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How online gaming created a challenger bank

I was chairing a panel with a number of different players, one of which was Monzo. Simon Vans-Colina, Monzo’s lead engineer for Open APIs, was talking about their approach to partnering with others in an API ecosystem, including TransferWise and Investec Bank. What was not surprising is that the lion’s share of audience questions ended up being thrown his way.

Why are people switching to Monzo?

How many customers have their main account with Monzo?

What other partners are Monzo working with?

You get the idea, and so on and so forth. However, one question intrigued me. The conference was being held in Reykjavik, Iceland, and so naturally there was a question that was Icelandic in nature:

How much of Monzo is based on the Icelandic game EVE Online?

I’m not a big online gamer so I had no idea what EVE Online was. After the event, I found it’s a leading MMO, massively multiplayer online game. Developed by Icelandic company CCP Games, it was launched in 2003 and has around half a million players subscribing.

Turns out it was quite a clever question as Simon is a big online gamer, and professed to love EVE Online. He said the game’s bank was way better than anything in the offline world, and that yes, many of its features were things they had copied directly into Monzo’s developments.


Simon also said that people are switching to Monzo simply because it’s better. By way of example, he mentioned his wife receiving a text alert from her old bank saying she needed to top up her account or would be overdrawn the next day.

How much does she need to add to the account? What’s coming out overnight? Who’s going to make her account overdrawn?

She has no idea. In Monzo, the message is: your American Express payment of £22,198 will be paid tonight. Please add £5,000 to your account to ensure it is approved and you don’t go overdrawn.


It is these features and the other thinking in Monzo that I’ve blogged about before, that have made Monzo a young challenger bank FinTech unicorn, as well as gaining over a million users. However, of those, only about a quarter have switched their main account over. That’s still 250,000 bank account holders which, for a three-year-old bank is no bad deal. Metro Bank took about seven years to achieve a million account holders.

Along with Starling, they are also doing some interesting things, like allowing gamblers to set limits on their account to stop them gambling.

All in all, I like Monzo. They’re pretty cool, get great headlines and are growing nicely. In particular, I like the fact that their development priorities are set by their customers. They have a list of things they are thinking of doing, and let customers vote which gets done first. Really good. I just wonder what will happen if someone like Lloyds tries to acquire them. Oh yes, it’ll probably end up like Fidor and BPCE. In fact, the only way a start-up and incumbent can integrate is to leave the start-up on its own.

Meantime, don’t put all your money on an online game. After all, EVE Online did suffer one of the worst heists in gaming history.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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