EletiofeRevolut Needs to Get Its House in Order

Revolut Needs to Get Its House in Order

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For a second year running, Revolut, the jewel in the UK’s fintech crown, will fail to file its annual accounts on time. It’s not a good look.

Since it launched in 2015, Revolut has grown quickly to 6,000 staff and 25 million customers. In pursuit of a “one app, all things money” vision, it has expanded its product suite aggressively too, pushing into services like crypto trading and international money transfer, and earning the “neobank” moniker. In 2021, Revolut secured a $33 billion valuation, and earlier this year it announced its first ever year of profitability.

But it has suffered a host of unflattering setbacks too; from an exodus of executives to late financials, costly cyber incidents, and reports of high staff turnover and unhealthy work climate published in WIRED. When Revolut eventually filed its last set of accounts in March, six months late, there was a catch: Its auditor, BDO, could not verify with certainty three-quarters of its revenues—£476.9 million ($591.6 million)—because of problems with its IT practices. Another delayed financial audit was the last thing it needed.

Though Revolut declined to comment on the record, it has reportedly attributed the delay to a lag in its audit process caused by the lateness of the previous set of accounts. That “sounds like a weak excuse,” says Shaul David, a former banker, fintech executive, and adviser to the UK government. “Revolut has had a long series of own-goals—and the latest delay is just another one.”

Word that Revolut will miss its deadline will cause “tongues to wag” all over again, says Simon Jaquiss, a veteran banker, previously of Standard Chartered and Citibank. And speculation about disorder at Revolut, he says, could be bad for business. For more than two years, the firm has attempted to convince the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), the body that supervises UK banks, that it’s worthy of a UK banking license. A license would allow Revolut to expand beyond low-margin money transmission services, into lending products like mortgages, credit cards, and business loans. It would also be able to offer customers regulator-insured deposits, like the banks do.

Without a UK banking license, says Ruth Wandhöfer, an author and fintech consultant—who helped negotiate the terms of the EU payments legislation that opened the door to fintechs like Revolut—the company would have to completely rethink its growth strategy. There would be a “whole ecosystem of financial products” the firm wouldn’t be able to offer, she says. “Basically, you’re not participating in the real action.”

Under a separate license issued by the Bank of Lithuania, Revolut is able to operate as a bank within the EU and currently provides banking services in 28 EU countries. But the UK is by far its largest market—and a UK banking license, seen as a gold standard worldwide, would open doors to new territories, like Australia and the US. It’s a crucial piece of the puzzle, but one that might depend on Revolut’s ability to better project the sense that its house is in order.

The second audit delay is not reason in itself for the application to be rejected, says Mick McAteer, a former board member of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the UK’s top finance regulator, which will assist the PRA in deciding whether to award Revolut a license. Some experts, like Jaquiss, say the general “sentiment and feeling” around the company will have nothing to do with the decision. It’s about measurables, he says, like “capital adequacy, liquid assets, and stress testing.”

But others believe the “soft data”—qualitative observations about the stability and competence of the firm—will be taken into account. “Naturally, there must be a level of intangibles that have an impact on the regulators. It’s not a scientific process; all of this data gets fed in,” Wandhöfer says. Another delay of accounts is “part of a body of evidence that may cause a swing” toward not approving the application, she says—it makes things “incrementally more difficult” for Revolut. The regulator will not make an arbitrary decision based on some ill-defined feeling about the firm, but “you cannot ignore softer elements,” she says. “You’d expect a fair judgment of all of these variables.” The PRA and FCA declined to comment.

The implications of a rejection would be serious, says David. Not only would Revolut struggle to raise capital at its peak valuation, which was likely pegged to the ability to lend in its largest market, he says, but potentially to obtain banking licenses in other jurisdictions too. “If the UK regulator says it cannot trust [Revolut] with a banking license,” he says, “other regulators will ask themselves whether they want to be the one” to give the thumbs up.

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