UK digital bank serves clients shunned by big lenders

Monese has expanded to 31 nations in Europe with two million customers in only five years of operation. (AFP)
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Updated 23 February 2020

UK digital bank serves clients shunned by big lenders

  • In Britain, about 80 percent of Monese customers are foreigners whose salary goes directly into their account

LONDON: Among Britain’s digital app-based banks that are attracting moneyed urban millennials is Monese, which also courts customers neglected by the country’s established lenders.

In early 2000, Estonia-born entrepreneur Norris Koppel arrived in Britain and spotted a major gap in UK banking for newly arrived foreigners who had trouble opening traditional accounts.

Koppel was snubbed by banks owing to a lack of address documents and no credit history — and vowed to help those in a similar predicament.

In the nation’s booming financial technology or fintech sector, mobile phone app-based “neo-banks” such as Revolut, Monzo and Starling have established themselves as plucky upstarts.

Koppel’s lender Monese joined them, expanding to 31 nations in Europe with two million customers in only five years of operation.

“Investor trust in Fintechs and the amount of investment being poured into neo-banks is actually very significant; it hasn’t really slowed down. 2019 was definitely a peak point so let’s see how 2020 goes,” Koppel said.

“It’s very clear that banking is going through fundamental changes . . . and there are a group of neo-banks including Monese who are on top of that wave.”

The company describes itself as an electronic money institution that provides banking facilities — but it does not currently offer credit. “Monese is built for people who are moving to a different country, starting a new life, finding a better job, retiring, going for studies, or getting married somewhere else,” Koppel said.

In Britain, about 80 percent of Monese customers are foreigners whose salary goes directly into their account. Groups such as Monese that only operate online carry out checks to verify the identity of new applicants to help fight money laundering. The app aims to compete with Revolut and Monzo, which have eight million and three million customers respectively in a fiercely competitive market.

Monese expects to turn a profit by 2021. It has a global workforce of roughly 400 people, describes itself as the “Uber of banking,” in reference to the popular ride-hailing app. “It’s a good comparison,” Koppel said, noting that it was used by a lot of gig-economy workers at Uber and takeaway delivery service Deliveroo.

Britain’s traditional banking sector, which is still reeling from the 2008 global financial crisis and a string of product mis-selling scandals, retains a strong grip on personal banking, experts say.

Warwick University’s Andreas Kokkinis, who specializes in corporate law and financial regulation, said that fintech was gaining a foothold however.

“The six biggest UK banks have 87 percent of the market share for current accounts so the remaining 13 percent is split among smaller conventional banks and building societies, and challenger banks,” he said. “However, challenger banks, which operate exclusively online and thus offer cheaper services, are popular among customers below the age of 37.”


Kuwait props up coronavirus-hit economy amid low oil prices

Updated 01 April 2020

Kuwait props up coronavirus-hit economy amid low oil prices

  • Kuwait was first Gulf state to halt passenger flights and impose a partial curfew to stem the spread of coronavirus
  • Kuwait has drawn down on its state fund, the General Reserve Fund, to cover its deficit

KUWAIT: Kuwait announced measures early on Wednesday aimed at shoring up its economy against the coronavirus pandemic, including soft long-term loans from local banks, and the central bank asked banks to ease loan repayments for companies affected.
Kuwait, which as of March 31 had registered 289 coronavirus cases, was the first Gulf state to halt passenger flights and impose a partial curfew to stem the spread of the highly infectious respiratory illness.
The sectors most impacted by the pandemic include aviation, hospitality and real estate, a government source told Reuters.
The stimulus package approved by the cabinet aims to provide liquidity for small- and medium-sized enterprises to meet their obligations, a government spokesman said.
That includes directing government agencies to pay obligations to the private sector as soon as possible.
The central bank separately has asked lenders to postpone loan repayments for three months for companies hit by the crisis, the governor, Mohammad Al-Hashel, said in a television interview posted by the central bank on Twitter.
Kuwait is also dealing with the impact of lower oil prices on its finances that is expected to lead to a higher government fiscal deficit this year.
The government source said that, in light of the oil price fall, passing a debt law allowing Kuwait to borrow more has become a “government priority.”
Kuwait has drawn down on its state fund, the General Reserve Fund, to cover its deficit. The source said the government withdrew 43.8 billion Kuwaiti dinars ($139.70 billion) in the five years until the 2018-2019 fiscal year, and 3.7 billion dinars in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
This means the fund has around 14 billion dinars ($44.65 billion) left, the source said.
Moody’s this week placed Kuwait’s Aa2 rating on review for a downgrade, citing a “significant” decline in government revenues.
The government spokesman said maintaining Kuwait’s credit rating was one of the goals of the new economic measures.