Fintech firm Revolut assembles behavioural team after criticism of its corporate culture

Exclusive: Company denies creation of team to track overhaul is part of effort to secure UK banking licence

Britain’s most valuable fintech company, Revolut, is assembling a team to track whether staff are being “approachable” and “respectful”, as it tries to address criticism about an aggressive corporate culture and secure a UK banking licence.

While the crypto trading to payments company is valued at $33bn (£27bn) and boasts 25 million customers and 6,000 staff in offices stretching from London to Tokyo to São Paulo, it has so far lacked a UK licence that would bring the firm within regulated customer protection schemes.

The new division, which will include psychology and behavioural science experts, will be part of a package of measures unveiled on Friday by bosses hoping to encourage a more “human” approach to a divisive working environment that has reportedly driven out some staff.

In a company-wide town-hall meeting led by its joint founder and chief executive, the former Lehman Brothers banker Nik Storonsky, employees will be told they need to be “inclusive, approachable” and “respectful at all times”, and to use the “the best tone of voice, time and situation to provide feedback”.

The new list of so-called “values-based behaviours” will replace phrasing on the company’s website that includes warning prospective employees that the “bar is very high” and that if staff fall short of “perfection” they will be assessed “accurately, not kindly”, even though “it might hurt sometimes”.

The move comes after a string of controversies over Revolut’s working environment in recent years, with some former staff claiming they were set unachievable targets in the name of the startup’s growth, forced to do unpaid work and put under severe pressure to the point where they eventually quit their jobs.

Revolut has grown exponentially since 2015, when it launched as a prepaid card offering free currency exchange to customers. It has since ballooned into a company employing 6,000 staff across 37 countries and launching more than 50 products and services that ranged from holiday insurance and home rentals, wage advance, buy now pay later and crypto trading.

The company – which Storonsky hopes will become the “Amazon of banking” – was last estimated to be worth $33bn in 2021, which at the time was higher than NatWest and prompted congratulations from Rishi Sunak, then chancellor, who said he wanted to see “even more great British fintech success stories”.

However, widely reported issues around Revolut’s corporate culture, as well as its high staff-turnover, are understood to have been raised with Storonsky by board members who have been trying to convince the Financial Conduct Authority to approve the company’s UK banking licence application since early 2021.

Revolut, which is chaired by the former Standard Life Aberdeen boss Martin Gilbert, secured an EU banking licence through Lithuania in 2018. Securing a UK licence would allow Revolut to hold its British customers’ deposits – rather than relying on a licensed partner – and make money by offering its owns loans to customers. The company is hoping UK approval will then convince US, Australian and even Japanese regulators to follow suit and issue licences.

Revolut denies the planned cultural “shift” is directly meant to appease the financial watchdog. However, one of its senior bosses admitted the firm had previously failed to address the “human” side of every day work.

“I wouldn’t say this is a straight reaction from regulatory discussions … This is more linked to our growth and how we’re changing and the feedback we were getting from our people. We really needed to shift and change,” said Hannah Francis, the head of people experience at Revolut..

She continued: “We did get some comments that potentially it seemed a little bit more aggressive, but in the fast-paced, hyper-growth that was Revolut however many years ago. We have really moved on since then. So what we really wanted to do is make sure that this new value statement kind of covered that more human aspect around our people, and around how we operate with each other.”

Revolut’s overhaul attempt will involve a “CultureLab” team made up of data analysts, as well as behaviour science and psychology experts, focused on assessing whether employees are adhering to the new standards.

The company said it would also revamp performance reviews for senior managers, require one-to-one catch-ups between managers and staff focused the new values, and would be paying more attention to whether recruits were not only good workers but a good “cultural fit” for the company.

Revolut said it was also launching a new “value champions” recognition and reward programme focused on staff behaviour as well as working results.

• The headline and text of this article were amended on 16 January 2023. The team in question is being assembled internally, not “called in” as an earlier headline indicated. And it includes people with a psychology background, but not “psychologists” as an earlier version said based on information provided.


Kalyeena Makortoff Banking correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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