Monzo Bank is a UK start up that is causing a stir in the banking industry. With no physical branches it exists purely through the Monzo iOS and Android smartphone apps. With innovative features like instant balance updates, budgeting and live in-app customer service and raising over £12 million in it’s last round of crowdfunding, the buzz around Monzo seems unstoppable.

We speak to Zander Brade, a designer at Monzo about service design, UX and a transparent customer service and business model.

What is Monzo Bank?

Monzo is a digital bank based out of London, UK. We’re on a mission to build the best current account in the world and are currently somewhere on the road to doing that.

We have hot coral coloured cards, accompanied by an iPhone and Android app that give you instant, intelligent views of your spending.

What is your role at Monzo?

Zander Brade - Designer at Monzo

I’m a designer, with my primary focus being on what we call the external product – the mobile apps. However, along with the three other designers at the company, I work on everything from marketing material to internal company documents to presentation decks to illustrations and more.

What’s the makeup of the team currently?

We’re around 130 now spread over 12 teams internally, with new people joining every week. The team is growing very fast! The design team is four (Hugo, Sam, Vuokko and myself), with a fifth member (Richard) joining soon. We have 30 engineers in the company, but don’t have a single engineering team, instead having engineers working in each different team of the company.

What are the main problems with traditional banking service design you are trying to address?

The greatest pain with traditional banks almost always come down to a lack of consideration for customer experience. Everyone has at least one banking horror story, where they’ve had their card blocked when they went abroad, or waited 45 minutes on the phone to get through to someone, or were charged extortionate fees for going overdrawn.

None of this stuff is stuff is acceptable, but we’ve come to expect it as the norm from banks. Monzo is trying to replace the ageing and lacklustre offering of traditional banks with a simple and powerful experience we’ve come to expect in the digital era.

One of the unique things you do is have total transparency, even when things go wrong. How has this played with customers?

It always works out well, somehow. It takes us by surprise every time that our customers are so understanding of us messing up. The reality is, things go wrong for every company now and then – and it’s a customers right to be p*ssed off.

Being honest and clear about what’s happened, and what you’re doing to fix it, can only improve the situation.

How do you manage your live customer service on such a large scale?

Well, we’re trying! Things certainly get harder at times as we scale, but we have a world-class support team that do a great job of providing constantly great answers for our customers. We also have a team who are dedicated to building the tools they need to provide for our customers.

The Monzo prepaid card is certainly distinctively coloured. Was this an intentional choice to get people talking about it?

Monzo Prepaid Card

No, it was actually a bit of a fluke. We were in a rush to get alpha card designs to our printer way back in the day and Hugo, our head of design, posted three different neon card designs to our company Slack, and the hot coral was unanimously the favourite.

What were the challenges with doing  app based ID verification?

Our in app KYC (know your customer) has evolved a few times since we initially launched it – it’s arguably the most confusing and bizarre part of the Monzo experience, so it’s important for us to make it as smooth as possible.

We did recently have to upgrade all of our remaining unverified users, nearly 20,000 people, in a rather short space of time. It was a rush, but everything came together well.

What has been the hardest app feature to design so far and why?

Targets. We spent a long time researching current budgeting tools, and didn’t feel that anyone had really nailed the problem yet, there was less of a “standard” to go off. The most successful approach to a budget changes from person to person, and so trying to find a solution that could be useful for all of users was a mammoth task.

We’re definitely not there yet, but as Monzo becomes more sophisticated, and our understanding of spending habits increases, I think we can make Targets a very powerful feature.

What has been the biggest challenge being a startup in a long established sector like banking?

I believe that the biggest challenge that we are facing is apathy. It would be easy to say that the major banks, or even our challenger competitors, are the greatest fight we’ll have to succeed, but I think a far more relevant fight is convincing people that it’s worth switching their bank.

So few people switch current account every year, as the idea of changing banks feels like such a huge effort. All the bills and direct debits you’ll have to switch, and waiting to get your card, and providing information – even though these things are actually very swift nowadays, and we are making the transition process as painless as possible, the psychological effort of bank switching is still a huge undertaking for the majority of consumers.

So winning people over, and making the want to put in the effort to switch to Monzo, that’s the true challenge we’ll have to succeed on a major scale.

Why did you choose the Monzo prepaid Mastercard as your first product?

The prepaid Monzo card has allowed us to test almost all the features that we have been building into our current account, so now coming into the market as a full bank we have a great understanding of how people are using Monzo.

One of the most popular features of the Monzo card is the free use abroad. Is that something you plan to continue with or is it primarily to aid with customer acquisition?

We’re still working out the details for this one. Ultimately it costs us a lot of money to support unlimited usage abroad, and it may not be sustainable going forward.

Our current plan is to implement a fair use policy, where withdrawals will begin being charge a small fee after a certain amount of usage. Nothing is concrete yet though.

You aren’t relying on any legacy bank systems to create Monzo. How has this helped or hindered you?

This has helped us massively, I believe. Being able to avoid legacy procedures and legacy tech has allowed to move at an incredible pace over the last two years.

What are your plans for the Monzo current account rollout and what challenges have you faced in designing it?

Monzo – Current Account Breakdown

So we have begun rolling out a preview of the current accounts, and it’s actually gone surprisingly smoothly so far! Check out http://monzo.com/current-account/live for the running total!

There are a bunch of kinks we need to iron out still – a huge amount, in fact. But that’s part of this process, as a preview we know that many things aren’t working, and will continue to be broken for a while, but in line with our approach on transparency it was important to get this out as early as possible, and work with the community to improve it together.

How are you planning to deal with accessibility issues that arise with an app based bank?

That’s a great question. I don’t think we have the answer yet, but it’s certainly something we care about addressing. For example, once upon a time I think we never expected cheques to be something that was part of Monzo, but two weeks ago we set up the first cheque to be paid into Monzo.

As we tend to move very quickly and tackle what’s immediately on our plate, it does mean sometimes the harder challenges of accessibility have been left on the side. This definitely needs to be solved and I hope, once we have the less time urgent issues of the current account out of the way, we can solve for good.

Do you follow the Discovery, Alpha, Beta, Live model when designing services?

Yes, although I think it’s less structured in terms of labels. We work on a mixture of roadmap features and fixes/improvements for the apps, and try to get them into beta as soon as possible to test them hard with a small set of users, and then push them live as soon as we’re confident.

See also: The Beginner’s guide to service design

How do you go about user testing or researching your designs?

We have a weekly user testing session, where we bring in four to six people, ideally a mix of users and non-users, to ask them questions about their general use of Monzo and other banking products, as well as a one on one session where we walk them through a prototype of something we’ve been building.

We tend to keep the sessions very informal, as we want them to be natural and honest. We often have sessions where the prototype is very rough, and the outcomes tend to be mixed, but we find it incredibly useful to have direct contact and feedback from people interacting with our designs while it’s still in the early phases.

Can you talk us through the typical process you go through from coming up with a new feature through to design and implementation?

We have a relatively fixed roadmap (you can see the public version here (https://trello.com/b/9tcaMB4w/monzo-transparent-product-roadmap), and each quarter we pick out the things we want to build and need to build, and we set out a rough timeline of how we’ll address them.

Once we know the feature, the design team will take it into our hands. With one or two of us working on it until we have the flow worked out we go into designing high fidelity screens very early on and have an ongoing feedback process within the design team.

We all sit together so can give constant feedback and then come up with a design we think is strong. We present it to engineers in a “warm up” meeting. They then will provide feedback and questions, which we’ll take away to answer in the design and create a ‘finalised’ solution.

The engineers will begin building, and we’ll help with the details and polishing on the way. Then it gets put into the beta apps as soon as possible, and out to all of our users when we’re (almost) sure nothing will break.

What other exciting features do you have on the roadmap?

Ooh, there’s so much! For a very long time it’s just been getting the current account, but now that that’s begun and I get to use it, I’d probably have to say the integrations and partnerships we’re building.

Things like automatically switching your gas bill to a cheaper provider in app, or getting information for a flight you’ve just bought in-app.

There’s so many great things we can build, and I’m incredibly excited about making the information around your spending hyper intelligent.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Knowing that what we’re building truly has the potential to be a product used every day by a billion people. It’s a huge goal, and one that many startups have fallen prey to, but Monzo is on a great trajectory with an amazing set of users and we all feel optimistic about continuing our success.

Listen: Design Untangled Podcast – Monzo Bank – Interview with Zander Brade

You can get hold of a Monzo card by downloading the App for iOS or Android.

Categories: Mind Candy

Chris Mears

Chris is co-founder of UXmentor.me. He has worked with clients such as the UK government, Just Eat & Which? with a focus on service design and transformation.