By Ryan Weeks on Monday 13 February 2017
As global money app Revolut morphs into a bank with current accounts and a chatbot, the digital banking blueprint is rounding into shape.
Revolut announced its ascension into the realm of the digital-only banks at the end of last week, unveiling a new current account product and chatbot. The firm’s new current account offering can be opened for free within 3 minutes, without the need for proof of address or credit checks, using only a smart phone.
It’s the latest in an increasingly crowded field of app-based current accounts, with other providers including Monzo, Loot and Atom Bank. Each one keeps roughly to the same formula: app-based banking, with monthly spending oversight, temporary card blocking, real-time payment notifications, and so on.
But they each begin with their own twist in the race to acquire customers; Revolut’s was to allow users to spend and transfer money overseas at the interbank exchange rate, without any extra fees. Other fintech firms like Monzo have since adopted that innovation for themselves. Now Revolut, in turn, is taking on Monzo on at its own game.
This is not to say, however, that there are no differences between the new-age banks. In tandem to its new current account offering, Revolut has also launched a new chatbot by the name of Rita (Revolut’s Intelligent Troubleshooting Assistant). The firm claims to be the first fintech challenger to do this.
During a trial run, Rita managed to settle 20 per cent of Revolut’s 7,500 customer queries per day, earning herself a customer satisfaction score of 4.3 out of 5. The sorts of things she can help with include questions about unblocking PIN codes and current exchange rates. In the future she’ll be able to tackle more complex queries, such as: “How much do I spend on Uber?”
“From sticking to your monthly budget to ensuring you don’t miss your flight – Rita will be there to help,” said founder and CEO Nikolay Storonsky (pictured above).
Revolut may well be the first digital bank to roll out a chatbot, but it certainly isn’t the first fintech. Personal savings buddy Plum, for example, helps customer to set aside savings automatically, and can be interacted with via Facebook messenger. Plum isn’t a digital-only bank, admittedly, but given the rate at which product innovations are being imitated, you have to wonder whether it’s only a matter of time.
There is another big difference between Revolut and some of its competitors, and that’s that Revolut doesn’t have a banking licence. Instead, the firm is currently operating under an electronic money licence from the FCA. This means that, while depositor cash will be ring-fenced, it will not fall into the coverage of the financial services compensation scheme (FSCS).
Revolut signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bank of Lithuania (the country's central bank and regulator) in October of last year, in which the bank agreed to help the firm to obtain a banking licence.
Vlad Yatsenko, founder and chief technology officer of Revolut, thinks that the app's new current accounts will be particularly useful for expats and international students.
“Newcomers to any country are often presented with an impossible catch-22: To rent or buy a home, you need a bank account,” he said. “But to get a bank account, you need proof of address. Revolut eliminates these hurdles, enabling Europeans to open a bank account straight from their smartphone. They can verify their account with a simple selfie and photo of their ID.”