Monzo and the new language of banking

A fancy app isn’t enough to call any bank a fintech. Here is a glance into Monzo dictionary of modern banking.

Is it possible to fill the whole page with just one sentence? A friend once told me that during his days at university, one of his law professors was doing just that — he used only a few sentences to write an entire book

Can you imagine? Learning law is hard. Decoding a thought behind an endless sentence must be a torture.

What does it have to do with banking?

For a long time banks were associated with places where the customer had to listen really hard in order to understand their financial advisor. But times have changed.

Monzo Bank (a well-known mobile only British neo-bank) made a decision that their employees should express themselves simply. No matter if your responsibility is talking to customers, creating a job ad or compliance policies, you must comply with the bank’s tone of voice guidelines.

To make sure we explain things in a way everyone can understand, we use the language our customers use, even when things get technical. – Monzo

Monzo Tone of Voice

How does it look in practice?

Below I extracted three elements of Monzo guidelines which I think are the most appealing.

1) First of all, they advise employees to replace difficult words with simpler ones. For instance:

  • Assistance -> Help
  • Commence -> Start
  • Enable -> Let
  • Ensure -> Make sure
  • Further -> More
  • However -> But

2) The passive voice is your enemy. Can you spot the difference between saying “a decision has been made to close your account” and “We’ve decided to close your account”?

A Monzo advisor will never use a ‘passive’ voice construction as it doesn’t inform the customer who’s responsible for closing the account.

This is an unusual approach because using the passive voice is a common technique used in call centers all around the world — usually, if a bank employee has bad news for you, he or she will say it was a system fault (the mystic god-like creature that can’t be blamed or changed).

3) The last element is my personal favorite: Monzo often uses emojis and GIFs in their communications – emphasizing the fact that customers are dealing with real humans.

Can every bank chill like Monzo?

I don’t think so.

From the beginning, banks were developing their brands to be associated first of all with safety. And If you want to appear as such, you have to use strict, formal language.

For me, even to think that I might send an “angry face” to my “old” bank (e.g. when they fail to inform me about some hidden fees on my plastic) seems just awkward. And even though more than 90% of social networking users communicate through these tiny icons and one of them was named a Word of the Year 2015 by Oxford Dictionaries, I don’t think that this way of communicating is for every bank. This style of communication just doesn’t get along with incumbent banks.

Tu put it in words of Harry Ashbridge, a writer at Monzo (who splits his time between writing a copy for the brand and training their 300 bank employees in how to write more effectively):

 “People tend to believe that when banks write nicely in their advertising stuff, it’s just a veneer and underneath there’s this cold, hard interior. That’s because inside the bank – in the nooks and crannies of the brand – writing tends not to get a lot of love and attention. People start speaking to you in legalese … and it doesn’t sound much like the advertising does,” he continues. “Rather than us sounding wildly different to other banks, I think our point of difference is being quite militant about making sure our tone of voice is implemented everywhere.”

Probably this is why, when big banks want to fool around, they create subsidiaries (e.g. Finn by Chase, Capital One’s Eno) that talk emoji.

And banks should definitely try new ways of communicating. The future language might be more symbolic than it is today:

“Certainly, it’s easy to imagine someone sending a bank a 💰 to get an account balance or to send a thumbs-up to confirm a payment or add a frowny-face emoji aside a message so that a bank agent follows up — within seconds. “ — Mary Wisniewski

Policy 2.0

Other being extremely consumer-centric come from Lemonade. This company has re-written its 40-page-long insurance policy to read like a blog post and it

is also available in an open-source form on GitHub. Anyone, from state regulators to consumer advocacy groups to Lemonade competitors or even interested customers, can make edits and contributions to the policy.

Simple culture

I encourage you to read Monzo Tone Of Voice guidelines (it contains a really cool story about how the Roman Empire influenced the way we speak). But is guidelines a good word? I perceive the Monzo document as a manifesto, showing yet another way in which Monzo want to distinguish themselves from big banks and define how new financial institutions should communicate from now on. After all, language is a moving target and it’s better to move with it in sync.

Artur Małek
Published by FINANTEQ Insights — FINANTEQ Insights provides FINANTEQ’s clients with market research and actionable insights.

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