What do a flower shop and an investment app have in common? More than you might think, says the co-founder of two flourishing British businesses, Moneybox and Bloom & Wild.
The latter was featured in City A.M. in 2017 and remains one of the fastest growing tech companies in the country, according to Deloitte.
“I know these businesses sound very different, but I see similarities all the way through,” Ben Stanway tells me over coffee one morning in London Bridge. “In both sectors, customers were having a bad experience, which was usually a result of the existing players being really old-fashioned and taking their customers for granted.”
It’s a complaint that we hear time and time again about financial services, and it’s for this reason that in 2016 the former analyst and stockpicker launched Moneybox with fellow founder Charlie Mortimer.
Rise to the occasion
The app aims to make investing really simple, even for beginners.
You select the type of savings or investment product you want (it’s one of the few providers to offer the Lifetime Isa), and sign up from as little as £1. You’re then given the option of whether you want to be a cautious, balanced, or adventurous investor.
“Rather than overwhelming customers with information, the most important thing is to make everything really easy to understand,” Stanway says, adding that the aim is to get customers – many of whom are young professionals – in the habit of saving a little and often.
This comes at a time when the vast majority of the population is seriously underserved by the wealth management industry.
Indeed, Stanway points out that if you’re in the top one per cent of the country in terms of wealth, you can afford to get a lot of help with your savings, investment, and financial planning – while the remaining 99 per cent of the population get almost no help at all.
“It’s like having the choice between buying a Rolls Royce or no car at all,” he says.
The root of the problem
Full-on financial advice is unnecessary for most people, but small nudges or suggestions can make a big difference when it comes to getting your finances on the right track, or saving for a particular goal like a housing deposit.
And while retail banks will openly suggest credit cards or personal loans to their customers, many are far from helpful when it comes to saving and investing.
By comparison, Moneybox will suggest products that might be suited to your goals – so if you’re managing to save lots of money every month, it might ask if you’re saving for a house, and suggest that you open a Lifetime Isa.
One unique quirk of the app is that (if you want it to) it rounds up your spare change to the nearest £1. So if you were to spend £2.80 on a coffee from your bank account and you have this feature enabled, it would automatically put 20p into your savings – all of which adds up.
As for the fees, if you open a Moneybox Stocks and Shares Isa, you’ll be charged 0.45 per cent per month for using the platform, between 0.12 and 0.35 per cent per month for fund management, as well as a £1 per month subscription fee. This makes Moneybox more expensive than some of its competitors, which start at 0.53 per cent all in. But you’re essentially paying for the ease of use.
The business has also recently added pensions to its remit, with customers now able to merge their pots via the platform. “Many pension companies are really archaic – they send snail-mail letters written in financial jargon to old addresses, and then they are surprised when people don’t know about their pensions,” says Stanway, who is eager to shake up the industry.
With auto-enrolment, pensions are likely to become the biggest asset for most people, and yet the lack of knowledge leaves many underfilling their potential. “We are offering people a really simple way of bringing their pensions together – you’ll be able to check your balance anywhere, anytime,” he says.
Stanway is now almost entirely focused on Moneybox, but it is worth reflecting on his flowery past. Bloom & Wild was his first business, which he set up with chief executive Aron Gelbard back in 2013. The online flower shop modernised the way flowers are delivered, and is still growing strong with Gelbard at the helm.
The concept is as simple as rounding up spare change into your savings: you order the flowers online and they come in flat boxes that can fit through letterboxes so it’s just like sending a card.
The idea for both businesses stems from looking at the issues from a consumer perspective, considering what hurdles currently prevent people from sending flowers or saving.
I ask how the seed was planted for that first business, and Stanway says it came from him ordering a bunch of flowers for his now-wife, which arrived in a battered box covered in ugly yellow stickers.
“The box may as well have contained a multi-plug adapter – no care had gone into it. Sending and receiving flowers is meant to be a joy, but the reality was a million miles from that. And ordering them was far more difficult compared to other things you might buy online.”
Stanway may have branched away from the flower business, but the uniting feature between that and Moneybox is the way they use modern technology to bring outdated services into the twenty-first century. And they both look to bring joy to their customers in the process – whether that involves a bunch of flowers or buying a home.