Talking with Norris Koppel – CEO and Founder of Monese

Talking with Norris Koppel – CEO and Founder of Monese

On what differentiates Monese from other fintech companies and traditional banks

Monese is one of the new challenger banks with a very unique focus. Our focus is we want to be able to onboard and open banking facilities for those people that are not typically able to bank easily. For example, people coming from abroad to a new country, ex-pats, nomads, immigrants and so on. Typically, these people find it very hard to open a bank account in a new country because they tend to have no credit history in the new country and also typically don’t have proof of addresses and so on. We are very much focused on figuring that out, seeing if we can identify those people, do all the KYC checks as required by a regulator and so on, and that’s our unique focus.

We launched in 2015 and we became the very first mobile-only bank account or currency account in the UK when we did. Our focus also is to provide retail banking facilities for people who are coming to the UK. We are very much of a global mindset and global ambition. We just recently launched in 19 further European countries, so right now we are up and running in twenty countries, and the idea is that anywhere should be able to bank like a local using Monese. You could be opening a UK bank account with us, a European account with us in the future, in the US, India and beyond and so on. So this is what we do.


On their unique solution to the KYC challenge

In terms of KYC – typically a UK based high street bank would require the customer to show their passport and potentially a utility bill – something with proof of address in the UK. And there’s a moment when a customer coming from Germany, with a German proof-of-address – that’s not going to work with a UK bank. So we decided to not focus on paperwork and generally try to understand who our customers are by collecting an electronic footprint that’s available in most cases on pretty much anyone. So our KYC platform, which is proprietary, we built it ourselves, is able to find enough data, typically, in the digital universe and we are able to make a risk-based decision, typically in real time, in terms of KYC checks.


On managing their relationship with their liquidity provider with their unique KYC checks

We are regulated ourselves also by the FCA, we are not a bank, we are an e-money company. This means that obviously we have to, first of all, sell our ideas to a regulator, so a regulator approves it – that’s a first step. But mostly, the way we operate, we see ourselves as a light bank account and this means that we hold customer funds in multiple banks around the world and the same way we work with famous institutions, other regulated entities, and every single one of them has to approve our email policies and the way we do KYC, so lots of red tape to go through, but this is how we operate. Every single regulated entity is approving our way of doing things and UK banks and European banks have all done that.


On the rebundling of banking services

We see ourselves as sort of a light bank account and we don’t want to build everything ourselves, so unlike banks we want to keep everything light. But we want to aggressively expand our territories and make our technology available on a global scale. We want to own a platform with a KYC and all that, and make sure that this is focusing on that one thing. But everything else, as FX or credit, or saving products – we see that through the marketplace which is becoming quite popular these days among challenger banks, we see that marketplace model really works for us and enables us to get to a new market up and running, credit everything else.


On partnerships and ownership of the Monese customer

The goal is to keep it within the Monese interface as much as possible, so ideally, Monese customers would not leave the app in order to use any of the services that we have. Sometimes that’s not possible and the customer will also become a customer of a third party, but we are trying as much as we can to keep the experience within the single app. If there is any interaction with a third-party supplier, we are trying to keep it inside our app. But the ownership of the data can be shared and the customer can be a customer of multiple companies, not just us.


The goal is not to be one bank for everything

I think this really benefits customers. For example, right now, let’s say someone is banking with Barclays, let’s say, and the services being provided to this customer are only Barclays services, obviously, so lending, credit, everything comes from Barclays. We feel that if we have, let’s say, a selection of three to five lenders inside our marketplace, and based on that transactional behaviour and decisions, we can offer the best deal to our customers, and this way the customer has more choice, better selection and an overall better experience.


On cryptocurrency

We are carefully excited about cryptocurrency. My own team and myself, we are very excited about opportunities being offered with the blockchain world. Sending money from one place to another, internally within banks, but also with cryptocurrency itself, such as bitcoin, just to be enabling this to our customers, we are very excited about – although we are not capable of doing it yet. I think in the future it is highly likely that we will be offering something like this, but I think our banking partners must be comfortable with this also, so that’s one of the challenges that we have.


On their typical customer profile

We only launched in Europe a few weeks ago, so let’s exclude any data from there. In the UK we have 85% of our customer base is non-English speakers who use Monese as their main, primary bank account. So this is not something that new challengers can say, I think. Because these customers typically are new to the country, that’s why we are getting them using Monese as a primary bank account. Our app speaks eight languages at the moment, so customers can really use the Monese app in their own native language. A fully localised product is a great step forward for us, we will be at 14 languages in the next few months, which effectively covers 90% of the world in terms of languages.

Our average customer is about 32 years old, male, and generally earning sort of a low, quite low income, new to the country working at Tesco, Starbucks and so on, and their wage is being directly deposited into the Monese bank account.

We are very proud of that fact – we are used as primary bank account by the majority of our customers.


What customers did before Monese

Customers would go to to the bank, get rejected, wait for 2,3,6 months, wait for their utility bills to come through, then get their bank account – if they’’re lucky.

If you’re less lucky, let’s say you are not the main tenant of a unit so you don’t have a utility bill, you are somewhat screwed. So you have an option to go and buy a utility bill, which is a fake one, face jail time, that’s one option.

Or, you could use some sort of prepaid card. That has maybe, or maybe not, a current account attached to it. Typically these accounts are relatively expensive, I’ve seen monthly charges of £10, £20, plus high ATM fees. You know, very limited, poor products where you can’t even do international remittance. So these have been the choices really. With Monese we are basically providing customers an experience that feels better overall than the experience with a High Street bank, in terms of the onboarding experience. We are quite confident, although we have started with a migrant segment and so on, 15% of our customer base is using Monese as a secondary one and we are hoping to get them to switch over.


On competing with banks

Technically some of the challengers would say they are competing with banks directly. At Monese, we compete and don’t compete at the same time. The customers we are working with are complete rejects. 30% of customers walking into a bank are rejected if they are from abroad. So working with this customer segment that is completely not served by big banks – is that competition? Is that complementary? I would like to think of that as more a complimentary way. So we actually have even been discussing potential partnerships with some of the big banks, where they would direct customers they could not onboard to us, and basically come to some sort of an arrangement there is something we have been thinking about.

If you are talking more about startups, we haven’t really seen anyone who is starting on the sort of migrant, immigrant sort of nomad people. There are of course some other fast growing companies such as Revolut, but they seem to have more of an FX driven focus. There are also some startups that are trying to do exactly what we do, but I would say right now the market is a bit noisy, and thinks that we are directly competing with Revolut. We don’t feel there is too much direct competition going on. We offer something different to customers, it’s less FX driven.

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