Digital banking challenger Revolut is one of the world’s fastest growing fintech firms, but the tech unicorn has been as controversial as it has successful.
Revolut is not normal.
In late June, the company moved into swanky new open-plan premises in Canary Wharf, complete with bare piping, pizza and potted plants. Panoramic pictures posted to social media reveal two slogans plastered to the walls.
The first: NEVER SETTLE. The second: GET SHIT DONE, in neon lettering, with the ‘SH’ dimmed.
Cue an army of consultants, thought leaders, disruptors, speakers and fintech-followers of every kind, all raging to submit their two cents on what it all might mean.
The ‘get shit done’ mantra first appeared in an interview with founder and CEO Nikolay Storonsky, who told Business Insider last year that Revolut’s culture is ‘about getting shit done’. The line – and now the sign – has proven divisive.
Reacting to a tweet about the new offices, Stevie Buckley, co-founder of Honest Work, tweeted: “Do I need to go into why the mentality Revolut’s CEO applies to his staff is utterly toxic and harmful yet again? I hope not. Feel free to challenge me on this though because I’ll be delighted to elaborate on why he’s ridiculously naïve.”
Others raised similar concerns about the possibility of Revolut burning out its employees. Then again, some were impressed by the banking app’s moxie. Another Twitter user, an engineer, wrote: “I love the << get (sh)it done >> wall. Totally the spirit of modern app development in my mind 😉.”
Not one to take a backward step, Revolut will often weigh in on such debates. Chad West, head of marketing and communications at the company, tweeted in response to the various soundings off: “Literally none of you know what you’re talking about. Stop making silly assumptions and jumping to conclusions.”
Revolut has a fairly brash approach to social media more generally – regularly taunting rival app-banks online, usually through the use of a well-chosen GIF.
Asked about the firm's social style, Revolut’s West said: “If we just blend in, how are we supposed to compete [with established banks]?”
“People want to have a relationship with their bank, it plays such a fundamental role in their life…” he said. “We know our target audience. Unlike HSBC and Lloyds, we’re not targeting the 40+ market.”
West argued that Revolut’s approach on social channels has won ‘incredibly positive’ feedback from customers – many of whom know members of the social media team by name – and that its engagement levels are unrivalled in digital banking. He conceded, though, that there are times when the firm has to rein it in a bit.
Much of the social media smoke surrounding Revolut emanates from what some suggest is a corporate culture founded on long hours and a poor work-life balance for employees.
In his interview with Business Insider last year, Storonsky said that nobody is told to work long hours, but that employees work ‘at least 12, 13 hours a day’ and sometimes on weekends because they share in the company’s vision.
On these comments, West suggested that Storonsky was referring to ‘the early days’ of Revolut and added that the firm is ‘completely unapologetic about that’. He said the fintech firms that will make it are the ones that ‘work their socks off’ early on.
“This is a high growth start-up so there will be days where I have to work 14-hour days. Sometimes I have to work weekends if something severe comes up,” he continued.
“You balance your life around work. So what that means is you know what you need to deliver on a weekly basis, what you need to get done, and how you choose to get that done is up to you.”
The key metrics: four out of five stars, 76 per cent would recommend working at the company to a friend, 81 per cent approve of the CEO. All in all, not bad.
The reviews themselves paint a more mixed picture. They range from the superlative to the damning.
In February, somebody in business development at the company called Revolut: “The place to be if you look for more than just a job”. A senior software developer described their position as a ‘life-changing opportunity’. Both are five-star reviews.
Some have been less enamoured. “Avoid like the plague if you are at least somewhat experienced,” wrote an anonymous reviewer, who gave the company one-star. That same user wrote that work life balance is ‘non-existent’ and described the culture as ‘hyper-political’.
Glassdoor’s own summary shows work life balance cropping up as an issue in 7 reviews. On the flip side, the ability to learn new things on-site is cited by five reviewers.
Those considering a job at Revolut are left under no illusions as to what kind of corporate culture they’ll be walking into. The company’s careers page outlines its culture in stark terms: “We are like special forces. We operate in small teams. We identify opportunities. We plan. We execute. We deliver. Fast. Precise. Inevitable. No corporate bullshit. No politics. No red tape. We get things done. We are on a mission. We will change the world.”
This sort of gung-ho-speak permeates all facets of the Revolut business, from the frenzied pace at which it rolls out new products to its breakneck global expansion plan. Whether you think it toxic or not, there can be no denying that Revolut has stayed true to its mantra so far.
In the past few years, while rival digital bank Monzo has been slavishly perfecting its current account offering, Revolut – which began as a money exchange app – has launched a raft of new products, including:
The platform is renowned for its speed to market – which at times can leave other fintech firms struggling to keep up.
This news must have been tough to swallow for Freetrade, a pre-launch fintech dedicated to doing more or less exactly the same thing, which has raised more than £4.3m across three fundraises on Crowdcube. The first of these rounds closed in August 2016.
Freetrade’s head of marketing, Viktor Nebehaj, is among those who have taken issue with another intriguing facet of Revolut: its persistent use of the ‘zero marketing spend’ badge of honour (which, incidentally, many a fintech start-up has proudly pinned to its breast). In a column on this, written in response to a Twitter to-and-fro on the same subject, Nebehaj argues there’s ‘no such thing’ as zero marketing spend – not, at least, for successful fintechs.
“Everything you do related to identifying, understanding, reaching, converting, activating, retaining (the list goes on…) your customers is marketing,” he wrote.
“The salaries you pay your marketing team — that’s budget.”
West respectfully disagrees.
Asked what he means when he claims Revolut doesn’t spend anything on marketing, he replied: “What that means is I don’t get a budget in marketing: zero pounds.” He added that it’s inaccurate to include his salary within ‘marketing spending’, and reiterated that Revolut doesn’t do any ‘performance marketing’.
Equally indicative of the ‘get shit done’ mindset in action is Revolut’s relentless geographical expansion.
It is now active across Europe and could go live in the US, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand within a few months. When it does, the firm says that its customers will be able to make ‘instant, free’ transfers around the world – which it touts as a historic breakthrough. In an interview with AltFi earlier this year, Revolut’s head of partnerships Rishi Stocker said the app has launches planned in South America and Africa for 2019.
In that same interview, Stocker provided some insight into how these campaigns are staged – and the emphasis on speed shone through.
“When we go into a market like Japan, we look at how we get regulated in the fastest possible time, so that we’re not waiting for two years to launch a market,” he said. “A lot of that is actually meeting the regulator, showing them our product and how it benefits their consumers, and even where possible looking for ways we can get exempt from licensing, or get some sort of sandbox permission.”
The approach brings back to mind the special forces comparison. ‘Small teams… We get things done… We are on a mission… We will change the world…’
Many at Revolut seem to genuinely buy into the firm's evangelical mantra, but supporting plans as ambitious as Revolut’s will require both a high retention rate and a solid reputation as a place-of-work.
The banking challenger already employs between 201 and 500 people, according to its LinkedIn profile. Getting those people as enthusiastically invested in the company’s stated mission as its management clearly are is surely among Revolut’s biggest challenges.
After three years of hard work and pure passion, we are so pumped to move our team into our new state of the art office space in London. 😍 pic.twitter.com/TLQqJNUujn— Revolut (@RevolutApp) June 25, 2018
Now in its sixth year, the AltFi London Summit returns on 18th March 2019 to 155 Bishopsgate. Last year proved to be a crucial turning point for the key players building the future of finance. Leading platforms launched oversubscribed IPOs, digital banks proliferated and mainstream financial institutions started their own disruptive propositions. With 2019 certain to be another landmark year, more questions will be asked by regulators with investor interest in disruption also poised for more rapid growth.