Finance

British digital bank Monzo hits monthly profitability for the first time after spike in lending

A Mastercard debit card from U.K. digital bank Monzo.
Monzo

Monzo on Wednesday said it hit profitability for the first time this year, in a major milestone for one of the U.K.’s most prominent digital banks.

In its annual report for the year ending February 2023, Monzo reported net operating income of £214.5 million ($266.1 million), almost doubling year-over-year from £114 million.

Losses at the bank nevertheless came in at a substantial £116.3 million — though this was slightly lower than the £119 million net loss Monzo reported in 2022.

Still, the company managed to reach profitability in the first two months of the year.

In its annual report, Chief Financial Officer James Davies said Monzo is “now a business with diverse and stabilising revenue from a large, and growing, personal and business customer base.”

“Profitability was always a choice as we balance continuing to invest in growth with profitability,” Monzo’s CEO, TS Anil, told CNBC in an interview. “We could have chosen to be profitable a few quarters ago.”

Monzo is not the first digital bank to hit profitability. Starling Bank reached that milestone for the first time in 2021. Fellow fintech Allica Bank reached monthly profitability last year.

Monzo’s move into the black was largely thanks to a substantial increase in income from newer revenue lines, such as lending and subscriptions. Paid accounts now total 350,000.

Monzo declined to share a figure on how much of a profit it is making currently. The firm said it is on track to reach full-year profitability by the end of 2024.

Lending growth

Monzo’s strong revenue performance was driven by a bumper year for its lending business. This came against a backdrop of pain for U.K. consumers, who’re grappling with a harsh cost-of-living crisis as inflation soars.

Total lending volume reached £759.7 million, almost tripling year-on-year, while net interest income spiked by 382% to £164.2 million.  That was as usage of overdrafts, unsecured personal loans, and the Monzo Flex buy now, pay later service grew sharply.

Yet credit losses also surged dramatically, as the bank set aside a mountain of funds to deal with a sharp climb in anticipated defaults. Credit losses swelled to £101.2 million, a more than sevenfold increase from £14 million in 2022. 

It comes as consumers are increasingly turning to unsecured credit, such as credit cards and personal loans, to offset the impact of the rising cost of living. Research from consulting firm PwC indicates U.K. household debt exceeded £2 trillion for the first time in January.

Monzo’s boss disputed that the cost-of-living crisis had contributed to its revenue performance.

“The cost-of-living crisis was painful for everyone, but it really underscored the ways in which the Monzo product is incredibly powerful,” Anil told CNBC. 

He added the growing cost of living impacted how people used Monzo products, with usage of its savings pots and budgeting tools rising.

Meanwhile, Monzo said it continues to work with the Financial Conduct Authority regulator over an ongoing inquiry into the company’s alleged breaches of anti-money laundering laws.

“We expect it to take time to resolve,” Monzo said. “This could have a negative impact on our financial position, but we won’t know when or what the outcome will be for some time.”

UK ‘not holding us back’

The fintech sector has experienced increasing scrutiny since it grew in prominence after the 2020 Covid outbreak.

Major digital banks, from Revolut to N26, are receiving heightened attention from regulators. Revolut is reportedly set to have its application for a banking license rejected by the Bank of England, according to the Telegraph.

A number of tech bosses have expressed doubts about the U.K.’s bid to become a global tech power on the back of notable setbacks, including Cambridge-based chip design firm Arm’s decision to list in New York rather than London.

Revolut CEO Nik Storonsky earlier this month said his firm had encountered “extreme bureaucracy” in its experience applying for a banking license in the U.K. and said he would never list in the country. Monzo co-founder Tom Blomfield, meanwhile, left London for San Francisco, citing a “much more accepting” environment for tech founders.

“From our perspective, this is a country where we got licensed, this is our home market; we’ve clearly learned this is where we can build a business of scale,” Monzo’s Anil said. “It’s not holding us back, I don’t think of it like that at all.”

Monzo now has 7.4 million customers in the U.K., making it the seventh-largest bank in the U.K. by client numbers. Total customer deposits now stand at £6 billion.

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