30 September 2021

Interview with Norris Koppel, Monese CEO

When Norris Koppel moved to the UK, the first thing on his to-do list was to open a bank account so he could receive his salary, rent a place to stay and set up his bills. Straightforward enough, right? Not exactly. The task was so difficult it led him to vow that nobody would ever have to go through that experience again. He came up with the idea for Monese: a mobile money account that you can open instantly, offering financial freedom to foreign nationals, expats, freelancers and the unbanked. ​​
Interview with Norris Koppel (Monese CEO)

Monese has been helping millions of people open mobile money accounts ever since. As of September 2021, the company has raised over $80 million, has over 2 million customers and 250 employees. With Monese a recent entrant to Tech Nation’s Future Fifty, Norris strongly believes the future of FinTech is all about accessibility. Here’s what we learned from Norris about the future of money.

Let’s start with an introduction to you and your experience. What do you do and, perhaps most importantly, why do you do it?

As an entrepreneur, I'm really passionate about solving problems. My day without problems is a wasted day. When I started Monese, it was about solving a big problem which was giving more people access to financial services. The opportunity is incredibly large.

On a personal level, I've built quite a few businesses before and it never ceases to amaze me how much freedom there is in that. Why do I do it? The amount of flexibility and freedom that it provides. Being an entrepreneur and running a business is all-absorbing – it's also incredibly risky. You never know where you're going to end up but, ultimately, you have full control over your own destiny. That’s liberating to me. 

Running Monese doesn’t really feel like work – eight years on, it’s something I really enjoy doing. I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface and are 1% done. 

We read that it took Monese 42 months to get to your first million customers and only eight months to get to two million. Earlier this year, you also joined Tech Nation’s Future Fifty which is the UK's leading program for late-stage digital businesses. At this stage of your business, what is the most fun part of your job around money? 

The most fun part is to think outside the box and have the freedom to do so. My personal mission is that I'm trying to open up these boxes and help people see beyond what's there and become less ignorant. Ignorance is happening all around us in every spectrum of life and that's true in financial services as well. People tend to put themselves in boxes because something has been true for many, many years.

In my view, it doesn't necessarily mean that this needs to be true in the future. The fun part is just opening those boxes, letting a little bit of light in, thinking outside the system and basically challenging the status quo.

That’s the really fun part, regardless of it being about money or not. It’s incredibly rewarding as well. It's also challenging. It's difficult. Nobody wants to be challenged and nobody wants to admit that they may have been doing things that are wrong or outdated.

You mentioned earlier that you've built several businesses. On a personal level, what’s the best piece of money advice you’ve ever been given?

I once read Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki on the importance of building your wealth through passive income. It was the first book I read that was completely eye-opening to me. 

Good advice really breaks down to two components. First of all, I realised that if you want to build wealth – significant wealth – being an entrepreneur is pretty much the only way to do so. Unless you're counting on inheriting a large amount of money from your uncle, or something like that. There's that level of reward because it’s so risky. 

But then the question is: how do you maintain wealth once you have it? A lot of people who become wealthy also lose it very quickly. So, the best advice is passive income. And ideally having multiple streams of passive income is really the key to maintaining wealth and increasing it going forward.

Get stuff done, build your wealth and don't outsource it, and build passive income streams – whether it's through property or something else or other businesses.

What’s the worst money advice you’ve ever received?

In terms of the worst advice, trusting other people with your money is never a good strategy. In fact, it’s a good way to lose your money. Personally, I would avoid handing over my hard-earned cash to others and, instead, look after it myself. I think that’s a better approach.

Now, we’re going to put you on the spot. What does your wallet look like? Do you have any cash on you? Bitcoin? Cards?

I've got £20 and €20 in my wallet so it's not a lot and my wallet is actually quite slim. I always like to keep a little bit of money with me if I go to a car wash or a restaurant. I really feel that when you want to tip at a restaurant nothing beats cash. It conveys this notion of a personal touch. Cash is a good way to say thank you. In many ways, I feel cash is better than a digital currency for those little things.

Personally, I like cash – it’s something tangible that you have in your wallet that makes you feel a sense of comfort. I was avoiding crypto for many, many years. In 2017, just before Bitcoin started to go up massively, I actually bought a bit and benefited from the first boom. Nowadays, I’m a big fan and really want to see how it’s going to go. I’ve got a good feeling about it. 

I think central banks are going to come around and there’s going to be much more collaboration in a safer way going forward. 

In terms of cards, I have too many cards – like everyone else! My main card is obviously my Monese card. I run my whole life through a Monese card, but I have many cards for testing products. I’m always eager to test out the next new service or card to check out competing products. 

Do you see the number of cards that each of us carry increasing or decreasing as an overall population?

Definitely increasing. I don't think that’s going to change any time soon.

In your opinion, what is the future of money? If you had to predict anything, where is it all heading?

The future I would like to see is one where access to financial products becomes a problem of the past. Right now, there’s still a huge amount of people across the world who don't have access to simple things like bank accounts. 
Credit is another one. Somebody who is, let's say, based in Germany could be massively credit-worthy and have access to everything. Then that person moves to another country and they have to start from scratch when it comes to accessing credit.

From my perspective, a good way to think about the future is for there to be much more inclusion going forward. In many ways, I also think crypto and blockchain is going to enable this for us – that's my optimistic view.
Is the world becoming more global? How do you see the movement of money across borders changing over the next 5 to 10 years?

In terms of movement of money across the borders, I would be incredibly disappointed if it didn't become real-time. I believe it will become real-time soon enough – maybe even less than five years.
If somebody says “I'm sending money to another country and it takes a few days” this will feel a little bit like a message from the Stone Age. At Monese, we’re also doing our part and constantly looking at ways to add more local payout capabilities.

I think blockchain will help enormously in delivering money from one place to another in the future – more quickly and in a safer way.

In your view, how has Covid changed payments and the movement of money?

At Monese, we were super worried when Covid started. We didn't know what was going to happen and how our customers would be affected. We saw that cash transactions in and out were significantly reduced, as well as an international point of sale purchases.

However, our customers are typically people who are from abroad and often working in the gig economy. Because they were still working, they actually started receiving more money because of the demand for e-commerce and deliveries. We saw a huge increase in our overall volumes. The per-customer amount spent then also went up and transactional levels went up.

Unexpectedly, we’ve actually seen a huge upside from Covid from a payments perspective. 

There’s a fascinating summary of your Covid-related customer data on the Monese blog that we recommend reading. What future money innovation are you personally most curious about?

For me, the really big thing coming is access to finance. I believe the next opportunity is in credit and portable credit histories. How can you make sure a customer can take their credit history with them, wherever they go? How do you make credit much more accessible? That’s the next innovation that I'm incredibly passionate about. I think there’s going to be lots of money to be made for any entrepreneur out there thinking along those lines.

Everyone needs to have access to finance. It doesn’t have to be the same thing everybody gets access to, but everyone needs access to something. 

Everybody keeps talking about crypto and blockchain, and that's great. But credit is a wide-open opportunity right now so I would be very excited to see some proper innovation when it comes to credit.


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