called Promethus — read about that here.

The talk then focused on their crowd-sourced fundraising round which raised £20mil. This was going to be a high traffic high value event — £6.8 mil in the first 6 minutes. They built a host which they stress tested with 1000 app loads per second. How was this possible? By having an elastic, microservices based architecture.

Growth at Monzo

Growth to 2.3 million customers

This talk focused on what growth is at Monzo. Growth of customers is great but growth of usage is better for creating better products — a focus on sticky growth if you follow Eric Ries. Similarly, they referenced Airbnb’s focus on nights booked — not new customers.

One interesting learning they showed was from referals. Comparing 2018 to now, they added two features which really helped with the conversion of invitations. The change? The referrers image and name was included and they incentivise with a £5. This doubled their conversion.

They also showed how they beginning to split down their customers.

They also showed the real value for Monzo of bringing peoples salaries into the product. Getting money a day early may be enough of an incentive to make people change and hence will have a better view of their total finances and Monzo will also get more capital to work with and grow.

Ask Me Anything

There was a few standard questions; “how did you start Monzo” where Tom explained GoCardless where he learnt about payment systems but then skipped past Starling. The Telegraph newspaper did a quick summary here. There were questions about what a VP role is: a leader with a background — you are no longer a designer if you are a VP but you do represent that.

Effort in UK vs USA: 95% UK and 5% USA based on people. They are not actively looking at another location at this time. As they do not know their users they are starting from scratch with all their assumptions but have the learnings of the technology they have built.

They gave a brief story of why the colour is that way — check the talk but essentially they picked it thinking they would change it in the future.

“What are Monzo’s values?” Transparent from default. Hard on problems, not people. Start small, think big. Belonging.

“How is lending going?” 2–3% default rate which they are happy with. In the future they want to build their own sudo-credit score/file.

The Monzo Future

When thinking about quick wins, think about risk — when making the thing and when assessing its impact. He also defined how there is a role to prove ideas are not viable. This role is called a Scout and it is their mission to destroy ideas. Only good ideas will survive this. It is through this system things like coin jars when rounding up money appear. In it, linking Monzo to Etherium has happened to (though wasn’t released because of a Scout).

He also called out that Monzo has an ability to link images with payments — which was intended for receipts but currently nothing happens with that.

Aboard the Rocketship

First Meri spoke about team size and filters:

  • At 10 people, everyone knows everything and hence it is quick
  • At 50, people are interested in / worried about their careers more
  • At 150, people will not know each other

“Lots of people talk about what google do, but not what they did when they were that size”

In code, you shouldn’t repeat yourself. In communication, you should. If people don’t know about something they guess and make things up.

She suggested two books:

  1. First break all the rules; Marcus Buckingham
  2. Drive; Daniel H Pink

And also suggested the Gallup Survey — 12 questions from the 90s to help assess the team’s motivation and crucially inclusion. If teams are motivated, they feel a sense of purpose, a sense of autonomy and a sense of mastery. If they are included they feel wanted.

Though she did suggest some new phrasing to the 90’s world of software developement and also some translation from American to European (best friend at work).

My other take away was on the common saying of ‘culture fit’. Often said but from Meri’s perspective you do not want a culture where people are expected to click or not. You want a ‘culture add’ environment where culture adapts and grows from the people around it — that is how you get inclusion.


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