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Talking business in Ukraine: Conversation with Monobank, country’s largest online bank

Oleg Gorokhovsky, chief executive officer of Monobank, at the mobile-only bank service provider's office in Kyiv, Ukraine on July 4, 2023. (Pete Kiehart/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
by Nina Mishchenko January 15, 2024 5:26 PM 6 min read
This audio is created with AI assistance

Put active community organization and rapid digitalization together and you get the story of contemporary Ukrainian society.

You also get Monobank— Ukraine’s hugely popular mobile-only bank that has facilitated nearly $1 billion in donations to fund the war effort since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

In the first year of the full-scale invasion, Ukrainians donated Hr 8.5 billion ($224 million) through Monobank. Last year, that number was Hr 27.4 billion ($724 million). The number of people who donated in 2023 almost doubled from 3 million in 2022 to 5.4 million. As foreigners can’t donate through Monobank, these figures include Ukrainians alone.

According to one of its two co-owners, the war has forced the company to grow — and not in the financial sense, although its customer base has grown by more than a million active clients from 6.77 million to 8 million since February 2022.

“We’ve become more mature as a company, more ready for change, and more decisive in organizational decisions,” co-owner Mykhailo Rogalsky told the Kyiv Independent in an interview.

As part of an interview series with Ukrainian business leaders on doing business during the war and their outlook for 2024, the Kyiv Independent sat down with the co-owners of the Monobank, Oleg Gorokhovskyi and Mykhailo Rogalskyi.

Posters featuring Monobank's mascot, a cartoon cat, at the mobile-only bank service provider's office in Kyiv on July 4, 2023. (Pete Kiehart/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Kyiv Independent: How has Monobank lived through these almost two years of war?

Oleg Gorokhovskyi: These almost two years have been mentally challenging for us, as for everyone. We had to make many unconventional business decisions regarding the team's safety, server security, and continuous office operation. We also had to shift our focus from business solutions to charity tools, organize fundraisers, and provide banking services for Ukrainians in Europe.

Mykhailo Rogalskyi: If you look at it from the outside, we didn't create any new products in our core business, except for charity tools. But in fact, we are building a springboard for new big things and conducting an internal transformation of the organization.

The Kyiv Independent: If we compare Monobank in December 2023 and January 2022, how does it differ from the pre-war period?

Mykhailo Rogalskyi: We've become more mature as a company, more ready to change and to be more decisive in organizational decisions. The company has grown, and we need to find new approaches to its management.

We're investing in infrastructure—two data centers in Kyiv and Lviv and establishing another one in Poland. We deployed IT systems in the Amazon cloud to eliminate dependence on physical locations. Currently, the Ukrainian banking IT infrastructure is one of the most reliable in the world. We're investing in new business directions and transforming processes to develop multiple products simultaneously and adapt to current realities.

Oleg Gorokhovskyi: We haven't laid off anyone or reduced any salaries. We have acquired a fintech startup and went from 2,611 to 2,741 employees (since the start of the full-scale invasion), which includes Universal Bank (Monobank’s parent bank) and (Monobank developer) Fintech Bend. Regarding the number of clients, on Jan. 1, 2022, we had 6.77 million active clients, and now it's almost 8 million.

The Kyiv Independent: What are the company's losses (in quantity and money) since the start of the full-scale invasion?

Oleg Gorokhovskyi: Thirty-three of our colleagues joined the Armed Forces; we're awaiting their return to their workplaces. Unfortunately, there have been casualties: Chyhrin Ostap Stepanovych, Holovchanskyi, and Yehor Ivanovych: eternal memory and respect. To discuss legal matters, we need to finish the war and shift the conflict to the legal field. The latter isn't a realistic scenario now. As for financial losses, we formed an additional reserve of Hr 3.47 billion ($92 million) and underestimated interest by Hr 780 million ($21 million) on loans. In total, it amounts to Hr 4.25 billion in expenses ($112 million).

The Kyiv Independent: How do you plan business development during the war, and what scenarios are you considering depending on when victory comes?

Mykhailo Rogalskyi: It's still challenging to predict anything in these circumstances. We invest in the company's adaptability and avoid long-term planning to adapt smoothly to daily events.

The Kyiv Independent: What advice can you give entrepreneurs and international companies on planning for 2024?

Mykhailo Rogalskyi: Plan quickly and be prepared to change plans every week.

Oleg Gorokhovskyi: You need to change your mindset for such an approach. If you haven't done it in two years, it's a must, and by the way, it will be very beneficial even after the victory—also, people should plan business activities to support the Armed Forces.

The Kyiv Independent: What are the development plans for 2024, and do you plan additional investments?

Mykhailo Rogalskyi: We are constantly investing in something within the company. We do not always calculate these investments in detail, but we don’t believe that just because we have a team that can develop new products internally we aren’t investing resources in those projects.

The Kyiv Independent: What does big business expect from the authorities now? What would you like the government to do for your industry and business?

Oleg Gorokhovskyi: During wartime, it's essential to publicly state expectations from the authorities because everyone understands the current priorities. Big business is in constant dialogue with the government, which wasn't the case before, and we can address them directly, expressing our expectations behind closed doors as time demands.

The Kyiv Independent: How do you assess the current business climate in Ukraine?

Oleg Gorokhovskyi: We are working to improve this business climate.

Mykhailo Rogalskyi: It's a good time for the development of small and medium-sized businesses in many niches. As one of our acquaintances says, "In Kyiv now, it's like this: put a stick in the ground—and a cherry tree will grow."

Oleg Gorokhovsky, chief executive officer of Monobank, at the mobile-only bank service provider's office in Kyiv on July 4, 2023. (Pete Kiehart/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Kyiv Independent: Development during the war was a period of great difficulties and challenges for a company, but many consider it a time of open opportunities. What opportunities for business development exist now?

Mykhailo Rogalskyi: Certainly, doing business, especially creating something new during a full-scale invasion, is a challenging path for any entrepreneur. However, there are positive trends for new companies. There is an incredible sense of unity and patriotism in the country. People often choose local producers not just based on price but also due to their civic position, support for the Armed Forces, and simply the desire to support their own.

Oleg Gorokhovskyi: If more niche, everything related to defense and military technologies is promising. And if you can do something like that, there is no reason not to do it now.

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