“Being a digitally led business, we were very well placed to switch to working from home. Our tech has worked seamlessly across the transition and, if anything, we’ve actually seen a lift in productivity.”
Since its birth in 2015, emerging from the mean streets of London’s financial heartland, Revolut has ushered in a wave of change in the world of cross-border payments, transforming what was a once tedious and often costly process for customers into no more than a few swipes in an app. Sprouting its Australian offshoot early last year, the global fintech has expanded its consumer offering considerably, today boasting an array of currency exchange, digital banking and soon-to-be-launched consumer investment services.
FST speaks with Revolut Australia chief executive Matt Baxby on the fintech’s post-AFSL ambitions, its Open Banking play, and its bid to seriously challenge the incumbents with its all-in-one killer ‘Super App’.
FST Media: In April, Revolut secured an Australian Financial Services License (AFSL) from corporate watchdog ASIC. What will this mean for the future of Revolut in Australia, particularly in expanding your operations?
Baxby: Securing our AFSL marked the beginning of an exciting phase of growth for Revolut in Australia. With the necessary regulatory licencing in place, we are able to really focus our energies on building out our feature set further for our Australian customers. It’s also given us the green light to acquire new customers, which will be a major focus for us in the next 12 months.
FST Media: Revolut is among a handful of emerging FSIs making waves in Australia. How does Revolut seek to differentiate itself from other nimble and consumer-savvy fintechs in the local market?
Baxby: Revolut is building the world’s first truly global financial ‘Super App’, so where we differ is twofold. Firstly, being globally focused means that, while we work in the short term to deliver a range of innovative financial products to the Australian market, we’re also ensuring that our platform and features cater to the global mindset of our customers. Whilst curtailed during Covid-19, Aussies are typically among the most frequent travellers in the world, and Australia has an expat community of more than 300,000 people; we’re creating a platform that gives those people seamless access to their money, no matter where they are in the world.
Secondly, a significant differentiator is that we’re creating a Super App – one platform to manage all facets of a person’s financial life. We’re not just building an app for the sole purpose of budgeting or the sole purpose of trading stocks. Our platform aims to provide our customers with a wide range of financial products under the one roof, but with a simple user interface.
FST Media: Prior to assuming the mantle at Revolut Australia, you held senior positions at the Bank of Queensland and, before that, Virgin Money Australia. What did these career shifts reveal to you about the state of the retail banking customer experience offered by Australian FSIs?
Baxby: Having spent time in both traditional banking and with a challenger like Virgin has exposed me to vastly different value propositions across each organisation. And what I took from these varied experiences was that it’s incredibly important to be clear about your target market, no matter which side of the table you sit on. From there, that’s when you can focus on the key elements of the proposition that are likely to appeal to that target market and really double down on that.
I believe the reason fintechs have seen such rapid growth and global success is because they’ve been born out of a clarity around customer problems or friction points that need to be solved. Their size and tech orientation means they’re also able to attack those problems with more agility and a fresh perspective.
In Revolut’s case, the business grew from the idea that it could clearly provide better value and address the pain points associated with holding, trading, and spending foreign currency. Since then, the product has evolved to meet a broader range of needs in one place, building what we call a financial ‘Super App’. It’s also stemmed from the idea that you can take features and solutions that were previously the preserve of only a few and bring them to the masses. So, while the original product was FX-focused, the company is built on its customer centricity and has added new features along the way to address other friction points for customers. For example, trading in cryptocurrencies is something that typically has high barriers to entry for the average person. Revolut saw that and built the ability to hold exposure to cryptocurrency through your smartphone. Finally, that customer-centricity is what drives Revolut to provide a user experience that is friction free – from initial sign up through to transacting.
FST Media: With Open Banking officially underway, what opportunities do you see for Revolut to enhance its customer offering through the CDR? How can Revolut leverage its collective strength through its global arms to build your competitive arsenal against local fintechs and incumbent banks?
Baxby: Open Banking is still such an exciting concept for fintech businesses like Revolut because it ultimately facilitates our purpose to put the power back into the hands of our customers by giving them more visibility into their financial health. What builds confidence for us here in Australia is that Revolut already uses Open Banking in other parts of the world, such as in Ireland and the UK. With account aggregation, our platform becomes a central part of our customers’ day-to-day life when it comes to managing their finances. I’m sure our features will continue to adapt to serve our customers’ needs and provide them with the most value once other data, such as telecommunications and utilities, comes into the mix. While Australia is certainly a new landscape with its own set of rules, the introduction of the CDR presents a fantastic opportunity for us as we’ve already made headway in this space.
FST Media: What do you consider Revolut’s keystone technology to empower innovation and dynamism across your front-end service portals? Further, how have you shaped your technology stack to guide the development of Revolut’s financial ‘Super App’?
Baxby: Firstly, we run on cloud-based technology, which makes us very agile with respect to the scaling of computing capacity and keeps us nimble as a business.
We have an incredible team of engineers and developers who are the foundation for our business and have enabled us to build all our tech in-house.
We, therefore, have an in-house design system and an in-house UI-kit (a library of components) for all front-end platforms (iOS, Android, web). This allows rapid iteration and also gives us a lot of freedom and flexibility for when we need it, because we can simply build our app how we’d like it to be ourselves.
FST Media: In preparing Revolut to thrive in this new era of digital-centric, customer-focused financial services, who do you look to for inspiration?
Baxby: Even though my time with Virgin has passed now, Richard Branson continues to be a source of influence for me, because of his customer obsession and true challenger mindset that is necessary to make an impact in these times.
Apple and Tesla are also great examples of companies that created products that consumers didn’t know they needed – those truly built for the future and grounded in simplicity and excellent design.
Finally, I admire Canva and Airbnb for their purpose-driven mission. All of their communications, recruitment strategies, their physical environment and ways of working exude their missions, and so there is a deep authenticity to what they do.
FST Media: As a leader in foreign exchange services, how do you see currency exchange evolving over the next five years as nations emerge at the other end of the Covid-19 crisis?
Baxby: The future of currency exchange will certainly be influenced by the accelerated digitisation of consumer behaviours as the result of the Covid-19 crisis. I think, as people become more acclimatised to doing everything from their phone or laptop, consumers will be looking for the easiest way to get foreign currency into their (digital) pockets.
Furthermore, we’re constantly hearing that we’re fast becoming a cashless society and foreign exchange services are no strangers to this trend. More and more people will shift to managing their foreign currency via an e-wallet that’s enabled by card and digital payments (for instance, Apple and Google Pay). And, as the world becomes more digitally connected, customers are going to increasingly expect FX services to be instantaneous and borderless.
It’s also fair to say that the long-term economic impacts of the Covid-19 crisis will mean consumers are more likely to actively seek value and will be looking to exchange with providers that can offer as close to the interbank rate as possible.
FST Media: Amid Covid lockdowns and unprecedented operating environment, how has Revolut Australia ensured it can effectively progress with its rollout and ready itself for a full launch?
Baxby: Being a digitally led business, we were very well placed to switch to working from home. Our tech has worked seamlessly across the transition and, if anything, we’ve actually seen a lift in productivity. Under remote working, we’ve still been able to proceed with launching our business in Australia, as well as scoping out and delivering a range of new features.
Any leader will tell you that staying connected with your team is crucial in this environment, so our main hurdle was understanding the most effective way to do that without hindering productivity. Operating in a global business, our people are well-attuned to working across time zones and connecting with teammates via Google Hangouts or Zoom, so it wasn’t a radically different approach to what we were already doing.