Last week I went to a talk at Jam London by Monzo’s Head of Product, Ole Mahrt. Ole talked about how they’re building a “transparent bank”, and I wanted to share some of the top things I took away from that session.

Use your time to gather data

Monzo spent the two years it took to get a banking license to launch their pre-paid card. The intention was always to launch a full current account, but by first entering the market with a comparatively easy-to-develop top-up card, they learnt how their customers would use a bank account before launching the real thing.

Being data-driven is the ideal, but be realistic

If you’re just starting out, or have no data to hand, it’s not always going to be possible to be data-driven, but you can work towards it. Release something small, something quick; something which will give you data that you can learn from. Over time, you’ll find your decisions become more data-driven.

There’s always common sense

In the absence of data, you still have access to your own knowledge and experiences (and the knowledge and experiences of those around you). If you adopt a lean approach – even if those assumptions turn out to be wrong – you’ve still learned something without wasting valuable time and effort.

Focus on problems

This is an easy one. If there is no problem, there’s no need for a solution! Hello Google Glass.

Lots of ideas are great, but remember to stay focused


Monzo have so many ideas (just check out their public ideas board) that sourcing them is not the problem. The trick is working out which ideas to focus on. A great way to stay focussed is to try and break down your roadmap into segments. Monzo use quarters (if you’re not releasing all the time, you could break yours down into halves) and then agree a focus for each segment (for example, retention). Anything which falls outside of that focus goes into the backlog of ideas.

Make idea management more manageable

Review your ideas board when you have the time to look ahead. Reviewing the board all of the time – whenever a new idea comes in – would be a full time job, so instead, try reviewing the ideas board just after your last product launch, or maybe just before you’re about to kick off a new piece of work. (And remember, just because an idea has been put forward, doesn’t automatically guarantee it’ll be picked up. Monzo are really up front about this.)

Keep an eye on your target delivery dates

On Monzo’s roadmap, they have a big red vertical line showing today’s date. Nothing is allowed to pass that line which hasn’t been completed. If you’re not reaching your goals, it becomes very apparent, very quickly, that you’re squeezing everything into an ever-shrinking timeframe, and that something needs to give.


Get some goals in place

Monzo don’t do sprint planning – their approach is more Kanban – but they do have weekly sprint goals to provide focus. Every developer has a goal, and at the beginning of each week, the team reviews whether those goals have been met, and if not, why not, before setting the next set of goals.

Be transparent

If you want to be truly transparent, consider this: Ole CCs his emails into a shared inbox within Monzo, so that everyone within the company can see what’s happening, at any given time, within the Product team.

There is no official “sign off” at Monzo

Granted, Monzo’s Heads of Product and Design need to be happy with something before it’s taken forward, but not every person within the organisation is – nor should be – involved in every decision. There needs to be trust and empowerment in order for decisions to be made quickly. There also needs to be an acceptance that not everything is going to work first time, if at all.

Sometimes what a test doesn’t tell you is just as useful as what it does

Ole shared the results of an A/B test which was performed against two different account top-up amounts. Some users were asked to credit £25 to their new account upon opening, others were asked to add £100. There were strong opinions on both sides about which amount would hit that sweet spot between account activation and retention. (Ask for too much and customers would never activate their account. Too little, and Monzo faced the risk of the expensive-to-produce cards being used just the once, and then consigned to the back of the drawer.) But when the results of the A/B test came back they showed no difference whatsoever. The lesson learnt? Customers weren’t put off from activating – and using – their card, even when asked for the larger top-up amount.

One last thing. And this isn’t necessarily anything to do with product management, but it struck me as something we could all learn from. Ole had some slides running in the background as he was giving his talk. Although there was useful information contained within those slides, at no time did it feel like death by PowerPoint. I’d even go so far as to say that the slides didn’t look particularly polished. But you know what? It didn’t matter because it was Ole’s words that were key, not his slides. I’ve lost count of the number of times when I’ve been asked to tidy up my slides – or make sure they’re “on brand”. But ultimately, if your content – and your message – is strong enough, your slides don’t need to look “perfect”.

4 thoughts on “What I learnt from Monzo

  1. Great article, thanks for sharing Alex. Loved the transparency idea that in my opinion has been taken to its extreme at Monzo however must do the trick with internal PR value it generates and building trust. In fact, next point on empowerment and decision making when it comes to ‘sign off’ proves it really works.


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