When my friend first got a Monzo card I thought the concept of an entirely digital bank was outrageous—a necessary transformation from an equally outrageous standard banking system, but still difficult to grasp. Fast forward a few years, Monzo is now Britain’s ‘best-rated lender’, has a community forum that makes Monzo-inspired fan art and has recently made it into the prestigious ‘unicorn’ club with a valuation of over £1 billion. Yet Monzo isn’t alone. Fintech companies are now sprouting everywhere, with a total global investment into these digital banks in 2017 hitting a record $27.4 billion according to Accenture. But what makes Monzo so successful among the many competitors?
Known for its eye-catching coral-coloured cards, Monzo claims it now has over one million customers and a 15 percent share of all new current bank accounts opened in the U.K.—that’s a lion’s portion considering that it was only founded in 2015. The following year in February, the digital bank even set the record for the quickest crowdfunding campaign in history, when it raised—via the Crowdcube investment platform—£1 million in 96 seconds. Impressive.
The business has no doubt transformed banking to be more accessible, social and fit into a digitalised world with targets, notifications and friendly in-app customer service. The site even says it’s a bank that “lives on your smartphone”. Recently it was hailed “best-rated lender” in a Which? annual survey. However, this title comes just before it was widely reported—first in The Times—that Monzo allowed its customers to buy shares in its £20 million crowdfunding round this month, via their overdrafts. This latest crowdfund, which finished just last week, was another extremely successful venture, with the business achieving the full sum of £20 million in sub-three hours. It seems Monzo’s followers are so loyal, they are willing to part with money they may or may not have.
A large proportion of Monzo’s customers are millennials and unfamiliar with share trading, particularly in unlisted shares such as the crowdfunding initiative. Tom Bloomfield, Monzo’s founder, said on Twitter: “The claim [made by The Times] that Monzo has a specific ‘overdraft offer’ which ‘lends customers money to buy its shares’ is just not true. On this basis, literally every publicly listed UK bank lends customers money to buy its shares.” His point is fair, technically nothing is wrong. If you want to purchase shares using your overdraft from the bank that just so happens to be the same company you wish to buy shares in, why shouldn’t you be able to? While overdrafts are not covered by restrictions, the problem with businesses lending loans to their customers to buy their own shares is that this can create false markets.
Beyond the creation of a community through crowdfunding, Monzo crucially nurtures its users through its community forum, where tens of thousands of loyal users have collectively gathered on the website to champion the service. According to the site, there are over 28,000 users actively engaging in the community forum, with thousands of posts created and commented on every month. Topics discussed? There are financial threads of course, but there is also a Monzo fan-art thread created by one big fan, another which questions whether Bloomfield is vital to the business’ success, Monzo socials across Britain and a Monzo-themed Christmas thread, also, of course, featuring fan art including the Monzo favicon adorned with a Santa hat.
The forum is monumental in creating a sense of loyalty amongst its young users and driving crowdfunds forward, as crowdfunding itself is nearly always carried out online. This notion aligns with the many Monzo users on the forum who are participating in conversations surrounding the company and already highly engaged through a sense they are shaping the company.
Technically, the digital bank hasn’t done anything wrong in its approach to crowdfunding, but enabling its young customer base who aren’t professional traders to dip into their overdrafts to pay for unlisted shares in the company, is worth a second thought. Especially as this approach to crowdfunding is tactic to further create loyalty, as individuals are less likely to ‘bank hop’ if they have purchased shares within the company. I.e., it is in their best interest that the bank doesn’t lose its users. Whatever you may think about this strategy, the spirit of Monzo is high and strong amongst the community, which has been hailed by Monzo as its way to defy banking as we know it and create a bank that listens and includes its users. But is this seemingly inclusive ethos an aspect that should attribute a digital bank, or is Monzo simply capitalising on its engaged users, and further still, using this community as its bedrock for financial and market-share success?
With many fintech companies currently sprouting and billions being poured into them, it is no question that banking as we know it is set to change over the next few years. Restoring a sense of community around financial sectors is a unique selling point Monzo understands all too well. The more young people who want to take part and buy shares, even though controversial, the less likely they are to switch banks; the more people engaging in discussions on the bank’s platform, the greater sense of belonging they will foster. Christmas hats on the Monzo ‘M’ is but a sign of success.
It is evident that Monzo has completely transformed the future of banking to be more user-friendly, social and slot into a digitally-focused world, which has been incredibly effective. The Monzo customer base is loyal, young, tech-motivated and willing to champion and discuss Monzo online through the forum. With a 15 percent share of all new current accounts opening in the U.K. every week, it’s clear that Monzo’s approach to digital banking, while with its controversies, sure works.
If you too, like me not long ago, found yourself opening crypto wallets and frantically checking the inflation rate of the coins every half hour, turns out that feeling was vastly more complex than simply FOMO of waking up quite literally a multi-millionaire. Much like many addictive aspects out there in our lives, cryptocurrency trading shares many of its traits with gambling and substance abuse. So much so, that in June of this year, Scotland became the first country in the world to open a rehabilitation centre for those battling with cryptocurrency trading addictions.
Yes sure, trading in stocks is also an addiction in its own right, but isn’t the dark side of crypto trading and its addictive byproduct essentially the clearest indicator there can be (a red flag in fact) that the currency is flaky as hell and more unstable than mining coins on a domestic router? The Scottish Castle CraigHospital’s new crypto-addiction department is unique and should not be overlooked for its significant forward thinking. But what should also be notable are the dangers of continuing to pump money into a coin—and a future economy—that is gravely unstable and unpredictable.
“Cryptocurrency users can get hooked by the volatile fluctuation of prices online which creates a ‘high’ when they buy or trade a winning currency” and “this can be exciting but also addictive and… financially disastrous,” said a representative from the clinic. The symptoms of crypto addiction are not dissimilar to those of gambling, from people risking their spare money to groceries funds, rent and mortgages. Yet one of the fundamental differences in regard to crypto addiction is that its success stories, like that friend of a friend who made millions in months or 50 Cent becoming an accidental Bitcoin millionaire, are heavily mediatised. As crypto coins gained immense traction twelve months ago, with Bitcoin reaching a figure of £12,000 per coin and Ethereum and others following in its footsteps, it seemed that everyone wanted to get their hands on it—heck even I went as far as opening a crypto wallet and started to dabble in a trade of a currency I essentially knew nothing about—and I’ve never so much as looked at a stock before.
The bottom line here is not so much a praise for the crypto rehab, nor that we need more, but that the speed with which the industry is excelling has left too many gaps in what we should perceive the currency to be and how it might be regulated. There are still advocates of crypto trading who do not believe an addiction to the trade exists and that, according to Manav Singhal, CEO of the blockchain startup Velix.ID, “Profits and losses are just a part of the trading, and it is no different than trading any other kinds of securities.” Adding that “There’re many reasons that make you trade cryptocurrencies frequently, given how fast things are changing in the industry.” And indeed that is true. But when an industry has boomed so quickly and to no limitation, without regulation (which granted is the great thing about crypto and yes I admit this opens up all sorts of questions to currency regulation), the most financially vulnerable are at very high risk of losing it all, including psychological wellbeing.
Even though Bitcoin is at an all-time low (it has been plummeting since its peak in December 2017 and is now at 68 percent of its then value), and the crypto economy having shed a total $500 billion according to CoinMarketCap, success stories in its trade still surround us—small and large. So as the haze of accidental or fluke crypto cash-ins fades; as the market value drops and as more and more people are being treated for serious addiction issues around it, it might be time to move away from the free-of-regulations dream that this currency promises and truly start to tackle the dangers it poses in real life.