Monzo and beyond: How TS Anil put banking in a new light

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Sitting in Monzo’s headquarters, just a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street station in London, its chief executive, TS Anil, is unwittingly defying fintech stereotypes.

While he may have swapped suit and tie for blue jeans when he took the helm of the digital bank in 2020, he carries an air of modest professionalism that might be more at home in NatWest’s nearby London office than a unicorn startup trying to disrupt the industry.

That is partly the product of nearly 27 years in the sector, spanning big names such as Citi, Standard Chartered and Visa in markets including India, Japan and the US, which makes him one of the most experienced bosses leading a British fintech company. And unlike his nearest rivals at Starling and Revolut, he is the only non-founder to be running one of Britain’s first wave of so-called neobanks, signalling that the capital’s once cutting-edge startups may be beginning to mature.

Seven years since its founding in 2015, Monzo has gone from a scrappy newcomer luring millennials with its sleek app and hot-pink prepaid debit card to a fully licensed bank with more than £4.4bn in deposits.

It has yet to turn a profit, but following in the footsteps of its two closest competitors, Monzo is aiming to break even on a monthly basis later this year as Anil predicts another surge in revenues, up from £79m for the year to February 2021.

The firm was last valued at $4.5bn (£3.4bn), after a $600m fundraising late last year. While that is still significantly behind Revolut’s $33bn, Anil says he is comforted by the number of active users among his 5.7 million customer base, with approximately 3 million opening the app 17-18 times a week.

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I grew up in a country where everybody was a person of colour. And that’s a crazy point of privilege – because you don’t realise that you’re differentTS Anil

While rumours about a stock market listing continue to fly, Anil, as might be expected, tempers expectations. “Look, we’re going to make a great public company one day,” he says, quickly adding that any decision on a flotation will take place in 2023 at the earliest. In the meantime, Monzo is having to keep up with the new, and not so new, kids on the block – launching a buy-now-pay-later facility last year after Swedish fintech Klarna elbowed its way into the market, and building an investment product nearly a year after JP Morgan bought digital wealth manager Nutmeg as part of its UK retail banking expansion.

But Anil says the real competition comes from Britain’s legacy banks, including HSBC, Lloyds, NatWest and Barclays, which still hold about 85% of the retail banking market. “So as much as it can feel like our competition is other fintech players, the reality is that the vast majority of revenues and customers are still with the incumbents,” he says.

As much as Anil hopes to shake up the industry through new products and services, he admits he did not consider the impact he himself would have before taking up his post. When he was appointed in 2020, the Indian-born executive became one of the first people of colour to run a UK bank, injecting much-needed diversity into a sector long known for being “male, stale and pale”, even with the new wave of fintechs shaking up the industry.

However, Monzo’s bosses have had a knack for going against the grain. First, founder Tom Blomfield upended the cliche of the superhuman tech boss when he spoke about the toll that running Monzo had taken on his mental health last year. It was stress that led him to step back as chief executive, installing Anil in his place, before leaving the company entirely in 2021. His comments sparked fresh conversations about work-life balance and helped to normalise discussions about anxiety and burnout among founders.

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Age 50

Family Wife and two sons, plus extended family and friends around the world.

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Education College and business school in India.

Pay £500,000 a year.

Last holiday A rainy weekend in Lisbon last month.

Best advice he’s been given “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

Biggest career mistake “Every time I’ve let myself be in a comfort zone longer than I should have!”

Word(s) he overuses “Impact” and “substantive”.

How he relaxes Dinner with family and friends; reading and listening to music as much as possible.

For Anil, it took a private message from a fellow Monzo employee of colour, thanking him for taking the job, to understand how he was influencing the industry. “Honestly, until that point, I hadn’t thought about that,” Anil says. “I grew up in a country where everybody was a person of colour. And that’s a crazy point of privilege – because you don’t realise that you’re different.”

He describes his childhood as idyllic. Growing up on military bases across India, where his father served in the army, “life was blissful – we lived in this relatively sheltered, safe sort of environment”. But the world’s ills were never far away. In 1971, the year Anil was born, his father was sent to fight in the Indo-Pakistani war that eventually led to Bangladesh’s independence. And with his mother’s career in social work, the realities of extreme poverty were on his doorstep.

He recalls one morning in his early teens when his mother took him on a detour while running errands. “I went with her into the slum where one of the kids that she was taking care of was terminally ill with cancer. He had called that morning from a payphone to say look, come and see me today. He didn’t make it, of course. But that was just part of her day.”

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Anil credits those experiences with shaping his worldview, but admits his career in finance was completely “accidental”. He was snapped up for a job with Citi right after university, while his brother followed in their father’s military footsteps and joined the navy.

He first aspired to be a doctor before recognising a passion for writing poetry and fiction that he bashfully admits he has continued to foster. “That dream is not over yet,” he says, before quickly changing the subject and discussing his current read, Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You.

It comes as no surprise that Anil has become known for buying his immediate team books for Christmas every year, though it may be some time before he distributes his own prose to Monzo staff.

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