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Monzo recruits former Amex exec Sujata Bhatia as its new COO

More personnel changes are afoot at Monzo, as the U.K. challenger bank continues to bolster its leadership team.

Specifically, TechCrunch has learned that Sujata Bhatia, a former American Express executive in Europe, has been recruited as Monzo’s new Chief Operating Officer, replacing previous COO Tom Foster-Carter (who left the bank rather suddenly in November to found a startup of his own). Monzo confirmed Bhatia’s appointment, which is still subject to regulator approval, and I understand she is due to start the COO role in late June.

Prior to Monzo, Bhatia spent almost 16 years at American Express. Her most recent position at Amex was Senior Vice President for Global Merchant Services Europe. Before that she was Senior Vice President of Global Strategy and Capabilities, where, according to her LinkedIn profile, she lead a team of 400 people across 23 global markets.

Bhatia’s appointment follows the recruitment of Mike Hudack, the former CTO of Deliveroo and most recently a founding partner at London venture capital firm Blossom Capital. He joined Monzo in March as the challenger bank’s new Chief Product Officer. Going in the opposite direction was Meri Williams, Monzo’s Chief Technical Officer, who parted ways with the bank a few weeks later citing her wish to voluntarily help with “cost-cutting measures.”

Meanwhile, Bhatia joins Monzo at a somewhat turbulent time for the challenger bank, as it, along with many other fintech companies, attempts to insulate itself from the coronavirus crisis and resulting economic downturn, meaning that the new COO will likely need to hit the ground running.

Last month, I reported that Monzo was shuttering its customer support office in Las Vegas, seeing 165 customer support staff in the U.S. lose their jobs. And just a few weeks earlier, we reported that the bank was furloughing up to 295 staff under the U.K.’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. In addition, the senior management team and the board has volunteered to take a 25% cut in salary, and co-founder and CEO Tom Blomfield has decided not to take a salary for the next twelve months.

Like other banks and fintechs, the coronavirus crisis has resulted in Monzo seeing customer card spend reduce at home and (of course) abroad, meaning it is generating significantly less revenue from interchange fees. The bank has also postponed the launch of premium paid-for consumer accounts, one of only a handful of known planned revenue streams, alongside lending, of course.

With that said, Monzo recently launched business accounts, many of which are revenue generating, with both free and paid tiers. I understand from sources that the number of business accounts opened to date already stands at approaching 20,000.

Related to this, having originally missed out on state aid via the capability and innovation fund designed to introduce more competition in SME banking, Monzo now has a second potential bite of the apple after previous grant winners Metro and Nationwide are returning the money.

As always, watch this space.

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Layoffs are disproportionately impacting startup satellite offices

Layoffs have struck the startup world swiftly, hurting hospitality and travel startups, as well as recruitment and scooter companies. New data shows that some of those layoffs, brought on by COVID-19, might be disproportionately impacting satellite campuses.

By nature, satellite offices are secondary to a startup’s headquarters. Opening smaller offices is a strategic move when a company gets a fresh round of funding or wants to expand to a new market. We’ve seen satellite offices pop up in cities like Portland, Phoenix or Austin, which has satellite offices for Apple, Facebook and Oracle, for example.

While most layoffs are coming from companies whose headquarters are located in the main entrepreneurial hubs of the Bay area and New York, the actual staff members are located in the satellite cities, according to data from Layoffs.fyi, a tracker created by former Y Combinator grad Roger Lee.

EasyPost in San Francisco laid off 75 employees, nearly all in Salt Lake City and Louisville. U.K.-based Challenger bank Monzo laid off 165 customer support employees recently in Las Vegas.

Toast, based in Boston, laid off 1,300 employees, or 50% of its entire staff. Per Layoffs.fyi data, 12% of those layoffs were in Omaha, and another 10% were in Chicago.

KeepTruckin, based in San Francisco and last valued at $1.25 billion, laid off around 350 employees, and 33% of those employees were located in Nashville or Chicago.

These numbers are only a fraction of the total layoffs across the country, as Layoffs.fyi’s data set only includes publicly disclosed actions and tips. But even if the data is just serving as an anecdotal snapshot, it’s an important one to note.

What the data means

Once the economy does recover to a new normal, it’s unclear whether HQ cities or satellite cities will be in a better position to bounce back. We caught up with some investors in Boston, a top startup hub that has recently faced its own flurry of layoffs, to hear their thoughts.

According to Lily Lyman, a partner at Boston-based venture capital firm Underscore, satellite offices are often where a company might locate the sales, customer success and business development staff. Logistically, those roles are the most vulnerable as consumer activity slows. For a lot of businesses, there are no sales and deals to be done right now.

“[These roles are getting] disproportionately affected in [reduction of forces] as companies expect a slowdown on the commercial side,” Lyman said. “While a logical decision to extend the cash runway, it does come with the risk that this withdrawal can damage relationships with customers that may be hard to recover.”

Not everyone sees cuts hitting satellite offices the hardest. Michael Skok, another partner at Underscore, said that “in some cases, we’ve seen that satellite offices are established in emerging markets which come with cost savings, so these offices may actually be more protected in these times.” In other words, if you’re cutting costs, San Francisco employee expenses might be higher than Denver employee expenses by sheer nature of the former having exorbitantly high living costs. Revolution Ventures, which invests in startups in emerging tech scenes, said it has not heard about satellite office layoffs from its portfolio as of recently.

And finally, to put it crassly, layoffs in a non-HQ city might quell some of the negative signaling that founders and venture capitalists are trying so hard to avoid (well, most of them at least). Slimming down operations is becoming a proactive response, not a reactive strategy as the pandemic continues to evolve.

Today’s data reminds us that layoffs are rarely an isolated occurrence, and staff cuts appear to be landing harder on less robust tech ecosystems.

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Meri Williams steps down as CTO of UK challenger bank Monzo

Monzo, the U.K. challenger bank that now counts over 4 million account holders, has lost its CTO, TechCrunch has learned.
According to multiple sources, Meri Williams, who joined the fast-growing fintech in September 2018 to much fanfare, announced internally that she was departing, saying that she wanted to voluntarily help with …

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European founders look to new markets, aim for profitability

To get a better sense of what lies ahead for the European startup ecosystem, we spoke to several investors and entrepreneurs in the region about their impressions and lessons learned from 2019, along with their predictions for 2020.

We asked for blunt responses — and we weren’t disappointed.

These responses have been edited for clarity and length.


Kenny Ewan, founder/CEO, Wefarm (London)

I’ve often been faced with questions around how we can generate revenue in markets like Africa. There has historically been a view that you can do something good, or you can generate revenue — and companies that talk about developing markets usually get squarely lumped into the former. While mission-led companies achieving tremendous growth has been talked about for a while, 2019 has been a year I have felt conversations with investors and others really begin to shift to the reality of that and it’s thanks to more and more proof points being delivered by startups across the board.

As more and more businesses begin to realize they don’t need to wait for the internet to descend from the sky for these markets to become hubs of commerce and innovation — and see that it’s already happening — I believe 2020 will continue to witness more and more historic tech companies shifting their focus to markets like Africa and that there will be more coverage and discussion as a result.

Source: Startups – TechCrunch

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European founders look to new markets, aim for profitability

To get a better sense of what lies ahead for the European startup ecosystem, we spoke to several investors and entrepreneurs in the region about their impressions and lessons learned from 2019, along with their predictions for 2020.

We asked for blunt responses — and we weren’t disappointed.

These responses have been edited for clarity and length.


Kenny Ewan, founder/CEO, Wefarm (London)

I’ve often been faced with questions around how we can generate revenue in markets like Africa. There has historically been a view that you can do something good, or you can generate revenue — and companies that talk about developing markets usually get squarely lumped into the former. While mission-led companies achieving tremendous growth has been talked about for a while, 2019 has been a year I have felt conversations with investors and others really begin to shift to the reality of that and it’s thanks to more and more proof points being delivered by startups across the board.

As more and more businesses begin to realize they don’t need to wait for the internet to descend from the sky for these markets to become hubs of commerce and innovation — and see that it’s already happening — I believe 2020 will continue to witness more and more historic tech companies shifting their focus to markets like Africa and that there will be more coverage and discussion as a result.

Source: Startups – TechCrunch

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2019 saw a stampede of fintech unicorns

Two years ago, we created the Matrix FinTech Index to highlight what we saw as the beginnings of a 10+ year mega innovation wave in financial services.

The trillion-dollar financial services industry was going to be turned on its head over the next decade, and we were just getting started. At the time, the top 10 publicly traded U.S. fintech companies had just surpassed the $100 billion mark in terms of total market capitalization, 12 unicorns had emerged in the category, and the U.S. VC industry had just poured in $6.7B — a record at the time.

As we predicted last year, the innovation cycle continues, and we are transitioning into its mid-phase. So what happened in U.S. fintech in 2019? In short, monster growth.

On the public side, fintechs delivered resoundingly. PayPal alone gained $26B in market capitalization. On a return basis, the public Matrix FinTech Index continued to crush every major equity index as well as the financial services incumbents. Nicely matching our forecasts, our Index delivered 213% returns over the last three years. The Index outperformed the financial services incumbents by 151 percentage points and the S&P 500 by 170 percentage points.

Source: TechCrunch

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2020 will be a challenging year for challenger banks

Over the past year, startup banks have proven that they have a shot at disrupting retail banking. These challengers have amassed a war chest of funding, announced some ambitious international expansion plans and attracted millions of customers.

And yet, building a bank has proven to be even harder than building a startup in general. Retail banks aren’t willing to sit back and watch startups eat their lunch. Here’s a look back at the biggest moves of the year from challenger banks, some trends you should keep an eye on and the upcoming challenges for those startups.

A year of aggressive growth

Due to the regulatory framework and the size of the market, it is much easier to launch a challenger bank in Europe compared to anywhere else in the world. That’s why challenger banks have been thriving in Europe.

When a company gets a full banking license from the central bank of a EU country, the startup can passport its license across all EU countries and operate across the continent.

N26 raised a ton of money in 2019: last January, the Berlin-based startup announced a $300 million funding round, raising another $170 million in July. The company is now valued at $3.5 billion.

With more than 3.5 million customers in Europe, N26 announced some ambitious expansion plans. N26 is now live in the U.S. and is already planning a launch in Brazil.

Revolut has also been aggressively expanding in order to beat its competitors to new markets. In addition to its home market in the U.K., Revolut is available across Europe. In 2019, the company expanded to Singapore and Australia and currently has at least 8 million users.

While Revolut announced that it should launch in the U.S. and Canada by the end of last year, the clock ran out on that prediction. The startup has been very transparent about its expansion plans, even though it sometimes means that you have to wait months or even years before a full rollout.

For instance, Revolut announced in September 2018 that it would launch in New Zealand, Hong Kong and Japan “in the coming months.” It later became “early 2019,” then “2019.” India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and the UAE have also all been mentioned at some point. In other words: launching a banking product in a new country is hard.

The U.S. is a tedious market as you have to get a license in all 50 states to operate across the country

Monzo has been doing well at home in the U.K. It has attracted 3 million customers and raised £113 million (~$144m) in funding last year from Y Combinator’s Continuity fund. It is expanding to the U.S., but the rollout has been slow.

Nubank is another well-funded challenger bank. Backed by Tencent, the startup has raised a $400 million Series F round from TCV. According to the WSJ, the startup has a valuation above $10 billion.

Originally from Brazil, Nubank expanded to Mexico and has plans to expand to Argentina.

Chime is increasingly looking like the bigger player in the U.S., recently raising a $500 million funding round and reached a valuation of $5.8 billion. It only operates in the U.S.

Starling Bank and Atom Bank only operate in the U.K. Bunq is based in Amsterdam with a product tailor-made for the Netherlands, but it accepts customers across Europe.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list as it’s becoming increasingly hard to cover all challenger banks.

Subscription-based business model

There are a few basic features that separate challenger banks from legacy retail banks. Signing up is extremely simple and only requires a mobile app. The mobile app itself is usually much more polished than traditional banking apps.

Users receive a Mastercard or Visa debit card that communicates with the company’s server for each transaction. This way, users can receive instant notifications, block and unblock their cards and turn off some features, such as foreign payments, ATM withdrawals and online transactions.

Challenger banks usually customers promise no markup fees on transactions in foreign currencies, but there are sometimes some limits on this feature.

So how do these companies make money? When you pay with your card, banks generate a tiny, tiny interchange fee of money on each transaction. It’s really small, but it could become serious revenue at scale with tens of millions or hundreds of millions of users.

Challenger banks also offer other financial services like insurance products, foreign exchange or consumer credit. Some challenger banks develop those features in house, but many of those features are actually managed by external fintech partners. Challenger banks generate a commission on those products.

But the most promising product is premium subscriptions. While challenger banks started with free accounts and low, transparent fees, they have been selling premium subscriptions for a fixed monthly fee.

Challenger banks have become a software-as-a-service industry with a freemium component

For example, Revolut offers premium accounts for €7.99 per month with higher limits, some insurance benefits that you’d expect from a premium card and access to advanced features, such as cryptocurrencies and disposable virtual cards. There’s a super premium product for €13.99 called Metal with a metal card design, cashback on card payments and access to a concierge feature.

This seems a bit counterintuitive, but premium subscriptions have been performing well, according to discussions with people working in the industry. You pay a lot in subscription fees in order to avoid small transactional fees. (And you also get a cool card.)

Challenger banks have become a software-as-a-service industry with a freemium component. It leads to a premium positioning and high expectations from customers.

Revolut’s fees top out at €13.99/month.

Upcoming challenges

Source: TechCrunch