Martin Gilbert won’t solve all Revolut’s problems

By Oliver Smith on Thursday 18 July 2019

OpinionDigital Banking

A sigh of relief from concerned investors… maybe?

Martin Gilbert won’t solve all Revolut’s problems
Image source: Martin Gilbert/Aberdeen Standard Life.

Whispers emerged from Revolut HQ this week that City grandee Martin Gilbert will shortly be promoted from “advisor to the CEO” into a more formal “chairman” role.

Cue a sigh of relief from concerned investors… maybe.

Revolut is in the midst of a torrid year. This March CEO Nikolay Storonsky was forced to publish not one, but two open letters assuring investors and employees that his company does not have a "toxic culture", nor a problem with anti-money laundering.

With Storonsky reportedly drumming up interest for a mammoth $500m Series D funding round in a company already valued at over $1.7bn, right now Revolut needs all help with investors it can get.

Enter Gilbert, a known-entity among financial circles. His £4m+ salary at Standard Life Aberdeen a testament to the 30+ years of stewardship at the helm—a reign that only ended in March when his co-CEO position was labelled a “distraction”.

Yet, as pointed out, Gilbert is hardly a bastion of good corporate governance, repeatedly blamed for spreading himself too thinly, and his City nickname “Teflon Gilbert” a tribute to the corporate calamities he has survived.

Where does that leave Revolut?

The company’s upcoming funding round could position it as Europe’s most valuable fintech (again), if it manages to dethrone TransferWise with its hefty $3.5bn price tag.

But, with greater size comes greater scrutiny, especially from the regulator, hence Storonsky’s race to “build a team of A players”, as he told Finance News recently.

That includes Richard Davies from TSB as Revolut’s new COO, Goldman Sachs veteran Michael Sherwood reportedly joining its board, and now Gilbert.

The question is whether Gilbert and these other appointments can de-risk the at-times destructive corporate nature of the company?

This wouldn’t be the first time that Storonsky has claimed things are “changing” at Revolut, indeed he told me exactly that nearly a year ago and six months before he was forced to publish his humbling open letters.

Gilbert, Sherwood and Davies are the kind of sensible heavyweights that this multi-billion dollar fintech needs right now, the question is whether they are empowered as a counterweight to a divisive CEO who remains the largest minority shareholder

If so, and I hope it is, this could be the dawn of a new day for Revolut, if not, expect more open letters soon.

Read more: N26’s disregard for profit is digital banking’s Uber moment

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