Tom leads me into his office. It’s a cupboard with a plastic table, and a chair patched with green ducting tape. The contents of the office, in terms of desks, furniture, fittings, is worth less than nothing. This is not a typical bank. In fact, Mondo is not yet a bank, but it soon will be. If there is a real challenger, I am sitting on a plastic chair in its office.
Why did you decide to create a bank?
“Because I hate my bank.” I ask which one, he says that’s not the point, they’re all as bad as each other. This helps explain why people don’t change banks. It’s not because they’re all super satisfied, it’s because there’s no real difference between them.
“In a World where you can pull out your mobile phone and order a taxi in a click, or buy something from Amazon and have it on your desk an hour later, banking is so far behind. We started Mondo in an attempt to bring that kind of consumer experience.” Tom anecdotes about travelling abroad and having his card blocked every time, even telling his bank in advance won’t prevent this. Another anecdote, going overdrawn, not being told for two weeks, accumulating charges, then being sent a letter in the post, pre notifying charges. “Why doesn’t a bank see you’re going overdrawn, and send you a text message or a push notification? It would reduce their profits, that’s why.” Everyone knows this.
There’s something about Mondo. There’s something about Tom. A contagious enthusiasm, a drive. I’m trying not to use the word “passion”, especially as they are backed by Passion Capital, but it’s like he’s seen the light, he’s seen how shit banking is, and how to do it brilliantly is obvious. The pre-paid card version of their account is, already, for some reason, awesome. It’s hard to write about Mondo without sounding like a fan boy. I first heard of them when I went to one of their alpha group presentations, and signed up for a card, salmon pink. As soon as I started using it, I loved it. It’s just so… Satisfying. Like Uber with the little cars driving round the screen. It’s just… Right.
There’s something about Mondo. An X factor, a charisma, I show people the app, look at this, isn’t it cool. Maybe it’s the ‘Kerching’ noise when you buy something. Maybe it’s the seamless app / card dynamic, maybe it’s just the attitude of the company, somehow coming through.
Personally I bank with co-op. I have done for decades, even though they don’t have a contactless card, and the fact that if I forget my pin it’ll take a week, a couple of phone calls, and a letter in the post to get a new one. But when Mondo are a fully licensed bank, I’ll switch.
When they launched the pre-paid card, back in November 2015, it was, according to Tom, ‘buggy as hell’.
“We put the app out, and it really was a case of launching before you’re comfortable with it”, as they say in YCombinator, birthplace of AirBnB and Dropbox, ‘If you’re not embarrassed by your first iteration then you’ve launched it too late.’ “And we were embarrassed, but now we have over ten thousand people using the product, and the product is great.”
Can you even imagine a ‘conventional’ bank being so human as to be open about its flaws? To say: “Hey, look, we’re launching something, we want you to point out all our bugs and things that don’t work, so you can be part of fixing them with us.” Tom talks freely and openly and says what he knows to be true. Accessible, real, just no bullshit. I love it. And here I am. Back in fanboy mode.
Mondo has commercial charisma. Tom tells me of a guy who travelled from Edinburgh to London to get a card. And in March, when they went on Crowdcube to raise an extra million, the demand surge took Crowdcube offline for half a day. Mondo arranged an alternative system, and did nought to a million pounds in 96 seconds. We The People seem to Love This Company.
“We keep hitting these milestones very quickly”, say Tom. “Although the measure of success really is that your customer support volume scales at a lower rate than your customer volume, ie, the service is constantly improving.”
Mondo does have a serious advantage. A traditional bank needs branches, postal services, websites, an app, multiple channels of engagement, and hundreds of products. The challengers need only an app. One channel, one product. I’m pretty certain the services these new banks provide will be modular. A loan from Mondo will be provided through a partner. A mortgage from Mondo via a partner, a credit card from a partner, a payday loan through a partner, invest in a peer-to-peer platform, through a partner, buy insurance, though a partner. Perhaps multiple partners will bid in real time for the opportunity to service each customer requirement. Goodbye loan comparison sites. Mondo has it built in. I’m speculating here, but I suspect this is what the future looks like. A current account as gateway to every other financial service. Like Google to the Internet.
Mondo has 100,000 customers on the waiting list and has the potential to utterly reshape personal banking. Taxis worked fine until Uber came along.
Will they attract millions of customers out of the traditional banks, all the young people, all the digital natives, all the future? They really might. All it takes is to get it right. And if they do, a billion customer bank is achieveable, and Tom knows it.