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Banking for the WhatsApp Generation

In 2015 the financial industry was blown wide open. Hundreds of fintech companies entered the market backed with brains and capital, challenging the traditional players and raising new questions about the role banks now play in our lives.

At Wolff Olins we’ve been exploring how this exponential rate of change in financial services is impacting brand and customer experience. This has turned up a handful of impressive start-ups upending the status quo. Among them is Monzo: a new kind of bank built for your smartphone. Founder and CEO Tom Blomfield recently took us through the journey of one of the most hyped start-up banks, which was granted a UK banking license in August, just before his 31st birthday. There are four key differentiators he described which add up to a transformed banking experience in the age of mobile.

A bank that lives in your pocket

Tom co-founded Monzo 19 months ago on a belief that finance is fundamentally broken.

“When you can order an Uber at the click of a button or start seeing self-driving cars on the street, the idea that banking hasn’t changed in decades is extremely frustrating.”

“While technology has transformed our lives, mobile banking has simply come full circle: we’re back to Victorian passbooks but on a mobile platform. There’s no reinvention.”

Monzo is built on a different philosophy. It’s not about the typical financial products such as current accounts, credit cards or mortgages – it’s about solving everyday problems, however trivial they might look, to help you live a simpler and easier life. Monzo wants to be a single interface between you and your money.

Full of little moments of delight

But the experience is more than just transactional. As Tom walks through Monzo’s features, he talks about emojis with a big smile. Through machine learning, it recognises your spending category before pairing it with relevant emojis. For example, it displays a little donut when you shop at Dunkin Donuts. Used this way emojis become a tool to make dry content more engaging and create little moments of delight for the customer.

“There’s no business case for the emoji donut, but people get ecstatically happy when seeing it and go on social media to share the moment.”

A fundamental shift in customer service

Monzo’s customer service experience is also more friendly than you might expect when dealing with a bank. When you start a chat, you usually get a response within minutes (or hours at most.) While the informal tone of the agents makes it feel more like you’re talking casually with a friend on WhatsApp or Snapchat.

When asked about their not-so-serious personality, Tom admits that Monzo is not for everyone: “There are people who value face-to-face interaction, and there are banks for them.” However, he doesn’t believe investing millions in branches and suits is the best – or only – way to build trust: “Building trust is about how quickly and empathetically you respond to a problem.”

A single interface between you and your money

Transparency continues to be a big deal for Monzo – they’ve even published their product roadmap online for everyone to see. So, what’s next?

For the next 3-4 months their development team is focusing on ‘Monzo with friends’ – a feature that explores how a bank can be social. In the longer term Tom sees Monzo as a marketplace for financial products, with a single user interface helping you access the best choice and price in the market. Since they have no branches to manage, they can operate with much lower margins and keep prices down for customers.

Start with a deep understanding of customers

New generations of users are now jumping directly to mobile and social platforms. To stand any chance of sustainable success, a digital financial services business has to build itself around the smartphone. A transparent brand and product with a great user experience and clear functionality will trump any traditional bricks-and-mortar strategy.

New start-ups like Monzo are changing the way we interact with money, by integrating a social and emotional layer into what was once a purely transactional experience. And that can only disrupt banking for the better.


Illustration by Erika Baltusyte

Sieun Cha is Creative Director at Wolff Olins London. You can follow her @sbtwin