EXCLUSIVE: ‘A landmark moment’ – Rhea Chatterjee, Monument in ‘The Paytech Magazine’
Monument estimates there are more than three million professional people in the UK with £200billion on deposit, many underwhelmed by the service they receive from mainstream banks. Rhea Chatterjee, Head of People, looks at how the neo kept calm and carried on building during a crisis and how it’s about to turn their fortunes around
Who builds a new bank in the midst of a global pandemic?
To be fair, it wasn’t part of the plan for Monument Bank. But, given the neo takes its name from a City of London landmark that bears witness to a destructive event (the Great Fire of London) from which a new order emerged, the timing was apt. The concept of a niche neo for a cash-rich, professional class that has somehow got lost in the cracks between wealth management for the fabulously well-endowed and mainstream banking for the averagely well-off, had appealed to investors when it was pitched ahead of the recent crisis.
A £28million funding round in February 2020 was backed by VCs and angels including Ian Axe, former CEO at Panmure Gordon, Eric Zinterhofer, a founding partner of private equity firm Searchlight Capital, Rakesh Loonkar, a cybersecurity entrepreneur, and high-profile property developer Harry Handelsman. They all saw sense in offering the UK’s three-and-a-half million or so doctors, lawyers, accountants, entrepreneurs and investors – with whom many of them, no doubt, mixed – a bespoke way to make the most of their liquid assets.
Monument’s idea was to offer higher-than-average interest-bearing accounts that could be leveraged by the bank to fund loans specifically for those who wanted to build property portfolios. Many of its potential clients, whom it estimates have £200billion on deposit, are likely already active in the residential buy-to-let market – one that Savills says was worth $1.338trillion by the summer of 2021. Rents, yields, property values and buy-to-let lending all rose in the first seven months of the year, making bricks and mortar as attractive as they’ve ever been.
The concept of a using deposits to power lending might be a traditional banking model, but Monument’s execution is most definitely post-modern. It combines a native Cloud-based digital core, mobile user interface and direct access to real relationship managers, to deliver skilled investment support. Mambu, Salesforce, Amazon Web Services, Persistent Systems and Accenture were brought in for the build in 2020 – a particular challenge, since the teams were rarely physically in the same place due to COVID restrictions.
Many of the bank’s target demographic also, of course, found themselves forced into unfamiliar ways of working during the pandemic – cut off from normal interaction with clients, patients, and colleagues. For Monument, being remote from the get-go was a litmus test for its digital concept, according to Rhea Chatterjee, Head of People at Monument. She describes the bank’s niche customers as people ‘who work hard for what they have, and what they’ve achieved, but are time poor, largely due to the jobs they do’.
“At Monument we’re building a bank around them and their needs.” The COVID-19 pandemic, and the way the bank navigated some of the business challenges it presented, only strengthened that resolve. Chatterjee contends that while company culture didn’t change, the way it has been built, grown and maintained has.
“We have a clear vision about what we’re trying to achieve, who our clients are, how we want to interact with them, what our values are as an organisation and how we’re going to build our behaviours and aspirations. We’ve always been clear on that and our culture is something we’ve spent a long time deliberating.”
From the perspective of customers, it means being bold and innovative about how the bank interacts with them. Not surprisingly, a major takeaway for Rhea Chatterjee when it comes to developing a bank during a pandemic has been the need to adapt to people working from home.
“I think this last 18 months has shown that anything is possible,” she says. “We’ve had to be flexible, our people have had to be flexible. We’re all getting used to a new way of being (in and out of lockdowns),” she says, noting that the external environment is changing every day and that the bank has had to roll with the times. “Flexibility and understanding has been really critical to creating that strong culture and ways of working at Monument. And building on that, it’s about ensuring that we really listen.”
For Chatterjee, it comes down to striking the right balance and to match flexibility in working patterns with adequate relationship-building contact among employees. That ensures those valuable clients Monument is targeting, receive the discreet service they require. Chatterjee believes that as fintechs adapt to the hybrid way of working, the importance of having a rich positive culture will be felt more than ever. It is critical that everyone in an organisation has a view/input on what that should look like and feel empowered to share this view to contribute to the overall success.
“We believe the key to our success is to keep testing our approach. We do it with our technology, we test it continuously to ensure it continues to deliver and to improve what it can do, and that is key to how we approach our future plans for our people and ways of working, too.
“We have all heard the term ‘hybrid’ a lot over recent months and that flexible approach is critical. (It’s) also an approach allowing for change and reinvention
when needed. Monument is committed to creating a bank that works for our clients and a workplace that works for our people. We know this will be an evolution.”
Owning the space
The bank is one of a growing cohort of super-niche neos, focussed on a very specific segment. The only startup that might come close to what it is trying to achieve is Chase, the just-launched digital-only UK bank from US giant JPMorgan Chase. It’s similarly promising clients a decent return on savings (up to five per cent) and a different way of doing things. And it includes an app-based current account with attractive incentives, while Monument will offer other types of savings products.
It’s not an immediate rival to Monument – mass market, digital-only challengers such as Monzo and Starling are in Chase’s headlights – but JP Morgan Chase’s recent purchase of robo-advisor Nutmeg suggests there could be tanks on Monument’s lawn down the line. For now, the latter has first-mover advantage and a clear target. By offering direct access to real relationship managers through its app, secure savings at high return, and the provision of property investment loans (buy to let and bridging with a maximum ticket of £3million) at the touch of a button and resolution within minutes, it believes it stands a good chance of converting millions of customers and turning a profit within around two years.
As Rhea Chatterjee notes: “We work very closely with our community to understand what their pain points are and what they don’t get from the current banks that serve them at the moment.
“These are very much people we all rely on in life,” she adds, “whether it’s the accountants we use for our personal finances, whether it’s entrepreneurs building businesses and creating jobs, or the doctors who’ve been even more busy over recent months. They deserve far better than what they’re currently getting out of their financial services experience.”
Monument co-founder Mintoo Bhandari and JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who has famously said remote working has ‘serious weaknesses’, may part company on views over a flexible culture; but they’re agreed on one thing, namely the utility of digital to banking. As Bhandari has pointed out, prior to the pandemic the conventional wisdom was that 90 per cent of transactions would be digital, 10 per cent face-to-face.
Now the expectation is for 98 to 99 per cent to be digital. Busy professional people need just such simple solutions. Yet, nestling as they do between ultra-high net worth individuals – who will typically outsource their finances to money managers – and the so-called DIY retail arena, high street banks can’t get their cost-to income ratio numbers to work in terms of being able to deliver the hybrid service level they demand and expect.
“They want a bank that knows what they need,” says Chatterjee. “That’s the gap we’re going to fill,”
This article was published in The Paytech Magazine #09, Page 63-64
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