The Online Bank That Wants To Reshape Work And Money
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The Online Bank That Wants To Reshape Work And Money

Shifts in benefits and investing are here to stay, says TS Anil, global chief executive of Monzo Bank.

By Chip Cutter
Mon, Jun 6, 2022 1:14pmGrey Clock 5 min

If the pandemic changed the way people view their jobs, it may have also ushered in a new challenge for managers: how to keep reshaping work for years to come.

The desire for flexibility and a rethinking of workers’ relationships with their employers are likely to remain well into the future, putting pressure on employers to respond, says TS Anil, global chief executive of Monzo Bank. The online bank based in London officially launched U.S. operations earlier this year; it employs more than 2,500 people globally. Monzo doesn’t have physical banks but instead is based on a digital app that consolidates a user’s financial information and has tools like bots that can direct money into certain categories–say, saving for a future home.

Born in India, Mr. Anil has worked around the world at companies including Standard Chartered, Citigroup and Capital One. He was global head of payment products and platforms at Visa before joining Monzo in 2020.

He says he has spent much time in recent months considering where work is headed and how the financial-technology company’s own workplace policies should evolve. Monzo this year rolled out a three-month paid-sabbatical program for staffers who have been at the company four years or more. Such efforts reflect a desire to find ways to better support employees, Mr. Anil says.

The company is also aiming to stay ahead of changes in the ways consumers manage their finances while competing with its larger bank rivals. Mr. Anil spoke with The Wall Street Journal about what he’s focused on next.

The job market right now is tight–workers have more leverage, and employers have responded. Five years from now, will employees have as much power as they do today?

What has continued to change slowly over the last several years—but then Covid quite possibly accelerated—is the shift in mindset about what it means to work. People, increasingly, don’t want their jobs to just be about, “I go do this, and I get a paycheck.” People want meaning from their work, people want the ability to work in ways that work around their lives effectively. That shift creates opportunity for companies like us who are leading the way in terms of understanding what employees want and are willing to not be anchored to a historical way of doing things. So, yeah, I don’t think things go back in five years; this is an important cultural shift, and it’s a welcome cultural shift.

What are the new benefits companies will need to offer in the future to get employees to stay?

It’s hard to speculate on specific benefits. At Monzo, we’ve always been about our values. One is this idea that you help everyone belong. And it means we come up with ways that we can institutionalize policy to make everyone get that sense of what works best for them. We announced additional paid leave for colleagues of ours who suffer pregnancy loss, or who are undergoing fertility treatments.This is one of those where it feels like this should have always been offered by companies around the world.

What was it that prompted you to start offering paid sabbaticals?

We’re now going on seven years old, and building a bank—or really any kind of tech company—and scaling it is a marathon not a sprint. And we’re at the stage where enough of our employees have put in a few years of incredibly hard work. As we built it out, it felt like a good time to give people the ability to take a break, recharge, come back with even more energy to continue this marathon that we’re all excited to be on.

What has the response been like—how many people have signed up for a sabbatical?

I don’t have the numbers that add up how many we’ve already done since we’ve announced it, but lots of people have queued it up in terms of what they want to do in a few months, at the end of the year, early next year, and so on. So the response has been amazing.

When you look at banking, what’s the biggest change you expect to see in the industry in the next 10 years?

The biggest thing that I hope we see is making money work for everyone, which means really giving people the tools to make great decisions for themselves, to help them understand and make sense of their money. It’s still amazing and sad how little customers around the world are supported in all decisions related to their money. It’s such a source of anxiety for customers, that I’m hoping that, in the next decade, as an industry, we’ve solved that problem.

Is there a specific shift you foresee in how people will manage their money?

What I aspire to for us is that across all of your financial needs—whether it’s spending, paying, transacting borrowing, saving, investing—all of that happens in a single place. So as an individual trying to make sense of my money, I can see it all in one place; I can visualize it, I can analyze it.

What are the challenges you feel the company will need to overcome to fulfil this vision?

It’s important for us that we continue to evolve our culture for the scale that we’re growing into. That’s probably the single biggest one, to make sure that you preserve the best aspects of your culture—what we internally describe as the golden threads. Keep the golden threads, let go of the stuff that’s not working and keep evolving it. If you can get that right, then you can continue to scale and continue to have impact.

What will your job or industry look like in 2030?

It is making money work: taking the anxiety out of it for [customers] and replacing it with a sense of control and the sense that their money is working. It’s this idea of a single financial control centre—it’s in one place, they get in there, and they understand across the financial needs what the best choices are and they’re able to make them. The fundamental job of CEO is to enable the team to do the best work of their lives, and do it in a context of creating better and better outcomes for customers and for the company as a whole. So the fundamentals don’t change; that will remain the job of the CEO.

OK, five years from now, will people be working in offices more or less than today?

We joke inside the company that, what people talk about as the future of work, we talk about the now of work. Even before Covid-19, we were remote enabled; hybrid work was a reality for us anyway. Technology enables remoteness, but the human need for connection is just as real. The interplay between these two forces, I think, is what the future will be informed by. I’ve never thought of the future as being sort of homogenous, just like the present is not homogenous, right? Even in the same country, in the same company, people have different realities. The future will not be different.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: May 6, 2022.



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Retro Kitchens Are Everywhere—and the Ultimate Rejection of the Sterile Luxury Trend

Playful 1950s style spotlights details like coloured cabinets, checkerboard and mosaic tile patterns, vintage lighting, and SMEG appliances

By TRACY KALER
Mon, Apr 22, 2024 6 min

The 1950s spawned society’s view of kitchens as the heart of the home, a hub for gathering, cooking, eating and socializing. Thus, it makes perfect sense that the same decade could inspire today’s luxury kitchens.

“The deliberate playfulness and genius of the era’s designers have enabled the mid-century style to remain a classic design and one that still sparks joy,” said James Yarosh, an interior designer and gallerist in New Jersey.

That playful style spotlights details like coloured cabinets, checkerboard and mosaic tile patterns, vintage lighting, and SMEG appliances—all of which are a conspicuous rejection of the sterile, monochrome kitchens that have defined luxury home design for years. One of the hottest brands to incorporate into retro-style kitchens, SMEG is turning up more these days. But the question is: How do you infuse a colourful refrigerator and other elements from this nostalgic era without creating a kitschy room?

“The key to a modern, fresh look in your kitchen is to reference, not imitate, signature looks of the 1950s,” said New York-based designer Andrew Suvalsky, who often laces retro style throughout the rooms he designs. He said using the period as inspiration will steer you away from imagining a garish space.

“When it comes to incorporating that retro-esque look, it’s a fine dance between looking beautiful and looking kitschy,” added Lisa Gilmore, a designer in Tampa, Florida. Gilmore suggested balancing contemporary pieces with vintage touches. That balance forges a functional yet attractive design that’s easy to live with while evoking a homey atmosphere––and ultimately, a room everyone wants to be in.

Colour Reigns Supreme

Suvalsky said one way to avoid a kitschy appearance is to mingle woods and colours, such as lacquered base cabinets and walnut wall cabinets, as he did in his Montclair, New Jersey, kitchen.

“Mixing colours into your kitchen is most effective when it’s done by colour-blocking––using a single colour across large areas of a space––in this case, zones of cabinetry,” he explained. He tends to lean toward “Easter egg colours,” such as baby chick yellow and pale tangerine. These soft pastels can suggest a starting point for the design while lending that retro vibe. But other hues can spark a vintage feel as well.

A mid-century-inspired kitchen by Blythe Interiors.
Natalia Robert

“Shades of green and blue are a timeless base foundation that work for a 1950s vintage look,” said designer Jennifer Verruto of Blythe Interiors in San Diego. But wood isn’t off the table for her, either. “To embrace the character of a mid-century home, we like a Kodiak stain to enhance the gorgeous walnut grain,” she said. “This mid-tone wood is perfect for contrasting other lighter finishes in the kitchen for a Mid-Century Modern feel.”

Since colour is subjective, a kitchen lined with white cabinetry can assume a retro aesthetic through accoutrements and other materials, emanating that ’50s vibe.

“The fun of retro designs is that you can embrace colour and create something that feels individual to the house and its homeowner, reflecting their tastes and personality,” Yaosh said. He recommended wallpaper as an option to transform a kitchen but suggested marrying the pattern with the bones of the house. “Wallpaper can create a mid-century or retro look with colours and hand-blocked craftsmanship,” he said. “Mauny wallpapers at Zuber are a particular favourite of mine.”

Suvalsky suggested Scalamandre wallpapers, for their 1950s patterns, and grass cloth, a textile that was often used during that decade. He also likes House of Hackney, a brand that “does a great job reinventing vintage prints in luscious colours,” he noted. “Many of their colourways invert the typical relationship between light and dark, with botanical prints in dark jewel tones set over light, more playful colours.”

Materials Matter

Beyond wall covering, flooring, countertops and backsplashes can all contribute to the 1950s theme. Manufactured laminate countertops, specifically Formica, were all the rage during the decade. But today’s high-end kitchens call for more luxurious materials and finishes.

“That’s a situation where going the quartz route is appropriate,” Gilmore said. “There are quartzes that are a through-body colour and simple if someone is doing colorued cabinetry. A simplified white without veining will go a long way.” She also recommended Pompei quartz Sunny Pearl, which has a speckled appearance.

A kitchen designed by James Yarosh that incorporates pops of yellow.
Patricia Burke

But for those who welcome vibrant colour schemes, countertops can make a bold statement in a vintage kitchen. Gilmore said solid surface materials from the era were often a colour, and quartz can replicate the look.

“Some brands have coloured quartz, like red,” she said. But keeping countertops neutral allows you to get creative with the backsplash. “I‘d pull in a terrazzo backsplash or a bold colour like a subway tile in a beautiful shade of green or blush,” Gilmore said. “Make the backsplash a piece of art.”

Suvalsky also leans toward bright and daring––such as checkerboards––for the backsplash. But depending on the kitchen’s design, he’ll go quieter with a double white herringbone [tile] pattern. “Either version works, but it must complement other choices, bold or simple, in the design,” he explained.

Neutral countertops with a bold backsplash, designed by Lisa Gilmore.
Native House Photography

Likewise, his flooring choice almost always draws attention. “My tendency is more toward very bold, such as a heavily veined marble or a pattern with highly contrasting tones,” he noted. Yarosh suggested slate and terrazzo as flooring, as these materials can make an excellent backdrop for layering.

Forge a Statement With Vintage Appliances 

As consequential as a kitchen’s foundation is, so are the appliances and accoutrements. While stainless steel complements contemporary kitchens, homeowners can push the design envelope with companies like SMEG when making appliance selections for a retro-style kitchen. Although Suvalsky has yet to specify a SMEG fridge, he is looking forward to the project when he can.

“I think they work best when the selected colour is referenced in other parts of the kitchen, which helps to integrate these otherwise ‘look at me’ pieces into the broader design,” he noted. “They are like sculptures unto themselves.”

“For our mid-century-inspired projects, we’ve opted for Big Chill and the GE Cafe Series to bring a vintage look,” Verruto added. Similar to SMEG, Big Chill and GE offer a vintage vibe in a wide selection of colours and finishes, alongside 21st-century performance.

Can’t commit to a full-size appliance? Sometimes, a splash is enough. Gilmore tends to dust her retro kitchens with a coloured kettle or toaster since her clients are likelier to add a tinge with a countertop appliance or two. “Mint green accessories make it pop, and if in five years they are over it, it’s not a commitment,” she said. “It’s a great way to infuse fun and colour without taking a major risk.”

Deck out the Breakfast Nook

Kitchen dining areas present the opportunity to introduce retro lighting, furniture, and accessories to complete the look. Flea markets and antique markets are excellent places to hunt for accompaniments.

“Dome pendants and Sputnik chandeliers are iconic styles that will infuse vintage charm into your kitchen while also easily complementing a variety of other styles,” Verruto said.

A retro breakfast nook desinged by Andrew Suvalsky.
DLux Editions

Suspend a vintage light fixture over the classic Saarinen table, and you can’t go wrong.

“Saarinen Tulip Tables are almost always guaranteed to deliver a home run in nearly any interior, especially a 1950s-themed kitchen,” Suvalsky said. “The simplicity of its form, especially in white, makes it nearly impossible to clash with.”

To really channel the vibe of this era, Verruto suggested local vintage stores and brands such as Drexel Heritage and Lexington. Dressing the windows counts, too. “Cafe curtains in a chintz pattern will make for a fabulous finishing touch,” she said.

Meanwhile, Yarosh delights in selecting tabletop items, including novelty stemware and other trappings ubiquitous in the 1950s. “Mid-century kitchens also need to have pedestal cake plates and maybe a cloche to keep a cake,” he mused. “I love the opportunity to curate these details down to the correct fork and serving pieces.”

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