“I’m not a big fan of Brexit,” says Norris Koppel, CEO of Monese, on the sidelines of Money 20/20, in Amsterdam. “It flies in the face of financial inclusion. That’s why we hired the Brexit bus as a bit of a tongue-in-cheek mockery.”
The former Leave bus, repurposed for financial inclusion.
Instead Koppel views Brexit as an even greater incentive to do what he does.
Headquartered in Shoreditch, London, and with offices across Europe, Monese launched the UK’s first mobile-only bank account in 2015, “before the likes of Monzo, Revolut, N26 and Starling,” Koppel says.
As with those challengers, Monese has found a niche of its own: “Monzo is targeting the Millennial market, which is wealthy but overserved. We’re going after the international market and those who need a bank account in the UK, but who cannot get one because they face the ‘triangle of death’: ‘no job = no accommodation = no bank account [and vice versa].”
Koppel says some 30% of current account applications are declined on these grounds by the UK’s largest banks with no or impartial credit rating, “it’s an outdated model, particularly with some 250,000 living a nomadic international worklife.”
Working with a large UK bank and regulated by the FCA, Monese can offer the international workforce multiple current accounts in different countries.
“It’s not just low-income workers we’re catering for. Investment bankers earning lots of money flying over from New York are in the same boat. Students and freelancers also fall into this currently underserved market,” says Koppel.
Koppel, from Estonia - with the highest density fintech unicorn per capita in the world - places himself in this same category and recounts his experiences of trying to get a bank account. “Monese was conceived because I was unable to open an account at a mainstream bank when I moved to the UK, even if you get approved, as a foreigner, it can take weeks or months which takes time that is not compatible with a mobile workforce. In this way, I set out to build a bank that is accessible to anyone, anywhere at a moment’s notice,” says Koppel.
Koppel puts the historic neglect of this segment of the market down to cost and outdated policies mainstream banks employ to grant current accounts. “It’s not that banks can’t serve this segment, they can build the technology but it would take time for their legacy systems to deploy - this is what’s costly.”
“Even US tech giants,” says Koppel, “with pre-existing relationships with UK banks can’t expedite the approval process beyond a couple of weeks for their employees. That’s not acceptable.”
But Koppel doesn’t believe the mainstream UK banks are intentionally neglecting the market. “We partner with a large UK bank and work on referrals to the Monese services.”
With an estimated market that Koppel puts in the hundreds of millions, Monese applies the same budgeting functionality - and stylish app to boot - along with a marketplace to offer additional financial services to an increasingly expansive Monese network of national current accounts. According to Koppel, Monese can offer this at 3-5 times less than the mainstream banks.
"With Brexit coming into effect soon, it is more important than ever that Monese continues to serve this international workforce and provide non-UK domiciles with financial access at an affordable rate."