As an entrepreneur, every week feels like the most important week of your life
Monzo’s Gary Dolman spotted the opportunity for a challenger bank, unencumbered by legacy systems.
Monzo started with a simple premise: a lot more could be achieved if the bank wasn’t stymied by old and clunky IT systems. More importantly, people could get a far better deal than they were getting from the major banks.
It was a belief born of experience. Gary had started his career at PwC as a chartered accountant, working in London and Australia, before spending time at a series of major investment banks – including ING, ABN Amro and Japan’s Mizuho Group. He saw first hand the difficulties of making progress.
The original Monzo team were Tom Blomfield, Jonas Huckestein, Jason Bates and Paul Rippon, with Gary as chief financial officer. It was one of the first challenger banks and became one of the most successful. It got a banking licence in 2017 and today, over five million people have Monzo bank accounts.
Initially, however, it only offered the basics, says Dolman, but it still grew quickly: “Initially, we decided we would only offer a retail current account rather than selling a multitude of products. We focused on setting up the basics and getting a banking licence. Ahead of that, we launched a pre-paid card, which we could do without a banking licence. We thought it would be a good way to test the product and to get our name out there.
“We thought we might be able to roll out 20,000 cards but the thing took off like nothing on earth. By the time we completed our licence application, we had 400,000 accounts.” The group set about converting those into current accounts.
Monzo’s charge was led by younger people, millennials in particular. It attracted a loyal group of followers who liked that it was taking on the big banks and the iconic 'hot coral' card. “People felt they were buying into something,” says Dolman.
It wasn’t just the technology that was new. The founders also looked to re-engineer bank statements. “We wanted to start with the customer experience and build out. We considered what an ideal bank statement would look and feel like. It needed to be easy to understand.”
For Dolman, entrepreneurship was a significant shift from the staid world of investment banking. “As an entrepreneur, every week feels like the most important week of your life. Working in a large corporate is more like a long-distance steeplechase – the obstacles are fairly well sign-posted and you can prepare for them ahead of time. Being an entrepreneur is more like a sprint with hidden hurdles – you’re never quite sure what’s coming round the corner.”
Dolman moved away from the business in 2019, having spent five years at the business. He wanted to pursue a range of activities rather than being dedicated to one company. He hired his successor, took time to hand over and then stepped away.
Having spent time on a small portfolio of projects, including advising and mentoring business leaders and chief financial officers. His current positions include advisor to the board of Tip Jar, which helps customers pay digital tips, while also sitting as chairman at investment fintech Tickr. With hindsight, he says, he would have given entrepreneurship a try a lot sooner: “I’d say to anyone at the start of their career, have a go at start-ups. Pick one you believe in and give it a try.”
He still believes there are exciting times ahead in digital banking: “I really believe this disruption will continue. It has reached a wider group than you might think. The parents of millennials often use it because it’s the easiest way to move money between themselves and their offspring. The more people use it, the better the product becomes.”
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