How we built Year in Monzo: unlocking the data magic ✨

Read the article

Turning brainstorms into data-driven delights

Year in Monzo Brainstorming

Several months back, we got our heads together and started dreaming up Year in Monzo 2023. We wanted to create something that would show our customers all the interesting stuff they’ve done with their money over the past year. The last time we did this was three years ago, and this year, we aimed to elevate the user experience. We wanted to transform everyday financial behaviours into meaningful milestones, crafting unique 'eras' that ‘define’ someone’s year.

Our brainy creative team was buzzing with a storm of wild and wonderful ideas. Picture this: 'Stories narrating your payment references, powered by Al,' – as in lower case L, as in just a guy called Albert. Another gem was to playfully say someone’s in their 'MasterChef era' if grocery spending outshone dining out.

As the custodians of data, our team’s role in this creative ballet was to bring these ideas to life. Not every concept, regardless of its charm, was actually possible. Take, for instance, the enticing idea of a 'staycation era’ for users who have been travelling domestically – it's fun, but executing it at scale in the time we had presented challenges.

Our assessment for defining what could work from a data perspective was simple:

  1. Audience: Did the idea apply to the majority of users?

  2. Data Gathering: Could we collect the data easily at scale?

If an idea didn’t apply to enough people or if it was too complicated to get the data, it wouldn’t be a good fit.

In the end, we decided we wanted to focus a large part of our efforts on several specific data points that defined people’s unique 'era' experiences. We bucketed eras into 3 key segments:

Merchant Era: Users would find themselves in a merchant-based era if they were in the top 5, 10, or 20% of spenders for a particular merchant.

Travel Era: For those with a penchant for exploration, a travel-based era awaits. This designation is influenced by the number of triggered trip reports or the variety of currencies spent in person.

Social Era: Social butterflies take centre stage here. Whether boasting a higher number of contacts than the average user or residing in the top 20% for Monzo-to-Monzo payments, this era celebrates social connectivity and financial interactions within the Monzo community.

Transforming spending habits into tales worth telling

Year in Monzo merchant logos

Getting everyone’s Year in Monzo reports to sparkle took some decision-making. Here's the inside scoop on how we crafted your yearly adventures.

👯The audience:

To tell an engaging story, we set the entry bar at a minimum of 15 eligible transactions (gambling transactions and a few other types aren’t eligible), with at least three in our Eating Out, Shopping and Entertainment spend categories. And that’s across our Personal, Flex Credit Card and Joint Accounts.

Why? We're committed to delivering an experience that's not just delightful but also substantial. Below this bar, the narrative might lack the depth needed to paint a vivid picture of the user's financial story. It's the sweet spot where inclusivity meets captivating storytelling.

✂️ The excluded transactions:

Certain merchants, especially those associated with potential harm like gambling, were deliberately excluded from the spotlight. We aimed to avoid showing merchants that might trigger users and have a high likelihood of appearing in someone's top list. We were committed to creating a Year in Monzo experience that was both positive and considerate of people’s well-being.

🛍️ Favourite merchants leaderboard

We decided that the frequency of spend, rather than amount, would bump a merchant up the list. And if it was a tie, we rolled with whatever merchant was most popular among customers to break it.

We didn’t show some parts of Year in Monzo if a user didn’t have enough eligible transactions for them. Specifically, the favourite spots leaderboard in the Entertainment, Shopping, and Eating Out categories only appeared if someone had at least three top merchants.

🔖 Merchant categories

We categorised merchants using:

  1. User’s choice: We used the category users set for their activities (except when it was a custom category).

  2. Default settings: If you didn’t choose or used custom categories, we used the merchant’s default category for eating out, entertainment, or shopping. Remember, the sections where a merchant shows up depends on your choices or common categories. If it seems wrong, you can always re-categorise it – but it won’t change your Year in Monzo results this time around.

👫 Finding friends

Your Monzo besties earned their ranks based on inbound and outbound person to person (P2P) transactions. More activity = higher friend ranks. If there was a tie, we sprinkled in a dash of randomness.

We also decided that:

  • Money going out of a joint account to an individual would show up in the initiator’s Year in Monzo, and not for both joint account holders.

  • Money coming in to the joint account would show up for both, as we couldn’t decipher the recipient.

  • Users with active block between each other were also filtered out.

🪐 Discover Your ‘Era’

Year in Monzo Eras

Your ‘Era’ reflects your unique spending habits at Monzo:

  • It shows where you spend most compared to other Monzo users

  • If you’re in the top 5-20% for a certain shop or activity, that will define your ‘Era’

  • We don’t count places where you’ve shopped less than 10 times to keep it fair

  • We aim for variety so your ‘Era’ stands out among friends.

You can read more about the creative team’s writing process for the eras here.

QA-ing for a seamless user experience

Blog Breaker – QA

Our Quality Assurance (QA) process, a crucial step in refining the Year in Monzo experience, unfolded across three chapters.

Data Model: Our analytics engineering team examined each line of code to ensure efficiency, and that intricacies within transactions, savings and P2P data were addressed.

Staff Testing: Before unveiling Year in Monzo to the world, we treated our internal team to an exclusive sneak peek. Staff testing proved invaluable, offering vital feedback and allowing us to spot and squash any lurking bugs. It was a collaborative effort to ensure a seamless user experience.

Merchant Names:

The scrutiny of merchant names involved a detailed (and time-consuming) exploration of each name, ensuring precision and cohesiveness.

Merchant enrichment has been a feature of Monzo for years and we are always looking to finesse this in future.

Merchant data can be challenging due to the diverse ways merchants register their payment terminals, leading to non-uniform and outdated information. This variability introduces irregularities that can be challenging to manage.

Throughout 2023, Monzo customers shopped at over 8.5 million merchants. This is an enormous amount of data to sift through! We needed to find a balance between minimising the effort needed to correct our merchant data and maximising the user experience when customers are seeing their top merchant lists.

Here's how we navigated this merchant labyrinth:

  1. 🎯 Prioritising:

    We filtered out any merchants with less than 1,000 unique transactions. We decided this was a minimum threshold for consideration.

  2. 🏆 Ranking and Filtering:

    We ranked merchants for each customer and filtered out any merchants falling low on a users top list. This would likely only filter out single-transaction merchants for our customers.

  3. 🔄 De-Duping:

    De-duplication was then performed before handing over a curated list to our teams – merchant names that needed a human touch.

  4. 🌍 Crowd-sourcing:

    We're thankful Monzo has a diverse set of colleagues who had better language context and could help us with the dozens of international merchants coming through the pipeline!

The outcome was over 6,000 updated merchants integrated into the Year in Monzo pipeline. While acknowledging the enormity of the data, perfection remains an ongoing pursuit. The journey doesn't end here – 2024 holds the promise of an even more enriching Year in Monzo adventure! 🚀💳

We hope you all loved your Year in Monzo and unlocked some useful (and entertaining!) insights about your spending habits. Next up, our engineering team are going to explain how they built the Year in Monzo in-app experience and got it out into the world!