In the first of our “Meet the Monzo US Team” series of blog posts, we talk to Richard Dingwall, one of our superstar engineers who has been with Monzo for over 5 years and who has been working on the US team for the past year and a half. Richard famously built our in-house Mastercard processor for the UK business nearly singlehandedly, and now the Mastercard maestro himself is using his skills to help build our product in the US.
We’ll be posting new “Meet the Team” articles over the coming weeks, so stay tuned for more interviews with our awesome US team members. And if you’re interested in joining Monzo US, be sure to check out all of our available listings over at https://monzo.com/usa/careers!
What do you do for Monzo?
I’m a backend engineer which means I spend most of my time designing and coding the backend systems that power the Monzo mobile app. A typical day for me might involve writing code, investigating bugs, reviewing my colleagues’ code changes, and design work e.g. whiteboarding how a new software component might work before we start building it.
I also spend a lot of time interviewing engineering candidates. It’s really nice meeting people from a wide range of backgrounds and learning about all the interesting things people are working on. If you’re interested in joining Monzo, check out our open roles here!
How did you get into this?
It was completely unplanned - I fell into this career by accident! I grew up in New Zealand, and during high school I avoided programming because I imagined it would be boring. But during university (where I was majoring in marketing) I had a part time student job doing data entry, which became data entry using SQL automation, which led to me joining their web team. It was my first office job and I really enjoyed helping solve problems for people.
After that, I worked on bigger and bigger systems, including FX trading and derivatives at investment banks. After a couple of years I realized working at a big corporate company wasn’t very fulfilling so I started looking around for a small startup where I could make a bigger difference. By luck, I met some of the early Monzo founders at a hackathon event in late 2014 and the rest is history!
Can you tell us a bit about what you are working on this week?
For the past few months I’ve been mainly focused on adding ACH payments to the Monzo app, so you can push and pull money between your linked bank accounts. It’s an important feature for us because ACH is the main way of moving money between banks in the US, and it’s the most frequently requested feature by our community on our public roadmap. We’re quite close to being ready to launch the first early version to customers, so we’re just doing some final testing and making sure everything is running smoothly behind the scenes.
ACH payments work by banks sending payment files to a central party (typically the Federal Reserve), who gathers up and routes all the individual payments destined to each receiver bank. The Fed calculates how much money all the banks owe each other (on behalf of their customers) at the end of each day, and makes sure everyone settles up correctly. After the banks have settled up, funds are distributed to individual customer accounts. ACH payments typically take a few days to complete.
It’s been very interesting to work on because I’ve learned a lot about the US payments infrastructure. ACH has been operating for a very long time, since 1979 in fact. It uses its own special file format that predates XML and JSON by about 25-30 years!
What are you most proud of achieving at Monzo?
In the early days of Monzo, I was the lead engineer on our in-house Mastercard payment processor. It’s had a lot of time invested into it by many amazing engineers over the years, but the fundamental code hasn’t needed to be replaced or significantly redesigned too much. Today it processes more than 500 million transactions per year (£10 billion+) for our UK customers, which I think is pretty cool.
What do you find most enjoyable about your role?
Working with brilliant colleagues and being able to spend my time designing and perfecting a product which I use every day.
What has surprised you the most so far about building a digital bank in the US vs. the UK?
When I joined the US team everyone said banking would be different than in the UK, but at the time I didn’t really understand what they meant. I assumed that all countries have checking accounts, mobile apps, payment cards, and bank-to-bank payments these days. Since I moved here, I’ve learned that Americans use credit cards, cash and checks much more than in the UK, where people mostly pay by debit card.
P2P payments also work differently in the UK. In the UK if you owed me money for something, I would share my bank account number with you, which you would paste into your bank’s app to send me a payment. You could even save my account number in your contact list in case you need to send me money again. This doesn’t really happen in the US - people tend to use third-party apps like Venmo instead.
I was also surprised to learn there are over 5,000 banks in the US compared to only about 300 in the UK.
What have you learned in your time at Monzo?
So many things! Monzo is an environment where you’re constantly learning from your colleagues and solving new challenges. I also love that as a company we’re not afraid of digging really deep and geeking out over the underlying payment technology e.g. the code that runs inside the chips on our cards.
What has been the biggest culture shock living in the US?
Tipping! Needing to always pay 20% extra on top of restaurant bills can feel like a big additional expense if you come from a country where tipping isn’t customary. I also accidently made a hairdresser very upset at me once when I forgot to tip them. It quickly becomes a habit though.
What do you do for fun?
When I’m not working I enjoy relaxing, reading books, watching movies, cooking, and hanging out with friends.
Tell us something unexpected about you!
This is actually the second time I’ve lived in America. My family moved to Cincinnati for a few years when I was a toddler. I don’t remember too much of it though.