A look behind the scenes of Monzo, a bank that's truly digital and customer first.

A couple of years ago, users of digital bank Monzo were firmly in the ‘early adopter’ category. Now, they’ve been awarded a banking license, are rolling out current accounts and you’re much more likely to see one of their hot coral cards being used out in the wild.

They’re one of a few challenger banks to have emerged in recent times, but their brand and design stands head and shoulders above the rest. They’ve gained a reputation for exceptional customer service, delightful design features, and a usable product – just ask their 500k+ users. Being firm fans of Monzo, we asked Hugo Cornejo, their Head of Design, to speak at Canvas Conference. Here’s a summary of his fascinating (and amusing) behind the scenes look into a bank that’s both digital and customer first.

Hugo speaking at Canvas Conference 2017

Hugo’s first interaction with the UK banking system was when he moved to London from Madrid for work – and it wasn’t a good one. Despite ticking all the boxes and claiming they could open an account ‘while you wait’, he was told by a well known high street bank that he couldn’t get a current account. He wasn’t trusted as a new customer, and this dreadful customer experience was front of mind when he joined the team at Monzo.

He’d seen first-hand that banks are broken.

The issue is that legacy banks have all the power – as a user you feel like you are always asking for permission from the bank to give them your business. At Monzo, their goal is to be on the customer’s side, and for the bank to become a ‘homescreen app’.

The first days at the company were spent working on a small and well-defined problem (peer to peer payments) – from day one, they were considering and also speaking to many potential customers.

To talk to users early on, they included a ‘Contact Us’ button in the app, which went to a live chat with any member of the team. Sounds simple, but if you compare how difficult it is to talk to anyone in your current bank, it feels revolutionary. They realised that most people fall on either side of the spectrum: people who love a spreadsheet and will regularly sift through their own data, and on the other side, people who are literally the opposite (no control or comprehension of where their money is).

These people are clearly approaching the issue of money in very different ways, which is a real challenge for the Monzo design team.

Hugo took us through the three key values that make Monzo a stand-out product that people love: taking care of the details, being human and listening to customers.

Sweating the details

Hugo showed us how small design decisions equate to a more delightful and sticky product. In the early days working on peer to peer payments, they spent time developing design language elements in detail (such as how to display the numbers in a transaction). It seems small – but those successful decisions have come to be the standard for many other financial products.

Monzo also reveal their fun personality by showing relevant emojis on push notifications for retail store transactions, which users love. Even the small (and Hugo admits, random) decision of making the cards a hot coral colour is part of this; it’s a conversation starter, and immediately marks out the company as playful and ‘not just another bank’.

As the company experienced rapid growth, they made a decision to ‘power up the brand’. Hugo shared a series of animations they’ve designed to make the on-boarding experience more playful. While a new user waits for their sign-in email to hit their inbox, an animated character appears saying ‘on my way!’. It helps align every touch point with the customer to their overall brand and mission of building a new kind of bank.

Being human

A company value that creeps into every aspect of the product is being more human. Rather than stuffy banks that hold customers at arm’s length, Monzo connects directly with its users in a way that feels natural.

Customer support is our secret sauce

Every Monzo user raves about its customer support; they bring the same humor and character to this as they do the UX of the product. It’s fast, in everyday language, and they engage with customers not purely in a transactional way.

Hugo shared examples of Twitter conversations where people had been let down by technical aspects of the service, but the resulting support had been exceptional – to the point where they’re talking about it publicly (a mean feat for any brand).

Being human also means getting outside of their own bubble (and the Old Street startup one..) and meeting their community face to face. Monzo has held a number of community events around the UK, allowing customers to see the people behind the app. Hugo added that these in-person events also have the added bonus of allowing you to see any biases in your community before data can – if you aren’t attracting a diverse user base, you can act on that as you grow.

It’s also about seeing the human behind the numbers and showing customers that they are more than just a stat. Over the past couple of years, Monzo has been putting together a strong data team – they measure everything and the subsequent insights are hugely informative. But, not everything should be quantitative.

Hugo will often contact customers who have dropped off during the sign-up process to ask for their feedback.

Even the NPS metric they ask for isn’t a standard 1 to 10 scale – it’s augmented with emojis in the UI to make it more human (and show it’s not just about numbers).

Listening to customers (properly)

Everyone knows they need to talk to their customers, but from day one Monzo has taken it to the next level. Their community forum is very active, and they use this open platform to reiterate their brand tone and share their plans with users. They also extended transparency to the future of the product by making their backlog public.

Community members are empowered to suggest features (such as a ‘drunk mode’ which freezes your card at certain times) that often become part of the product. At these early stages, Monzo can’t afford to take the ‘magician’ approach of taking a long period to build something and then having a big reveal – they have to build the company and iterate with their users. It’s a common startup trope, but Monzo are big believers in ‘fake it till you make it’. Rather than launching into big build projects for new features, Hugo will often mock up new elements and display them as if they’re really part of the UI (when they’re not). For example, they showed users monthly spending reports and asked them, ‘Is this useful?’, before actually building out the feature.

Nowhere can you see the power of their community more clearly than their crowdfunding campaign. They managed the quickest fundraise on the site CrowdCube ever (£1 million in 1 minute 36 seconds), gaining not just funds to grow, but an entire community of evangelists who were converted to this idea of a more human bank.

You can watch Hugo’s talk in full here.