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United Kingdom

A banking app for migrants has 56,000 people on its waiting list

Monese has figured out a way to easily check the identity of people signing up, meaning they can quickly create accounts.


A LONDON-BASED STARTUP that lets people open bank accounts anywhere in Europe on their smartphone in as little as three minutes has a waiting list of 56,000 potential customers.

Monese – currently invite-only – has built a platform that allows it to check the identity of anyone in the European Economic Area, letting people open bank accounts quickly even if they are new to a country.

The startup is specifically targeting migrants, who can find it difficult to open accounts when they arrive in a new country.

Mulenga Agley, Monese’s VP of Growth, told Business Insider:

What Monese was set up to do was to provide banking on demand. The problem we’re really focusing on is the fact that when you arrive in the UK from another country it’s incredibly difficult to open a bank account.

“There’s a couple of reasons for that. Outdated systems make it very difficult for the high street banks to validate that someone is who they say they are. If you’ve just arrived, the banks will go to Experian and try and get your credit data and when they don’t get a hit on you, they just won’t open the account. It also takes weeks even if you are successful.”

Monese’s identity checking platform, which pulls data from wherever the application is coming from, took the company two years to build. Monese can verify your identity with just a selfie and a picture of your passport.

monese-amish-mody-left-norris-koppel-middle-mulenga-agley-right The Monese team, from left to right, Amish Mody, Norris Koppel, and Mulenga Agley. Monese Monese

The company isn’t the only British startup looking to build a mobile-first banking platform — others include MondoStarling Bank, and Atom Bank.

But Agely says its focus on migrants sets it apart from the others, who are all going after traditional retail banking customers.

Monese is going after a big market — 636,000 people arrived in the UK from abroad in the year to March 2015 alone, according to the Office for National Statistics. 3.4 million people move around within Europe each year, according to Agley.

The startup only began letting people open accounts earlier this year. The service is still invitation only but has already built up a waiting list of 56,000 people. Agley says this is mainly through social media marketing.

Monese’s founder and CEO Norris Koppel adds:

We’ve paid zero fees to acquire this customer base. The interest is so huge that people are just coming to us and joining the queue.

Account holders get a Visa debit card linked to the account and can make withdrawals and payments for free. Money transfers abroad and overseas withdrawals incur small fees.

Agley says international transfers carry the same fees as TransferWise, although the businesses are not linked (like TransferWise’s two founders, Koppel hails from Estonia — a coincidence).

Monese itself doesn’t have a banking license, but works with banks across Europe who hold customers’ money. Instead, Monese has an e-money license, issued by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, which allows it to digitally hold customers money but not invest or extend credit like a bank would.

Koppel says:

This is intentional because we find that a banking license would actually restrict us and hold us back. Because we have an e-money license it’s much easier for us to work with banks. Having an e-money license means banks aren’t seeing us as competitors but as partners.

“How we see ourselves is an extra layer on top of the banks and we’re servicing this segment that they are under-serving. Our banks don’t have a direct relationship with our customers, in their eyes we are the bank.”

While it is targeting migrants, Monese’s platform can cater for anyone. Agley says: “We can offer a German account to a German who wants to stay in Germany.”

Monese raised $1.8 million (€1.59m) in May, its first round of funding, and Koppel says the company will look at raising more money sometime next year.

- Oscar Williams Grut

Read: A look inside Mondo, a bank that’s just an app >

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