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Monitise: The story of a UK mid-market champion

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People power

Getting the right people in place and trusting them to perform has been another crucial factor in the company’s rapid growth. One of the biggest lessons I have learned in going from a two-person company to a 750-person company is that if I?m the worst player on the pitch, as it were, I’ve got a good chance of being on the winning side,” Lukies says. If you know that you are good at your job but your other players are even better, that’s a great way to be successful.

And that has been particularly important as the company has sought to expand globally, recruiting people on the ground and devolving decision-making power to its branches rather than seeking to control everything from its London headquarters. 

“I have put in place people far more qualified than I am,” he says. Our CEO in the US, Frank DAngelo, is a 40-year veteran of the payments industry. As president of FIS he ran the biggest payments company in the world. I don’t need to control Frank. And Darren Sugden, who runs our Asian joint venture, was managing director of HSBC in Hong Kong for 15 years. Anyone who thinks that they can control a business from one central location, at the speed of modern commerce, has lost the plot.

After his career as a rugby union player with Saracens and London Irish was ended by injury, Lukies first co-founded government web portal epolitix.com. Then he started Monitise with Steve Atkinson, who had worked as a technology expert for Vodafone, in 2003. 

?Steve’s job there had been to look at what we d be doing with our phones in ten, 20, or 30 years” time,” he says. We realised that there were more than six billion phones on the planet and two billion bank accounts. So we thought that you should surely be benefiting from some sort of financial services capability if you had a mobile.

One of Lukies” key contacts at the time was the chief executive of the Link ATM network. His support for Monitise helped it to gain backing from technology company Morse, which incubated the enterprise and provided a £4m initial investment. Monitise and Link then entered a joint venture to develop mobile banking services in the UK.
Once the Monitise service was properly up and running after the First Direct deal, Lukies went to the Morse board to explain his expansion plan. This led to a demerger in 2007 and our listing on AIM,” he says. Morse’s shareholders received a share in Monitise for every Morse share they owned.

A double-edged sword

When the credit crunch hit shortly afterwards, it was both a blessing and a curse for Monitise, according to Lukies. It made us more relevant, as people wanted to be more in touch with their finances while banks no longer had the budget to build this kind of service themselves, which meant they needed a partner to do it. But the big problem was that everyone stuck their heads in the sand for three years the banks couldn?t make a decision.

The financial crisis also had a devastating effect on Monitise’s share price: towards the end of 2007 it fell from 26p to 2.25p in a matter of days as investors” confidence in its ability to drum up new business slumped.

A lot of people said that we should give up or take the business private, but we had some very loyal shareholders,” Lukies recalls. In fact, we ve been able to raise capital six times at a premium to our share price by bringing in strategic investors the likes of Standard Chartered and Visa.

He believes that Visa has probably made more money from the capital upside on its stake in Monitise Visa Europe owns eight per cent and Visa Inc seven per cent than it has ever spent as the company’s technology partner. For me that’s really smart business. You?ve got to let other people feel they are doing well out of your hard work.
What does the future hold for Monitise The company is planning a listing on the London Stock Exchange’s main market at some point in 2013. This would bring in a lot more investment,” Lukies says. We d move into the FTSE 250, which automatically brings in a lot of industry and tracker funds.

And the recent acquisition of US mobile banking firm Clairmail is intended as a stepping stone towards lucrative deals with America’s big technology companies. If you’re going to visit Silicon Valley to talk to the Apples, Googles and IBMs of this world and you’re a little British plc that does some stuff for Barclays or RBS, you won’t get taken very seriously,” Lukies says. But if you’re saying: ?We ve got 250 people in San Rafael, California, and we already service the top banks in the US,” you?ll have a very different conversation.

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