How Monzo brought Silicon Valleys wild ideas to Britains staid banking system

  • Tom Blomfield started Monzo in 2015. Five years later, the digital bank’s bright coral pink cards are now a common sight in London.
  • The U.K. entrepreneur traveled to Silicon Valley in 2011 to help build another fintech firm, GoCardless, at the start-up accelerator Y Combinator.
  • After his return to Britain, the Valley never really left him. U.S. payments giant Stripe and Y Combinator both went on to invest in Monzo.

Monzo CEO Tom Blomfield perches himself on a chair, leaning back on it playfully. He’s just returned from a friend’s wedding in Guatemala and looks refreshed.

“The weather was great, it was absolutely lovely,” Blomfield says. “Back to Earth with a bump now.”

He’s sat in a glass meeting room at the app-based bank’s London headquarters, which is within walking distance of two competitors, Starling and Monese. Along with another London-based peer, Revolut, they’re one of several start-ups taking on the financial giants of the city.

Walking into the firm’s offices, you’re likely to be greeted by its in-house pet dog, a cockapoo named Bingo. It might now have over 1,500 employees worldwide, but its HQ is a stark contrast to that of a bank like HSBC or Barclays.

Blomfield co-founded Monzo in 2015. Its bright coral pink cards are a common sight in London’s younger, trendier areas, and they’re now rolling out across America.

But before he started Monzo, Blomfield was in Silicon Valley at the start-up accelerator Y Combinator, setting up a different fintech, or financial technology, business called GoCardless with two college friends.

“I went to Y Combinator through that company and got to know the team there relatively well,” Blomfield recalls in an interview. “Y Combinator really shaped my experience.”

The “sheer optimism and ambition” that embodied the culture of the Valley was “infectious,” he says. Investors there would welcome “wild ideas” — like that of starting a bank from scratch.

Blomfield worked in California for five months in 2011, helping to build GoCardless, an online payments processor for what he called the “antiquated system” of direct debit — recurring transactions that are taken directly from a person’s bank account.

“That for me was really foundational,” he says. It taught him that the nuts and bolts of payments wasn’t as “complicated” or “mystical” as he once thought.

“All of the annoying processes that banks have — I assumed at least were there for a reason. There’s got to be some underlying complexity. And it’s just not true actually, most of them are relatively simple systems. They just don’t have good technology,” he added.

It was a formative experience for the British entrepreneur, but neither he, nor his GoCardless colleagues, would stay in the Valley. They took the lessons from the world’s best-known tech hub and brought them back to their home country.

After leaving GoCardless in 2013, Blomfield worked at Grouper, a dating site in New York, and then went on to do a stint at future rival Starling with co-founder and CEO Anne Boden.

It was at this point that Blomfield approached Passion Capital — a venture capital firm he knew through its investment in GoCardless — to discuss plans for a new start-up.

“Tom came to us with the suggestion that he was going to do what he wanted to do,” says Passion founding partner Eileen Burbidge. “We were of the view that, whatever he was going to set his mind to doing, we were going to back him.”

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/27/how-monzos-tom-blomfield-went-from-silicon-valley-to-starting-a-bank.html

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