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Monzo Writing Principles

Every word matters. When you’re a bank that lives on a phone, your words are a huge part of the brand and customer experience. Every one is a chance to connect, delight and build trust (or lose it).

You might be here looking for the Monzo tone of voice – this is it! But 'tone of voice' is ironically copywriting jargon, and it undersells what these principles are about. They don't just cover tone, they make us consider the context, content and structure of what we say to customers.

Our principles in brief

Even if your role has nothing to do with marketing, everyone who works at Monzo is a custodian of our brand. So if you work at Monzo – these are for you.

Straightforward kindness

We're clear, inclusive and focused on the reader. We go out of our way to make complex things simple.

This applies all the time, to all the writing we do.

Everyday magic

We transform the mundane with moments of unexpected delight. We celebrate and commiserate, and draw on universal experiences to connect with people.

We always look for ways to inject a little magic into the customer experience, but this mainly applies to our brand and marketing writing.

Warm wit

Humour is a delicate seasoning in our writing. We want people to feel part of the joke, not the target of it. And we avoid the obvious to keep things fresh.

This belongs almost exclusively in our brand and marketing writing, with the occasional surprise in the app.

Straightforward kindness

The thread that runs through all of our writing. We’re clear, inclusive, focused on the reader, and go out of our way to make complex things simple.

No matter what kind of writing you do at Monzo, you should always be following this principle.

Focus on what matters to readers

Your first question before writing should be: “What does my reader care about most?

We’re often tempted to explain why we’ve done something before what it actually is – especially if it’s an uncomfortable message. But are people more interested in our decision-making process, or how it affects them? (Hint: it’s almost always the latter.) We can explain our reasoning, but need to explain the impact first.

Pro tip: before you write, list out the main things your reader needs to know as bullet points. Once you’ve done that, you’ll probably find you’ve written most of what you needed to say.

Be welcoming to everyone

We make sure our language is inclusive of everyone. We’re careful about idioms and colloquial references that might not be well understood by people who don’t have English as a first language.

Obviously there’s no place for anything racist, sexist or derogatory, but it goes beyond that. We also take care to avoid things like gendered or ableist language, cultural appropriation, or terms that have a history rooted in structural racism.

Labels matter more than you think

As an example, it’s pretty common in tech to use the terms ‘blacklist’ and ‘whitelist’, which is an idea rooted in racism – that white is superior to black. (We use ‘blocklist’ and ‘allowlist’ instead.)

It might seem pedantic to care about whether we occasionally say ‘blacklist’ or ‘blocklist’, but how we label things really matters. Psychologist Lera Boroditsky ran an experiment in 2009 that makes this point really well.

She told two groups of people that they were in charge of reducing crime in the fictional city of Addison. The scenarios were identical in every way except one: she told one group that crime was ‘preying on the city like a beast', and the other group that crime was ‘spreading through the city like a virus'.

The group who were given the beast ‘frame' were much more likely to propose things like more police and tougher sentencing. The group with the virus frame were much more likely to suggest social reform and education. People wanted to fight the beast, but they wanted to treat the virus.

Swap formal words for normal ones

Many ‘business writing’ words make us sound like a cold, faceless organisation, which is the last thing we want. The best test for this is to read what you’ve written out loud. Does it sound like language you’d ever actually use face to face? If not, some of these needlessly formal words might be the culprit.

A quick aside on the whole ‘but’ thing: it’s totally fine to start a sentence with the word but. Or the words and, so and because. There’s never been a rule against it, and no grammar guide will tell you you can’t. We do it all the time when we talk, so it makes our writing feel more natural, too.

A brief history of professional English

The Romans arrived in Britain about 2,000 years ago, and brought Latin with them.

Latin became the language of people in charge, and it seeped into the foundations of legal writing (there's still a lot of it there today). Legal writing became the basis of all business writing, because writing was time-consuming and difficult, and you only bothered to write something down if it was important – like a contract.

So what we traditionally think of as ‘professional’ language is essentially words that have a Latin root (like ‘require’ or ‘provide’). Words we'd almost never say out loud, but which we write when we're trying to sound business-like.

But rather than making us sound smarter or more ‘professional', that language makes us sound cold and distant.

When we have to say sorry, say it sincerely

The heart of good writing is empathy for the reader. When we’ve done something wrong, we own up to it and take responsibility. It’s never ‘We’d like to apologise’, it’s ‘We’re sorry’. But be careful not to over-apologise – we say sorry once like we mean it, and then we focus on what we’re doing to make things better.

Sometimes we have to give people news they won’t like, but we haven’t done anything wrong. In those cases, we shouldn’t say sorry. It can come across as insincere and frustrating for the reader.

When we’re talking about difficult subjects or bad news, watch out for your language getting more formal too. When the subject is sensitive, that’s even more reason to focus on being warm and easy to understand.

Serious isn't the same as formal

Sometimes we worry that writing clearly and simply can mean we lose authority, especially when we're dealing with serious topics. That's largely because it's just what we're used to: when organisations get serious, their language gets formal. It's how you know this is A Big Deal.

In 2010, US attorney Sean Flammer ran an experiment. He asked 800 judges to side with either a traditional ‘legalese' argument, or one in what he called ‘plain English'.

The judges overwhelmingly preferred the plain English version (66% to 34%), and that preference held no matter their age or background. Here's an interesting extract from Flammer's findings:

“The results indicate that the participants found the Legalese passage to be less persuasive than the Plain English version. The respondents also believed the Plain English author was more believable, better educated, and worked for a prestigious law firm.”

Watch out for jargon

It’s our job to make the complex simple – so there’s no room at all for unexplained financial jargon. On the rare occasions where we do have to use technical terms, we’re precise about what we mean to help people who aren’t familiar with the subject.

Keep an eye out for acronyms or terminology that makes perfect sense to you, but might not be clear to people outside Monzo (or inside, for that matter – this principle applies to our internal communications too).

Jargon in itself isn’t a bad thing: a shared understanding of specific terms helps us get things done faster. But we almost always overestimate how much other people know. We’re all susceptible to what psychologist Steven Pinker calls ‘the curse of knowledge’: when you’re an expert in something, and you're surrounded by experts in the same thing, it gets harder to remember how much of what you know is specialist.

Avoid ambiguity: write in the active voice

There’s a funny thing that happens to our writing when we're giving bad news, or talking about processes. We slip into what’s called the ‘passive' voice, which basically means we don’t say who’s responsible for something.

We use the passive voice partly because we're unconsciously distancing ourselves from the message. But that's not fair for the reader, and what they need always comes first.

There might be rare occasions where we deliberately don't want to say who's responsible for something, but we usually slip into the passive by accident. So make sure you've got a really good reason for using it if you do.

Everyday magic

We add magical touches to our writing and elevate the mundane every day. That could mean a bold flourish, or a moment of delight where our customers least expect it. (It doesn’t mean using the ‘language’ of magic.)

We draw on universal experiences to connect with our audiences. And we pause to celebrate little wins or commiserate frustrating moments everyone experiences in their financial lives, without being patronising.

We look for ways to inject a little everyday magic throughout the customer experience, but mainly this belongs to our brand and marketing writing.

Celebrate the little wins

A routine task like opening a joint account can be just that – or it can be a moment to celebrate two people taking a big step.

So be on the lookout for opportunities to introduce delight where it might be unexpected, but welcome. We want to share people's delight in the seemingly small steps that add up to big progress.

Use vivid words & delightful wordplay

Vivid and unexpected word choices

Replace tired, generic adjectives with words that bring zest to your writing. One considered word choice can make a big impact. Why pay your bills more easily when you can tame them.

Metaphors and idioms

If you can find a creative way to say something that delivers more than one layer of meaning, go for it. But this shouldn’t detract from the message or alienate people whose first language isn’t English. Any metaphors and idioms should be easy to understand at first glance.

Alliteration and internal rhyme

Linguistic tools like rhyming can make copy catchier and more memorable (although it’s important not to overdo it). And alliteration (when a series of words begin with the same sound) creates a satisfying sense of rhythm for the reader. But again, too much can start to sound forced.

Draw on relatable money moments

Everyone uses money – which means everyone can relate to the joys and stresses it brings. When we celebrate the social side or call out the annoying parts, we show people they’re not alone in their experience. It’s part of how we connect with our customers in an empathetic way.

Here are some moments you might draw on, and the underlying emotions that power them.

We handle deeper emotions with care

People often find money incredibly stressful. It can trigger feelings of failure or shame, or impact their mental health. We always handle those feelings with care and never make light of them.

They’re best shared by a customer in their own words, or led by a member of our vulnerable customers team, so our contributions in this space are thoughtful and kind.

Contribute to big cultural moments & conversations

We have the cultural cachet to get involved in important conversations and iconic moments our customers care about.

And even though the ‘moment’ might not happen on social, it’s increasingly likely the commentary will. So this most naturally fits on our social channels.

Make references most people would understand

We can be reasonably confident that people have heard of the Barbie movie, or the Olympics, or Love Island, or that time a boat got stuck in the Suez canal. But it’s unlikely that everyone will have seen a niche Netflix documentary, or understand a TikTok-specific reference. It’s important we’re inclusive and considerate in the references we make.

What we do best is connect well-known references to relatable money moments in a fresh, ownable way. That way, we’re adding to the zeitgeist, rather than piggybacking off it.

We don’t need to be involved in every conversation though. In fact, there’s lots we actively shouldn’t comment on. We generally don’t get involved in politics or comment on sensitive topics, like the health of celebrities or big court cases.

Avoid empty adjectives & marketing cliches

Some words and phrases are very common in marketing writing, and have the unmistakable feel of being copywritten.

That can make our writing feel less naturally conversational, and lead to us sounding like everyone else. They’re also often crutches we rely on as writers.

If we take them out, we push ourselves to be more creative – a little constraint is healthy for generating new ideas. Do people really ‘discover’ the benefits of a product while they’re absentmindedly scrolling on their phone? If there really is ‘so much more’ to a new feature, what is it? Let’s tell people.

Don't make literal references to magic

A great magician never reveals their secrets, and a great writer never goes for the obvious. That’s why we make an experience feel magical through careful craft and cultural nous, rather than phrases like ‘hey presto’ or trite references to magical schools.

Everyday magic has to feel effortless and unexpected. Dropping the wand emoji in or talking about how magical things are just undermines that.

Warm wit

We add humour to our writing like a delicate seasoning; we don’t want it to be overpowering or distract from the main message. This means we can be funny, rather than that we have to be funny – less is more.

This principle belongs almost exclusively in our brand and marketing writing, with the occasional surprise in the app.

Make people feel they're in on the joke – don't punch down

We don't make jokes at other people's expense. While we can be gently sassy if it feels like the right thing to do, we're kind above all else.

We don’t put ourselves down either: we can be the butt of the joke, but we don’t want to make ourselves out to be a victim. We’re a big bank, we protect people’s money, and we shouldn’t come across like we’re reckless or not capable of handling that responsibility.

Add a pinch of humour, not a dollop

Even if the chance to make five excellent jokes is there, hold off and just pick the best one (or maybe two).

Less is definitely more, and we never want our sense of humour to get in the way of the core message.

Smart asides, not cheap puns and cliches

We never want to make the really obvious joke – other people will have done that already. Asides shouldn’t get in the way of the main thing we’re trying to get across: think clever little side comments in brackets, or a quick note at the end of a sentence.

The occasional pun is fine, but we don’t reach for the first thing that comes to mind. If it’s a pun you’ve heard ten times before, leave it alone. ('Eggcellent' at Easter, things 'all wrapped up' at Christmas, and 'no tricks, just treats' at Halloween are all off limits.)

Be self-assured, but never arrogant

We’re confident and in control: a fully regulated bank full of really smart people who care a lot and work really hard.

But that confidence shouldn’t ever creep into arrogance – we don’t look down on our customers, or act as if we’re above them.

Contextual moments, not stereotypical tropes

A good comedian knows their audience, and the right joke for the right moment.

We can crack a joke about how much you’re going to Greggs as part of Year in Monzo, because it’s a light-hearted experience where you’re expecting to see jokes. Making the same observation unprovoked at 3am wouldn’t feel the same.

And since our humour ultimately comes from a place of kindness, it’s inclusive. We don’t make jokes about how Monzo is so simple “even your mum could use it”. And we don’t rely on unkind stereotypes, or make sweeping judgements about people that fall into a certain category of spending behaviours.

How we sound across channels

We need to handle subtle and subjective things like humour and cultural references delicately. There’s always room for a little interpretation, but this guide should help you finetune your writing for different channels and audiences.

Operational comms

(Emails, legal docs, web pages, notifications, in-app)

This is about giving people information, so clarity and kindness are the main focus. There’s an opportunity to elevate the mundane with a little bit of everyday magic or the very occasional little joke when we’re giving people straightforward updates, but be careful not to overdo it. If the news could be considered in any way negative, or if you’re in any doubt, just keep it simple.

Straightforward kindness: Maxed out Everyday magic: Low Warm wit: None

Customer service

(In-app chat, Help content, self-serve flows)

We want people to feel above all else that we’re on their side, and we’re here to help. So we dial up clarity and kindness to the max when people talk to us through the app. Our Help content and self-serve customer service experiences feel like a natural extension of that human interaction, too.

Customer service often means dealing with sensitive or difficult situations, so there’s no place for warm wit – the risk of getting it wrong is greater than the benefit of getting it right. Everyday magic in customer service comes across in how effortless we make it for people to solve their issues, rather than being something to emphasise in our tone.

Straightforward kindness: High Everyday magic: Low Warm wit: None

Marketing comms

(Emails, web pages, notifications, in-app)

A balance of all three principles. The most important thing is that we engage our customers and get our main message across, so clarity and kindness are the top priority. But we want to make it worth people’s while to pay attention to what we have to say, so there’s plenty of space for warm wit and everyday magic too.

This is easier in emails and web pages when we have the room to manoeuvre. In notifications where we don’t have many characters to play with, we’re happy to sacrifice wit to get the job done.

Straightforward kindness: High Everyday magic: Medium Warm wit: Medium


(Above and through-the-line campaigns)

These are our biggest personality moments. We want to stand out as much as possible, and connect with our audiences on an emotional level. We set the bar really high for ourselves to bring everyday magic and warm wit to the fore.

We still need to watch out for cultural relevance though: know your audience. If we’re going big and broad, a joke or reference that might land really well with some of our audience but offend another part won’t make the grade.

Straightforward kindness: High Everyday magic: High Warm wit: High

(Paid ads)

While conversion is the main aim of the game with paid social, we don’t want to sacrifice our personality to achieve it. We want our sense of humour to come across, and we want people to feel like we really understand their everyday lives.

Straightforward kindness: High Everyday magic: High Warm wit: High

Organic social

(Social media channels: TikTok, Instagram, LinkedIn, Threads and X)

These channels are what warm wit was made for. There’s no point being there if you don’t want to stand out and get people to engage with you, so organic social is where we have free (or at least the freest) reign to let our personality shine.

We’re still inclusive, and we’re still kind, but we can jump on fast-moving cultural trends and big moments that otherwise wouldn’t be universal enough for other spaces. And we can meet customers at their level and be playful because that’s an accepted part of the social media experience.

Straightforward kindness: High Everyday magic: High Warm wit: Maxed out