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    U.K. challenger bank Monzo applies for U.S. banking license

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    The U.K. challenger bank Monzo has applied for a national bank charter from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

    “Filing an application for a U.S. banking license is a significant milestone in our mission to make money work for everyone,” Monzo’s U.S. chief executive, T.S. Anil, said in email Friday.

    Anil, who joined Monzo in early 2020, is leading the process. The company hopes to get full approval within 18 months to two years.

    Monzo is following the path of a U.S. challenger, Varo Money, which applied for a national banking license three years ago and has received conditional approval from the OCC. It obtained approval for deposit insurance from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in February. To obtain its final national bank charter, Varo still needs to complete organizational requirements and meet the conditions of both the OCC’s and FDIC’s Federal Reserve membership.

    Like Varo and other challenger banks operating in the U.S., Monzo so far offers a basic checking account and debit card through a partner, in Monzo's case Sutton Bank in Ohio. Monzo has also introduced features it already provides in England, including instant spending notifications and the ability to freeze and unfreeze a card through its app.

    In an interview last summer, global CEO and founder Tom Blomfield said he planned to offer some of Monzo's unique banking features in the U.S. For instance, Monzo has a tool that helps compulsive gamblers block themselves from using the card or account at online casinos and gambling sites. This same idea could be applied to online shopping sites.

    Monzo has also helped homeless people obtain bank accounts in the U.K.

    The company plans to open an office in San Francisco. It currently has a location in Los Angeles and some of the Monzo team will continue to work there.

    Its leaders say they hope Monzo’s banking license application will get approved quickly because it has operated as a regulated bank in the United Kingdom for the past three years.

    With a bank charter, Monzo will have more freedom to design new products, including loans and FDIC-insured deposit accounts.

    Monzo also continues to work on the beta U.S. offering it launched with Sutton Bank in August. It is gathering feedback from its first pilot U.S. customers.

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