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Revolut: the growing pains of a FinTech unicorn

One of the things I say fairly often is that the FinTech start-up community is fairly naïve. Not all, but many, do not understand the nuances of finance and why it is regulated the way it is. Equally, some but not all behave in a way which is not aligned with good employment practices. One such example has gone out of business; others have seen their founders flounder as their attitude is not appropriate; and more are finding that behaving like Travis Kalanick is not a winning formula.

The latest FinTech firm to hit the headlines with such inappropriate behaviours is Revolut. Revolut is a European FinTech unicorn founded by Nikolay Storonsky. According to the latest report in Wired magazine, it’s a pretty toxic culture. Here’s a short excerpt of a much longer article, profiling the issues …

[Laura] did a 30-minute job interview over Google Hangouts with the London-based head of business development, Andrius Biceika, and was immediately told she had passed to the next round, which would involve a small test. “The surprise came when I received the task and it asked me to get the company as many clients as possible, with each one depositing €10 into the app,” says Laura.

The instructions on the exercise said the applicants should recruit at least 200 clients in a week to have a chance at passing to the next interview phase. The task’s description didn’t guarantee that reaching the target would automatically qualify applicants for a job, but did advise them on a number of ways they could get clients, such as sharing a “promo code” with their friends, sharing it on social media, and posting promotional flyers on university campuses …

“Primarily, it starts with their CEO Nikolay [Storonsky] being very vocal about their mentality, that if you do a 9-5 [workday] it won’t work out…everything he has said is a recipe for burnout” says Stevie Buckley, co-founder of Honest Work and HR advisor to dozens of startups.

Buckley, who has come across several former Revolut employees when helping to hire them for other companies, says the issue of burnout and high staff turnover comes up repeatedly.

Depending on the role, workers spend on average between eighteen months and four years at a startup. Staff retention at Revolut is far lower, Buckley claims …

In an emailed statement, a company spokesperson wrote: “our culture is evolving as rapidly as our business”. They emphasised that in the last year the company had grown from 150 to 750 people, with staff turnover of less than 2.6 percent, and that 40 percent of its staff was female.

An analysis of the start and end dates of 147 former Revolut employees on LinkedIn suggests that over 80 percent had lasted less than a year, and over half stayed at the company for less than six months …

After Laura wrote back refusing to do the task and saying she was disappointed that the company would “take advantage of someone that is looking for a job”, Biceika emailed her saying she was the only candidate out of over 350 that had complained about the task …

Sources say at least one former head of HR resigned after failing to convince Storonsky that the company had to change its dogmatic approach to performance targets. In the last two years a total of three different people have headed the HR department, the last one leaving two months before Revolut’s use of the controversial home task was revealed. At the time of writing, Revolut has more than 200 vacancies listed on its website. The job listings for business development roles are almost line-by-line identical to the one Laura applied for.

When a new firm is born, it often reflects the outlook and attitudes of its founders. If those attitudes are wrong, it is very hard to realign the firm before it crashes and burns. An interesting space to watch.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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