Gemma Godfrey: Making a quantum leap

Hedge Magazine, 2015. Original article p62-64.

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Quantum Leap
When Gemma Godfrey realised no one else was going to create the next-generation investment company she wanted to join, she left Brooks Macdonald and started Moo.la herself.

When you first hear about Gemma Godfrey, you may find yourself wondering how she gets so much done – she’s one of those people who always seem to be doing a million things. Right now, Godfrey is starting her own investment company, advising on boards, appearing on TV, and raising a child – all while tweeting the best, dorkiest fintech memes. But after a couple of hours in Godfrey’s company you won’t be wondering anymore: the woman is so energetic, so in-the-know, and so downright lovely that it seems about right she should be so successful at just 32.

Because who wouldn’t want to hang out with Gemma Godfrey? She’s full of interesting opinions, about life in London, doing your own thing, how tech is changing the world, and the best music to play while getting a sweat on – Godfrey is a keen runner. “It’s just freeing. You can go out, put on some music, you don’t need anything. I love it.” Godfrey likes to run to R&B, pop and hip-hop: “Okay, it’s quite hardcore hip-hop!” She laughs. “I really like boxing too. I’m really not that good though. I need to learn to duck, that’s the next step.”

But really, but if you want to see Godfrey properly on fire, ask her about Moo.la – that’s her new company. “Oh there is quite a lot to do!” Godfrey left her job as head of investment strategy at Brooks Macdonald at the end of August, meaning she’d only been at it for two weeks when our meeting takes place in mid-September. But the idea of going out on her own has been brewing for a long time. We’re sitting in her office in a freshly painted Soho startup loft, surrounded by digital art and people working at standing desks. Godfrey is in white jeans and subtle gold top, accented by bright orange heels and stylish gold jewellery, just back from this morning’s BBC appearance. Everywhere are wall-to-celing charts and notes, reminding you that Moo.la is being created before your very eyes.

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 15.35.18A next-generation company
Once it’s up and running, Moo.la will be a wealth management company, or a so-called robo-advisor: an algorithm-based portfolio advice company. You could also call it a fintech startup. The idea, says Godfrey, using both hands to speak now, is to make wealth management more accessible, give people more control over their finances, and make it more affordable. “At the moment, wealth management is really only being offered to a restricted number of people,” says Godfrey, pointing to how IFAs require a minimum lump sum of £50k, and private banks need you to have a cool million. “So how can we offer advice to people who’re earning good money, but don’t have these massive lump sums? The so-called HENRYs: high earners, not rich yet.”

As opposed to the high-risk crowdfunders, Moo.la will be far less exciting, laughs Godfrey, meant for people who want to see their money working for them. “Oh this is meant to be steady, stable! If you want to diversify a portfolio: a little bit in equites, a little bit in bonds, a little bit in property. … What’s exciting is that now, with technology, you can make it cheaper to provide this service to people. If you can lower the cost of providing this service, then you can open it up to more people.”

Godfrey is planning to launch Moo.la some time in the spring, although it’s hard to say as it’s still so early: “You’re getting this at the very, very start!” She’s just hired a CTO, and she has some early investors on board as well. “We have a few different partners we’re talking to, in order to get it up and running as quickly as possible.” This won’t be just another investment company though – Moo.la is a next generation fintech company, aiming to create a smooth user experience for people who’d rather use an app than going in to talk to an advisor. Godfrey doesn’t quite know what the details will look like yet – it’s only been two weeks! – but the idea is clear: “The differentiating factor is providing people access in a user-friendly way. … What we’re trying to do is get people from the point of having limited options, to having investments that help them progress towards financial freedom.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 15.35.13From physics to finance
Fintech is a hot topic in the London startup scene right now, but for Godfrey, Moo.la feels like the natural development of a 12-year financial career. “I’ve been working in financial services for all these years, and I’ve been harping on about how we need to provide something that’s more customer-centric! It’s come to a point where I’ve realised that actually, technology is now advanced enough that we can give them that type of service.”

Because until now, Godfrey’s had a quite traditional financial career. Most recently she spent nearly four years as head of investment strategy at Brooks Macdonald, which manages £7 billion across 10 offices. Previously, she chaired the investments committee at Credo Capital, after stints at GAM and Goldman Sachs. She was an advocate for the Alternative Investment Management Assocation for five years, and remains on the board of several organisations. So why is she going out on a limb with Moo.la, I ask – life must have been pretty comfortable! Godfrey laughs. “The big thing that motivates me,” she says after thinking about it, “is this feeling that you want to have an impact, you want to make a difference. I’ve always felt like that, wanting to work in smaller teams and be able to actually shape something. … I’ve realised I’ve spent the last few years waiting for somebody else to do this, and I thought I would join them! But there aren’t really that many people out there who’re doing this. This is a great opportunity to do it myself.”

Godfrey’s inquisitive streak comes from a place that may comes as a surprise: she focused on quantum physics at university. The roots go even further back though, to North London Collegiate School, where Godfrey can’t praise her physics teacher enough for encouraging her to follow her curious nature. “Science is all about solving problems. Why is the world the way it is? How can we do something about it? That’s applicable to so many things. … Quantum physics is all about challenging preconceptions. When everyone’s coming at it from one angle, let’s look at it differently, let’s take nothing for granted.”

The link from physics to finance is how they both call for creative solutions, says Godfrey, adding how both fields require taking something complicated and finding a way to make it easier to understand. The knack for clear communication around financial topics has led to Godfrey becoming a regular commentator on TV: “That also comes back to wanting to make a difference, and wanting to solve problems, and to communicate things that are complicated in an easier-to-understand way.”

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 11.25.01The realtalk advantage
Having her face on TV and in newspapers and magazines for the past seven years has made Godfrey that thing they call an industry thought-leader. This, she admits, helps with getting people to trust you with their money. But Godfrey thinks the financial sector is becoming more open in general: “The industry is realising they need to have more of a voice, as opposed to being a faceless institution. When you can be relatable to your own customer, that builds trust and helps you grow.”

Godfrey is the first to point out that being a good communicator is something you have to learn. In her TEDxWallStreet talk, ‘How to kiss’, she shares how her first TV appearance was something of a dud, and she echoes the same lesson now: “In the beginning, when you’re not quite sure what your view is, you hide behind jargon. It really does leave you vulnerable when you go out there and you say, ‘Look, this is really what I think is going on.’ If you don’t explain it in a really clear way, a lot of people are going to turn around and say they don’t agree with you.”

Ultimately, having different things on your plate means getting lots of interesting ideas to take back to your day job, says Godfrey. “I like variability. It stops you from getting isolated, and makes you think in different ways.” Her friends work across all sorts of industries, says Godfrey, whose husband Wayne is a film producer. He, and two-year-old Dexter, is all over Godfrey’s Instagram, alongside photos of days out, media appearances and inspirational quotes. “I’m surprised at how naturally things have progressed,” says Godfrey, when asked if she expected to be where’s she’s at today. “Even though I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit, I’ve liked the security of working in big organisations. What’s surprised me is how this transaction felt so natural! There are so many synergies with other things I’m doing. It’s tapping into so many exciting things that are going on, which are gathering momentum even faster than I expected.” She laughs. “It’s always a roller coaster! I’m excited that I’m here.”

FinTech City

Square Mile Magazine, November 2015. Original article p76-79.

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FINTECH CITY
The hottest thing in the tech startup scene right now is finance. Because no one is better at fintech than London – not even Silicon Valley.

Is the London tech startup scene becoming a true competitor to Silicon Valley? The fact that we once called it Silicon Roundabout is a nod to how far-fetched that idea used to be. But it’s been a very, very busy decade around Old Street, and no one says roundabout anymore – this is Tech City. The Valley is still unsurpassed in terms of breadth and whitehot ambition, but London is catching up fast. Add that to the fact that London is a world class financial centre, and what do you have? The start of a British fintech boom that could make London one of the biggest innovation centres in the world.

“I don’t think that’s an exaggeration at all. It’s absolutely true!” Eileen Burbidge knows better than most just how good London is at fintech – she was the undisputed queen of Tech City long before becoming the new chair of Tech City UK, the public body promoting the London scene. Silicon Valley may have software expertise, says Burbidge, but it doesn’t have the financial expertise. In London, we have both: “What we have in London, is if you took Silicon Valley and put it in the same city as Wall Street. Then, add Washington DC for policymakers and regulatory departments. In London, we have that all in one city. And there’s no way any other tech hub can beat that.”

As a partner in early-stage venture capital group Passion Capital, Burbidge has backed fintech darlings such as GoCardless, DueDil, and Digital Shadows, and will speak in rapid fire about why her companies – and others beyond – have excellent prospects. Take the challenger banks Starling, Atom and Mondo, offering app-only current accounts. Passion has invested in Mondo, but as Burbidge is also the UK Government’s special envoy for fintech, she’s enthusiastic about them all: “There’s something to be said about the level of disruption this will introduce. … This is probably one of the biggest bets we’ve made at Passion.”

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 13.05.57Enter big money
Venture capitalists made another big bet on London fintech this April, when peer-to-peer business lender Funding Circle raised $150 million in what’s one of the biggest VC deals in the UK to date. But this isn’t an isolated case: British VC tech investments reached a new high in the first half of the year, with almost $1.5 billion raised, according to numbers compiled by London & Partners. Funding Circle, and fintech peers such as Azimo, WorldRemit and Currency Cloud, lead the charge: fintech attracted $472 million in the first half of 2015, representing 40% of all the money raised in London.

This represents a possible gamechanger for the London tech scene: to be able to attract big money without having to go to Silicon Valley. One defining factor of London startups has typically been how they’re making money almost immediately, in part because “practical” UK startups like fintech attracts more paying customers than social media. But this steely focus on earnings is also a symptom of how the UK funding climate won’t tolerate the kind of high-risk ventures more commonplace in the Valley. Access to bigger funding deals is arguably vital if London is to grow bigger companies, as it will enable startups to focus more on strategy and expansion.

“A lot of what happens in start-up industries is based around the attitude of the risk capital industry. In a hard-driven financial services world, getting profitable in a short period of time is extremely important,” says David Slater, head of international business development at London & Partners, the Mayor-backed organisation working to promote the capital to business. Looking back to the funding environment five-ten years ago, Slater remembers how the London hub was known for having good companies, but investors just couldn’t trust their payday would come. With the recent surge in high-value deals, this is now starting to change: “Once you get into a cycle of not only risk capital coming in, but also there’s a way to get it out – that’s a big step change in the way our technology industries will grow.”

Slater is optimistic about the prospects of UK tech, even though he’s reluctant to draw direct comparisons to the Valley. Still, he acknowledges there’s plenty there to admire: “We’re trying to emulate the Valley in terms of their appetite for risk, creativity, quick execution, developing the right talent, and entrepreneurial spirit. But London is different,” says Slater, pointing to how UK technology innovation is less about social and more about things like education, retail, video games, and finance.

Right now, London is brimming with corporate-sponsored startup accelerators (several just for fintech), as corporations are increasingly embracing the disruptors. Instead of looking at newcomers as threats, incumbents are supporting them with cash and mentoring, keen to tap into fresh ideas. This is one of the reasons why Slater thinks London is the perfect test bed for tech innovation: “We have all sorts of well-established industry there. It’s ready, and even accepting of the fact they’re going to be disrupted.”

The deep finance bench
The fact that the government values fresh thinking in the financial sector is a vital factor behind the fintech boom. Gemma Godfrey, who’s currently setting up fintech venture Moo.la after previously heading up investment strategy at Brooks Macdonald, highlights how recent regulatory advances have driven change. “We have a very supportive regulator. We have new pension freedoms, and the Retail Distribution Review has provided transparency over the way people pay fees,” says Godfrey. She points to how the rise of the “DIY investor” has paved the way for online-only companies like Nutmeg to offer wealth management and pensions.

Still, there can be significant barriers to overcome for startups moving into a traditionally-minded area like finance. “If you’re trying to do something new it’s only natural you’re going come across hurdles. If it hasn’t been done before, you need to create it,” says Godfrey, adding how new financing models are currently co-existing with the old ones, but they need to be better integrated. The first steps in that direction came last year, when Santander partnered with Funding Circle to become the first bank to establish a referral system to an alternative lender. Along with the rise of new technologies, these kinds of collaborations makes Godfrey optimistic about London’s prospects for becoming the global leader in fintech. She’s less sure if we can expect to compete with the Valley in a more general sense: “But for fintech, and certain subsets of technology? Absolutely we can! It’s really exciting.”

Increasing support from the established financial sector has been key to the rise of London fintech startups. But there’s only so much you can do to force a tech hub to happen, says Eileen Burbidge – the change has to be broad and cultural. “Silicon Valley became the strength that it is, not because it had envoys and investment programmes. It produced companies like Google, Facebook, eBay, Yahoo and Apple because the overall environment supported it.”

Burbidge points to how London has over 300 of the world’s largest banks, and the UK has over 100,000 financial services knowledge workers. While there’s no shortage of 20-something CEOs in the fintech crowd, there’s just as many graying hairs – plenty of fintech founders come from traditional finance backgrounds. Burbidge attributes this in part to the effects of the financial crisis: “After 2008, a lot of people decided they wanted to set up for themselves, because they no longer had the safety net. They could take the risk to be more entrepreneurial.” The rise of corporate-backed tech incubators is also a reflection of how the world of finance changed after the recession: “Institutions that got crippled by the crisis realised they had to innovate, and become more agile and efficient in how they operate.”

Taking a global mindset
This is the natural time for the London startup community to step up to the next level, says Mark Pearson, co-founder of Fuel Ventures: “We’ve had everything evolve: funding, early-stage investors, mind-set.” Pearson launched Fuel Ventures following a crowdfunding campaign earlier this year, after selling his previous company, MyVoucherCodes, in a deal worth up to £55 million. One of Pearson’s goals with Fuel Ventures, an early-stage technology investment fund and incubator, is to nurture companies to compete on a global scale:

“You see a lot of companies coming out of the US with big ideas, with lots of funding on day one, before they’ve even proved anything. In the UK, we’re a lot more conservative. It’s much more about the numbers, and you have to be revenue-generative from day one. This can restrict people with the big visions,” says Pearson. The British model may result in fewer failures, but Pearson thinks we need to crank up our ambitions: “I’m all for revenue and profits, but if you wait too long and [spend too long] scaling, you lose the race globally.”

Thanks to technology and the internet it’s never been easier to take a global view, but Pearson is quick to point out how London has a few challenges to overcome if we are to catch up with the Valley. One is the sheer size of the US market: 300 million people with the same language, currency and culture. The UK only has a fraction of that. “Then to scale in Europe, we need to have multiple languages, currencies, regulations – that’s a challenge.” Having said that, Pearson sees no reason London tech companies can’t take on this task, as people are starting to think bigger: “Historically, UK entrepreneurs have been criticised for selling out to early. … It pains me that we don’t have a Google, Apple, Microsoft or Amazon from the UK. But let’s add some zeroes and some scale, and we’ll get there.”

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Anne Boden takes flight with Starling Bank

FusionWire, 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 12.36.43Anne Boden takes flight with Starling Bank

At the heart of the new mobile-only Starling Bank is Anne Boden, whose experience and conviction may just be the thing to create a brand new current account.

Anne Boden isn’t starting a bank – she’s starting a revolution. At least that’s how she’ll make you feel after spending an hour in her company, discussing the next-generation Starling Bank in her animated and energetic manner. This is a mobile-only bank, but there’s a lot more to it than that, and Boden will tell you all about it. Or more precisely, the CEO will ask you questions about your bank experience to make you realise that you’re not happy with it, not one bit – you just haven’t been able to articulate it before, because you didn’t realise it could be any other way.

We’re sitting in Starling’s offices, currently found in the duller parts of Clerkenwell behind a door with no sign. The bank is still in startup mode, says Boden, who started Starling in January 2014. They won’t provide details about funding, but right now they’re building their stack and getting a banking licence, with the launch set for next year. But before we get to that, I have to ask – why is Boden doing this? She’s had almost 30 years’ experience in banking, working herself up the ladder in a number of household names before becoming Chief Operating Officer at Allied Irish Bank. Life must have been pretty comfortable?

Boden looks at me for a moment before bursting into laughter, thrilled. “You’re the first to actually ask this!” She thinks for a bit. “Somebody said to me, ‘You’re trying to prove that the current model is broken and it’s possible to do something really different.’ A lot of people have this concept, but I have the execution capability,” asserts Boden. To put this in context she takes me back to the beginning, to after she’d graduated from computer science and chemistry at Swansea and joined Lloyd’s Bank in the early 1980s. “I was in a branch for a couple of months, doing my traineeship. Then I became one of the architects of the CHAPS system. I went to Standard Chartered and was Head of IT and Operations. I became a consultant, I did an MBA, I went front-of-office. I joined UBS and went to Zürich. I went into a big insurance company and started doing lots of work with boards. I went to work for ABN Amro Bank as head of transaction banking for EMEA, and joined RBS [when it] bought ABN Amro. Then the financial crisis happened.”

The reason Boden is telling me all this is partially to illustrate how she has a lot of experience in an industry that’s rich with rules and tradition. But the world changed after the financial crisis, and Boden realised this when she would go and give advice to RBS clients: “I was in a big corporation, running thousands of people and billions in budgets, but [here were these] start-ups, creating huge amounts of customer value for hundreds of thousands. This shocked me! I realised I was learning more from them than they were learning from me.”

New ways of thinking about banking
Boden spent a year talking to people all around the world about what they were doing post-crisis, and what was happening in technology. She joined Allied Irish Bank after their bailout and successfully applied several of the things she’d learned there. “But there were things I couldn’t do. I spent my summer holiday in 2013 going around the world, talking to big banks. And I came to the conclusion that everybody had the same problem: they were moving transactions from branches onto mobiles, but the technology wasn’t coping with how people were using it.” So once Christmas rolled around, Boden had made a decision: the only way to really fix things was to start from scratch. There were three factors making this possible, she says: the regulation for getting a banking licence had changed; people were ready to do much more banking on their phones; and the technology was there to enable it.

But, I ask, did she do this because she wanted to, or did she feel there was genuinely no other way? “All of a sudden, it was as if all these forces were coming together. There was nothing else I could do. I could see the problems big banks had, I could see that technology was enabling it, that the regulations had changed. And I could do it!” She laughs. Other people had the idea too, she adds, but it’s not a simple thing to do: “You have to be able to run a bank, to start a bank. You also need to be creative and have courage. So I thought to myself, ‘I want to do this’.”

Back in the present day, Starling Bank has finished its architecture, its big picture plans, and is working on the “detailed discussions” about functionality. The app exists, confirms Boden, but she hesitates when I ask if I can see it: “We haven’t really shown anybody our app!” She looks at me for a moment, before deciding to show me a little bit. She opens the app on her phone, talking me through the quick sign-up process. She lists a number of things the app can do, many of which are intriguing – but it’s still kept under wraps so let’s just say the app will have lots of links to other parts of your life, to help you plan and organise.

“You shouldn’t be asking people what they want from their banks, because it doesn’t get the right answers. So instead you ask, ‘Would you mind talking about the accounts you have and how you use them?’ […] People are trying to find ways around the system,” says Boden, explaining how people will do things like move cash around to avoid getting stung with fees. “What we’re trying to do, is solve people’s everyday problems with money.” Take how we’re used to being charged when direct debits bounce: “But Google doesn’t charge you when they reject spam. It’s a transaction, so why should you be charged?” She looks at me, clearly knowing what I’m thinking: that this comparison makes sense, yet it’s not at all how we’re used to thinking about banking.

The start-from-scratch advantage
While it’s clear that Starling wants to make technology work for people, rather than the other way around, I still can’t help but wonder: why can’t the existing banks do this? “Okay. You have all these things available in the rest of your life, so why don’t they exist in banks?” The problem, says Boden, is that standard banks are serving multiple customer groups, selling not just current accounts but also savings, loans and mortgages. All these systems are interconnected, and they’ve been consolidated over many years.” So the typical bank will have, say, 30-40,000 different systems,” says Boden, adding how one major bank has 60 systems just for payments.

Replacing all these systems is vastly expensive and time-consuming, explains Boden, with very few banks having taken the plunge. Because the risk is significant: “People expect a banking system to work 24/7, so there’s no tolerance for it not working.” Then there’s the fact that it’s taken half a dozen years for the few banks who’ve dared the transition. “So instead of replacing the system, they keep adding. And it gets worse and worse and worse.”

It’s certainly not impossible for a major bank to solve its technology problem, says Boden: “But it’s much easier to start fresh.” Having no customers to convert is the best as well as the worst thing about that, but Boden doesn’t seem too fazed by the looming task of having to convince people to change their current accounts: “We’re focusing on people who live their lives on their mobile and are focused on getting the best technology in all walks of life.” There’ll be a phone help line, plus an arrangement for that one time a year when you need to pay in a cheque, but Starling isn’t chasing people who want to spend a lot of time in branches. Not to mention that most people don’t go into branches to deal with their current account, says Boden – they do so to deal with other banking products like loans or mortgages. Starling won’t do any of that, partially because Boden doesn’t really think the cross-selling model is viable anymore: “We believe the majority of people are quite self-directed now. In the old model, you sold a current account and then you tried to sell lots of other products. But we think people are a little more sophisticated now, making up their own minds.”

That also means Starling has no need to own its customer data: “We believe the customer’s data is their own, and shouldn’t be used to cross-sell other products.” Bank data and how it should be used is a big topic right now: “But shouldn’t it be all about helping you manage your financial affairs?” This is an interesting point of view, especially as Starling’s app will let people link their bank account to lots of other personal information across the internet. “We’re working on how people can have the convenience of that linkage, but with the security of being a bank.”

Making Starling feel genuinely different is a key motivating force for Boden, who finds there’s no real difference between the existing High Street banks: “But if there was something really inspiring that was different, it would apply to a certain segment of the population. If you can focus on what people really want – that’s the difference.” You can see how this model could potentially become popular with people in the street, but what does her old industry colleagues think of her bold new venture? “Oh, what do they think?” Boden pauses for a moment. “I’d spent the last ten years trying to convince everybody that the current model is sustainable. That we could just carry on, go through the crisis and come out the other side and nothing would change. I came to the conclusion that wasn’t possible. People are changed! People are not tolerant of banks anymore. They’re angry.” Technology and regulation have changed too, she adds, so it’s time to change the banks: “You have to be highly relevant to your customers. Otherwise, you cease to exist.”

The hottest little bank in town is an app called Mondo

FusionWire, 2015.

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The hottest little bank in town is an app called Mondo

We sat down with Tom Blomfield, co-founder and CEO of mobile-only bank Mondo, to talk about banking in the age of a life lived on your smartphone.

Mobile-only bank Mondo is a young company, even in startup terms: Tom Blomfield and his four co-founders have only been at it since February. Intrigued by a few tweets and blog posts hinting at what’s in the works, I asked Blomfield for an interview, and to my surprise he accepted. Because what can there really be to talk about this soon? Is it even possible to build a bank in five months?

The answer to this question is yes – the app is up and running, and the first Mondo debit cards have been issued. But the answer is also no, as Mondo is very much a work in progress: the app changes daily. “We’ve built a core banking system!” says Blomfield. “We have our own service and infrastructure, and the app runs on top.” This do-it-yourself approach means there’s plenty of freedom in building Mondo: this bank can go in any direction dreamt up by Blomfield and his team of merry coders.

The CEO and I are sitting on the roof of White Bear Yard, Passion Capital’s buzzy co-working space in Clerkenwell. Passion provided the “low millions” seed funding for Mondo in April, although Blomfield reckons it will take a couple of years and £15 million to get Mondo fully up and running. “We’re not even perfecting Mondo, we’re still very much building,” says Blomfield. “One thing we really believe in as a company, is being very transparent and close to our customers. We don’t want to go away and hide for two years before saying: ‘Here’s what we’ve built, does anyone like it?’ Instead we’re really open.”

It makes sense: a mobile-only current account bank for the smartphone generation begs an interactive process. “We’re trying to provide a bank account for the kind of people who live their life on their smartphones, and get angry when stuff takes more than five seconds. Like me, basically!” Blomfield laughs. But it’s right on trend: the people used to Uber rocking up within minutes, and same-day deliveries from Amazon, aren’t going to want to queue in a bank branch.

Blomfield opens the Mondo app on his iPhone. “My balance is 300-odd quid,” he says; for now, the Mondo debit cards have to be pre-loaded with cash. “You can see I bought my breakfast at Pret,” he says, as transactions are updated in real time. Blomfield taps it: there’s Pret on a map, and the tag #breakfast. “Or you can use the tag #expenses and then click ‘export’, immediately generating an expense report, with no work.”

There’s more: if you forget to touch out with your Oyster card, Mondo will invite you complete the journey on TfL’s website and avoid the fine. If your electricity bill is higher than usual, the app will invite you to investigate with a call to customer services. You can cash in your loyalty points right there in the app – the examples go on. “You start with all the basic data: what you spend, where, with which merchant. Then you move on to insights, some sort of learning. But the third step no one has got to, is action. Because we’re building a full bank, we can actually let people take action. That’s where the internet is really going.”

Blomfield’s enthusiasm for Mondo is infectious. I eye the app jealously: my bank’s app doesn’t do any of this stuff. A mobile-only bank was bound to be fun, with features like adding emoji to transaction fields, but this looks like it could actually be really useful. This bank would be less a walled garden, and more a financial hub with direct ties to the rest of your life. It turns out my reaction is pretty normal to seeing the app: “It’s often: ‘When can I have it!’” Blomfield laughs.

The banking community is starting to be won over too, now that Blomfield has a working app to show them: “Before we had the app, the reaction was very much things like: ‘Current account banking is just a commodity!’ ‘No one will switch accounts, it’s not interesting!’ And then we showed them the app and now the reaction is: ‘Oh s**t.’” Blomfield laughs again. But the reaction demonstrates the radical nature of the Mondo proposition, as a current account has always been a static place. “We’ve put a whole level of intelligence on top of it. And they say: ‘Oh my god. This is what people have been talking about for 15 years.’”

So if this idea has been knocking about for a decade, how come it’s not been done? This is a complicated issue, says Blomfield, whose team of co-founders include alumni from Allied Irish Bank and ABN Amro UK. There’s no shortage of innovation teams at the established financial groups, and they’ll come up with crazier things than Mondo: “But they are structurally unable to deliver it.” One reason is cultural: “[Established banks] don’t have a culture of regularly building and shipping features.” Then there’s the fact that many banks operate with off-the-shelf software, which, argues Blomfield, provides limited abilities for customisation. “Then there’s the old legacy banks out there who have decades of accumulated technical debt. Their systems are like Frankenstein’s Monster! … We’re different because we have a team of engineers sitting downstairs who actually write code, every day.”

Mondo is currently halfway through its banking licence application. The hope is to have a license with restrictions in about six months’ time, and a full launch sometime after that, probably in about a year. “But we have a working system, and we’re going to roll out debit cards to a few thousand people this summer. It will be based on our technology, but in the short term we’ll be partnering with another bank to provide the license.”

If all this sounds ambitious, it’s worth noting this isn’t Blomfield’s first time at the rodeo. The 29-year-old started and sold his first company, Boso, while reading law at Oxford. He then grew his second financial startup, GoCardless, to a company processing $200 million low-cost direct debit transactions annually. So what’s it like, doing this again with the added experience?

“It lets you be more ambitious,” says Blomfield, referring to how he worked with Passion Capital for several years at GoCardless. This meant his bold plans to launch a brand new bank were actually given the time of day: “Instead of saying: ‘Get the hell out!’, they said: ‘Okay, that’s interesting. Tell us more.’ … It feels like a step up in terms of ambition. It feels like this is the big one.”

He has a point: after starting a bank, how can you top that? “I can see myself spending a good proportion of my life on this, if it goes well. But it feels like this has been a long time coming: banking is so fundamentally broken. It hasn’t changed in 30, 40 years.” There are potential problems ahead for Mondo of course, but not the ones “traditional” bankers see: “The technology and licensing are serious undertakings, but they are pretty well known. Making something people really want is the biggest challenge, for any start-up,” says Blomfield. “You only really know by getting [the product] into their hands and seeing their reaction.” And Mondo won’t be for everyone: lots of people like having a branch. But this isn’t for them: “This is a bank for people who live their lives on their phones and hate waiting for anything. And if that means only addressing a third of the population, that’s fine: that a lot of people!”

That could actually end up proving a conservative target market for Mondo, judging from figures from the British Bankers’ Association: mobile banking has eclipsed not just branch-based banking, but also web banking, this year. Having said that, there’s no doubt that Blomfield is fully aware of the blue-sky potential for Mondo: “I think banks have an extinction event on their horizon. I want to be building the kind of company that replaces them!” He laughs again, but you can tell he’s serious. “I love technology. I love the way it can just make everyday life much, much better. … Sometimes it feels like we’re living in science fiction. It’s incredibly exciting.”