An honest one year review of american monzo 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

It’s been nearly 14 months since i signed up for monzo, and a year since i’ve somehow accidentally started using it as my main account. despite this whole jawn still being in beta and launching right before a global pandemic and all, it’s still quite good.

since monzo asked for feedback when i signed up and it’s been a while since i posted here, here’s what happens when i let a hot chip run rampant into my life, written from my stream of consciousness:

editor’s note: whenever i write a review i either can’t put enough words together to meet the minimum word requirement OR i accidentally write so much that i hit the character limit and there is absolutely no middle ground to this. by the time i finished writing this review, i was surprised that that there wasn’t any character limits to stop me from rambling whatever came to mind :sweat_smile:

so a lil’ backstory… :unicorn:

i first found out about monzo from my little pony: friendship is magic fandom, then shortly afterwards from british college hackathon organizers.

over the years, every time i post some fin(tech) related horror story or ask for recommendations, i almost always get recommended monzo despite being an american. turns out people who like monzo are really vocal about it. it’s like blockchain except a bunch of gays instead of guys are in your face about it!

“you can end most of your pain and suffering by moving to uk and signing up for monzo and less-than-perfect universal healthcare,” they keep telling me

the moment i found out how big of a deal monzo was in the UK was the time when i was having dinner with ~5 other developers at a my little pony convention in baltimore. i found out the hard way that i was the only non-british person at the table when literally everyone else at the table pulled out their shiny coral monzo card when it came time to pay. but wait! that’s not all! the restaurant had their payment system set up in a way that they only allowed 1 card per table, and everyone else figured out how to split the bill within in the monzo app like they were living in 2050. that’s when i had to assert dominance over the manager so that he’d have to make an exception for me since there was no way i, as an american, can reasonably split the bill with, a bunch of brits visiting america to celebrate a small horse show. my dollars and cents are worthless to them, in the same way that their pounds and shillings are worthless to me.

i run hackathons and melody is friends with a ton of other hackathon organizers and i’ve noticed that a considerable amount of winning hackathon projects involve monzo, so there’s that too!

i also actually applied to jobs at monzo as my 479th and 548th job applications. (and to this day i still do not a full-time, long-term job. :stuck_out_tongue:)

then monzo came to america. i caved into the hype and finally got a monzo card and swung by the nyc event by since it was on my way home from LA and the only thing i remember about it was that it was the first time in my life i’ve used a bidet!

for the record, i did not come to the monzo nyc event for the bidet. i didn’t even know there was gonna be a bidet. but here’s another photo from that seemingly eventful event that i don’t remember taking but i trust it was a good time:

the API is pretty cool! :electric_plug:

the #1 thing i like about monzo is the one thing that sets it apart: a native API. sure, i could write my own jawn in stripe issuing or use plaid but that’s more work than just using monzo. being able to like export my transactions and add notes semi-automatically is quite a powerful feeling, on a level that no other bank can quite match this level of powerful.

here’s two things i built since the pandemic started:

:one: OMNY/NYC transit integration! i did a this thing that adds receipts and notes to contactless transit transactions to what is literally the american equivalent of a british oyster. the main limitation is that OMNY session times are short (like 30 mins) and i haven’t gotten around to implementing a way to keep my authentication as hot and fresh as how i like my dollar pizzas.

apologies in advance for the font, i was doing some unrelated debugging that required changing my system font but then we never bothered to change it back:

:two: a work-in-progress transparency tool that exports a displays redacted list of transactions from a certain hashtag! it’s useful for things like when i crowdfund for healthcare (this is america) then promise to tell people how i spend the money. it would have come in handy for example, 2 months ago when i need my broken tooth fixed and will replace the jawn i currently use (aka manually entering transactions andreceiptss into notion.)

{"i was about to paste a json blob here but it's not nice to lob blobs at people and i didn't want to be that bloblobber": true}

on a similar note, i also really appreciate being able to categorise and filter out business-related transactions as expenses for tax purposes. and being able to build my own budgeting tools in notion with that data.

the ui is also pretty nifty :sparkles:

at least, much niftier and straightforward that other american financial institution user interfaces i’ve seen. and much more practical than the random design crimes i see on dribbble every day.

pots :honey_pot:

one day i noticed that the ratio of pot images is identical to that of a card, and i have been a wierdo who overlays a chip and mastercard logo on my pot images ever since. anyways here’s some free pot images. these are the decals to my ventra card, based on the chicago pride trains:

i also eventually learned that british people like putting things in pots for some reason. pot of tea? pot of soup? pot of unrefrigerated eggs? pot of mini smart speakers? the more you know! :stars:

i can use my name :monzopride:

i have a legal name change that’s been in various stages of limbo and dead ends for the past 3+ years. it is already difficult for me to do anything (including signing up for literally anything) but monzo has absolutely lived up to the hype in that it would end my pain and suffering.

it was clear from day -1 that this thing was built by trans people. the preferred name field blew enough of my mind that i sent screenshots of the signup screens to my fintech and medtech and govtech and whatevertech friends and used it as an example ever since. this was also the first time in my life where, for a process that required a legal name, i was able to even enter a preferred name!!! i have also yet to be gendered or titled in any communications with monzo and it makes me extremely happy to know that a better way is possible.

i couldn’t find a screenshot of the preferred name screen so here’s an out of context slide from one of my talks containing the screenshot instead:

also being able to use mononyms is also very good.

i’m also glad that monzo says trans rights in what couldn’t have been a more perfect…
clapback chargeback:

so, here’s where other banks stand on trans rights, specifically when it comes to names:

  1. with most banks it’s either not on option with, or the most they can do is put in some kind of internal note with a preferred name which doesn’t get read most of the time.
  2. square’s cash app is sooooo close, they let me use my preferred first and last names on the card and account! but their support and emails still uses deadnames :sob:
  3. citi is the first large US bank to implement a preferred name policy. to their credit and debit, it’s a great first step, but the implementation leaves a ton to be desired: it only lets you pick a preferred first name (not last,) and your legal name is still printed on the back. so if you hand someone your card, and they happen to look at either the back or both sides, it opens you up to being outed :grimacing:
  4. since i signed up for monzo, a few LGBTQ-specific finacial insitutions have emerged! both be money and daylight are claiming to be the first LGBTQ+ specific bank; superbia is LGBTQ+ specific credit union, but none of these have an actual product i can use. i will still definitely be keeping a close eye on these! :rainbow:

tl;dr monzo has certainly made me less afraid of banks with how they implemented preferred names. the underrated part about this (at the current moment) is that with no fees and no minimum balance, which means unlike most banks, i am absolutely not too poor to use monzo. (this is part where i drop my virtual microphone, making an unpleasant noise in the process :microphone:)

i can’t use my name :monzo_usa:

for those not aware, my name is now monzo. as in monzo beta. at least to the merchants. using my monzo card really does bring to my attention how many merchants assume that the name on the card is your actual name. and you don’t find out until like the barista scream out “MONZO” and i’m too socially awkward to correct them so monzo it is. dunkin donuts is the biggest repeat offender: i even once had to had over my card for a free coffee. i assumed it was to pay a sales tax, but nooooo it was so the barista can copy the name from my card.

i’ve historically avoided paying with cards i didn’t issue myself to avoid getting called the wrong name. but monzo? i don’t mind it at all and have actually grown to actually like being called monzo? in a way it makes me feels like a cryptid. a monzo cryptid. maybe i should marry someone named monzo so that the name on my monzo card would finally be accurate

speaking of people named monzo, on more than one occasion i get shocked faces from people who assume i’m like half italian. and i once was was told “i didn’t know the those monzo mobsters runs a bank” which is fair because monzo is essentially a cult. monzo is actually a fairly common family name in south philly & south jersey where there is a large italian population. just search the local newspapers. or a peek at look at ancestry:

i had a teacher named monzo. and monzo friendo. sadly i have yet to spend my monzo card at a monzo.

i also noticed that some places asked for my ID when i paid with card in person. it’s very annoying, especially if you’re like trans and all. but that’s where cash comes in because i’m a coward who doesn’t report things to mastercard.

also since covid started i’ve also been shopping on sites not amazon and a few places have asked for government IDs after i placed an online order, then when i refused by citing the mastercard rules, they’ve canceled my order. sadness. anyways, name and shame time! the websites in question are micro center, autonomous.ai, and yamibuy.

other unorganized thoughts :sparkles:

  • mastercard exchange rates also come in handy! for a few months, i’ve been getting cheap bus tickets due to a currency conversion error on the merchant’s end! for example, the merchant would sell me a 13 us dollar bus ticket for 0.13 euros on their german site. then mastercard would convert that 0.13 euros back into 0.13 freedom dollars! (other banks and visa charge an international transaction fee so i’m glad i didn’t get dinged for that!)

  • customer support is also very good, i once got tripped by a group of teens on my way to the bus and had my card stolen. i was able to get my card frozen and swapped out within an hour, and they sent me a bunch of sweets the next morning. it’s very nice to know that someone cares about me for once.

    (so about the collar… at first i thought it was from monzo but it turns out someone else (unfortunately not monzo) bought that off my amazon wishlist and it happened to be delivered at the same time. i have no clue why i assumed that a bank would send me a collar.)

  • being called monzo is also kinda fun! (moved to its own section.)

  • i secretly love getting notifications for like active card checks and $0 transactions. they generally don’t show up with other banks (or even in statements) but personally, i love seeing when things are happening!

  • i also got a couple extra cards to take home from the nyc event. i can confirm that at least one monzo card is in the hands of a person actually named monzo. a few of the envelopes got wet at some point so i unwrapped them and combined with my existing cards, i had enough cards (and witch hats) to do a @Rika :sparkles: cosplay:

  • new jersey transit is especially hot garbage when it comes to having accurate merchant data - specifically with cities being in the wrong state:

    i originally complained to monzo about this, but turns out that cash app also does this(!!!) i guess the programmers at nj transit just assumed all of their ticket machines are in the state of new jersey, despite their main station being in new york! (the ticket machines in philly also return philadelphia, nj)

  • despite the monzo card being a mastercard, new jersey transit thinks my name “visa cardholder” if i pay with contactless, as a treat!

  • i’ve had a few transactions at new jersey transit where i received a train ticket but i wasn’t charged for it. the receipt listed the trans ids and auth codes as being 0s, which means there was either an error or it’s an offline transaction, and to this day, i have yet to be charged it. (if it matters to anyone, new jersey transit uses the same vendor as the philly transit system, which rightfully deserves its own season of gordon ramsey’s payments nightmares!)

  • i think my favourite transactions are when i spend money on artists (usually via paypal or gumroad) then see their twitter avatars show up in my feed a few days later and it kinda makes me wanna spend more money on artists so i get to see more cute avatars on my feed tbh :heart_eyes_cat:

hiccups, etc

there are hiccups here and there, and i guess this is a beta after all. the chat and this community has been pretty useful for reporting things and fixing things early on. there’s been a few times where i have reached out about an issue and it gets fixed within a week and that’s pretty cool to see.

though one thing that has bothered me are these generic all caps unenhancable transactions have been getting more frequent. recently, i noticed that every square transaction is like this (and that square transactions didn’t used to be like this!)

wishlist :pray:

the two features i’d personally love to see (but may not be the case with other people:)

  • a way to manually add cash or external transactions. even with the pandemic, 1/4 of my transactions are still cash, and having a way to import transactions from cash app (even thru an API) would be cool. this would turn monzo from being just a bank to the perfect personal finance tool.
  • a way to create virtual cards in america. i might possibly already be generating enough in interchange alone to pay for a monzo premium account in the UK but that’s not the point.
  • a way to split bills with british monzo people. this is a cool party trick more than anything. i was looking forward to going back to that restaurant and seeking my revenge by flexing my rare coral monzo card that has the logo on the left instead of the right, but then the pandemic happened.

blockinglist :no_good_woman:

there’s really only 1 critical feature blocking me from actually using monzo for everything:

  • a way to inflict pain on myself with checks (aka cheques.) i would love to have a physical checkbook, but if that’s not possible then a combination of mobile scan deposits + bill pay will do the job.

I managed to survive 8 months using the features in monzo + cash app alone. that is, until i ran into a landlord who demanded a year of postdated checks upfront. (it’s not illegal and i’d rather not stay homeless in the middle of a pandemic so there’s no way around it.) i could not find a single ebank that offers a physical checkbook, so i had to run into a brick and mortar bank and it suuucks! i pay $12/mo for the privilege of being deadnamed and able to using a checkbook, but i just factor that into the cost of my rent.

aside from checks and the unenhancable transactions, monzo does the few things i need a bank to do, and it does them well.

what will drive me away from monzo :oncoming_automobile:

in the unlikely event i suddenly become relatively rich, there’s gonna be a point where there are more compelling options out there, especially when it comes to moving my spending from debit cards to credit cards. i currently don’t have enough money at most given times to avoid fees at most banks or any meaningful money off of interest. but for now, i’d rather give my interchange to the least scummy company i can find. all financial services companies are some form of scummy, but i perceive monzo to be the least worst bank i’ve found so far.

of course, there’s a non-zero possibility of monzo pulling outta the US because gestures to everything happening in this world. as an outsider, i personally haven’t noticed any new or major developments since this spring… aside from, wellll… uhhhhh… all of my twitter friends working at monzo laid off or resigning in a short span of time. monzo usa feels like stale bread being stored in a glass jar, you either toss it out after a few years or turn it into breadcrubs and use it to make something tastier, something like that. but i hope it goes the latter route.

also there was this sentimental value that i (or really most humans) place when say a product is made by people who they know and trust. monzo has lost a lot of the sentimental value recently, that but i trust that things are in good hands. this pandemic has really taught me to be really patient and empathetic with everyone and everything because 2020 has quite been the dumpster fire, and monzo is no exception to that.

i’d give monzo usa (in its current beta form) a solid 7/11. on an inverted scale of stars, it would look like this: ✩✩✩✩✩✩✩★★★★

  • would i recommend to friends? not yet, but once it’s out of beta and has check features, yes. right now i’m recommending cash app to friends who aren’t able to otherwise open or afford a bank account. cash app has really been focusing on rappers and the un(der)banked lately and has quickly been gaining feature parity with traditional banks. (and also you’ll soon be able to files taxes with it? whoa.)
  • would i recommend it to (fin)tech-interested friends? heck yes! i’ve been dishing out invites to these people. and a monzo card to someone actually named monzo, as a treat.

i have no idea how i managed to hyperfocus and write all this in one sitting but time to make some tea and get back to working on whatever my brain feels like working on. fin. :tea:

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I do wish I could get a US account, since I live in the UK

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What a great review! :trophy:

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This is a really great, thorough review. Thanks for sharing! Also very entertaining :smiley:

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I had to google “jawn” :eyes: , but otherwise that was a great read.

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Great review - the thing I find most interesting in the US is the prevalance of places using the “name” field on your card.

That [barely ever] happens in the UK, right?

I always find it so jarring when receipts or a POS has my name on it. Quirks of different banking systems…

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i keep forgetting that people outside a 10 mile radius of philadelphia don’t use the word jawn, despite the fact that it’s like a word i use in every third sentence :sweat:

just substitute the word jawn for thing. it’s not a 100% match, but it’s close enough!

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it’s everywhere and it’s annoying! i think it’s also partially a culture thing - stores in the US really love being as personal as possible with customers, and the POS systems displaying names definitely plays a role in that. even in places where names don’t matter - i vividly remember being told “have a nice day, monzo” as i was checking out at H&M!

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Reminds me of that scene in Minority Report (topical reference there) when he goes into the clothes store (was it GAP?) and it welcomed Tom Cruise as the owner of the eyes he’d had implanted.

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A great review, very interesting to see things from a US user’s perspective, and I appreciated the accommodations for a British audience (even referencing cheques), despite having to look up some of it as others have said.

It sounds like Monzo is turning you into one of us, ending your long review with going off to have a cup of tea!

In all seriousness, I do wonder about the check/cheque situation in the US. As you have explained, it’s obviously an essential feature over there, but as you’re probably aware (given you are so up on the banking market in the U.K.) it’s something Monzo have been very reluctant to implement here so I suspect they will probably feel similarly in the US.

The name thing is another thing we just wouldn’t even think about - nobody ever even sees the name on our cards normally. It also seems overly invasive/weird to have some random checkout person know who you are and then say goodbye to you by name. I’m not sure it would work with many of my cards, as a lot of them have the name in the format A B Surname.

I would like all Monzo users to one day be able to have both US and U.K. accounts, as it would come in very handy in a variety of situations, but it’s probably unlikely to happen.

This is one of the loveliest posts I’ve read in quite a while.

There was quite a bit of turmoil and change in the US team back around the time I left the company earlier this year, but I’ve been keeping my fingers crossed for that team because there’s some genuinely lovely people on it - and I think at this point the US market is really primed for Monzo. It reminds me of the state of the UK market back when I first started working there in 2016 - a lot of room for disruption in the market, with really progressive values underpinning it all.

Thanks for sharing your story, @melody :slight_smile:

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america is still a society built on checks and it bothers me so much how none of the no-fee or ebanks banks have even basic support for checks. i still get about 5 checks a year, primarily from the government/rebates/refunds and i absolutely hate having to travel across the city to cash my check at kmart (the only place in town that does it for free.)

go to any american city at 5pm on a payday, and i guarantee you that the line at check cashing and cell phone stores will be at least 2 blocks long!

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A welcome insight into US banking…

Now that you’ve kickstarted the whole strange word usage thingy, two observations, @melody.

  1. When did cheque become check or was it always? If it was, why did we opt for some sort of French spelling.
  2. How long’s a block (:thinking::joy:)

Actually 3.
Assuming you’re American, how is it that anyone chasing someone else or pinpointing where someone or something is, is able to state the relevant compass point?

(“He went East” or “it’s at the North end of the building”).

I bet there’s not a Brit alive who can do that :flushed:

“Inquisitive of Birmingham (South)” :grinning:

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we like our freedom from the british, which includes how we spell things, thank you very much

it depends on the city. in most US cities that are grid-based, a block is one edge of a square, or the length from one intersection to the next. however, new york city has no concept of a block, instead we have streets (shorter block) and avenues (very long blocks) based on the rectangular grid of manhattan.

we have this thing called google maps invented by the great american philosopher google

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Game

Set (- ish)

& Match :grinning:

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I wonder why they do it for free, I suppose it’s in the hope that you will spend the money in their store? I don’t think you could ever cash a cheque for free here, the only places that might do it at all would probably be branches of somewhere like Western Union, but it would be very costly. I’ve never personally heard of anybody doing it.

I did know about the check cashing stores - I saw a little YouTube video on it, I think it was from CNBC, and they interviewed a guy who had worked at one for years. He was saying that he had all sorts of people coming in, but many of them just didn’t have a bank account. Often it was people who just liked to budget with cash, for some of them it was because they’d got into debt in the past so they preferred to be cash only even if it cost them a little bit - at least that way, one guy explained, he know exactly what “fee” he was paying at the check cashing store, and after that he would have no other fees. Whereas getting out of debt when spending on a credit card had been really hard for him - and he didn’t want to go back to that.

PS: My suggestion for free mobile check cashing, for you, would be to open an account with Charles Swarb (High Yield Checking, I think it’s called) as they have no minimum balances and no fees for most things. They will also give you a checkbook so you can dump your old-style bank if you want. I’ve heard good things about them, but I don’t have any personal experience to report as I’m not American so can’t have an account. They will give you free worldwide ATM rebates on cash withdrawals too.

On cheque vs check nobody really knows why but couple of schools if thought are as follows: 1) Noah Webster (of Merriam-Webster fame) was a proponent of simplifying / phoneticising spellings or 2) it was done to save character space on telegrams. Same schools of thought holds for the u in honour, colour etc. Personally I’m inclined to believe the former.

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I know it’s a bit off topic, but I believe that many of these small changes go back to Noah Webster who published the first widely-circulated American English dictionary.

When writing the dictionary, he decided that the way we write various words in Britain just made no sense to him, so he just shortened words and made minor changes to make them simpler. It also had the advantage of making the dictionary slightly shorter, so saved on costs. He thought that the new country of America, as it was then, ought to have it’s own language and so didn’t worry about a divergence.

Many American (and Canadian) spellings can be traced back to this to this day - but I’m not exactly sure about check/cheque.

Of course, we do have the word check as well, but only for more specific non-financial uses. So I suppose the question should be: why do we have cheque as a separate word to check?

Edit: I see @simmo posted more-or-less the same thing, only more concisely, at the same time as me - never mind!

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@SebH - I tip my hat to you, Sir!

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Yes, an elegant description, my man. :sunglasses:

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