When U.K.-based Revolut brought its services to the U.S. market last year, its launch was a quiet one, Revolut USA CEO Ron Oliveira recalls.
By the time COVID-19 became a household name in mid-March of 2020, the fintech launched its services to U.S. customers without the splashy marketing or advertising the company is accustomed to, Oliveira said.
"Revolut’s general process is that when we enter a country, we want to introduce ourselves. We want to be out in front and we want to make announcements and show what we have to offer for people and bring them in and give us a try. But we did the exact opposite because of COVID," Oliveira said.
As restrictions and lockdowns associated with the pandemic grew, Oliveira said the company decided to turn its focus to the development of its app, and find ways for it to better resonate with the U.S. consumer.
"We knew what we had to offer resonated, even in COVID times, so that's why we launched, however, there was no
reason, we felt, to advertise and push the product any further than that, because of what was going to happen with travel, with people in or out of the office, all those elements," he said. "We just felt that there was no reason to do that whatsoever and we focused on making the app the best possible experience for the customer."
Since its U.S. launch, the neobank has expanded its products in the North American market. It launched a small business banking product called Revolut Business in March, around the same time it submitted an application for a bank charter in the state of California, and most recently began offering remittances between the U.S. and Mexico.
Oliveira said the company is also ready to step up its marketing effort by the end of the year to increase awareness of its products.
"By the fall of this year, you'll see us come out with a pretty strong marketing campaign on Facebook, TikTok and Google, where many of our customers reside," he said. "You'll see us do a big push to introduce ourselves to the marketplace, because we know that our biggest challenge right now is, no one knows us in the U.S. That's a hurdle for us. And that's one that we want to address squarely in the coming months."
Revolut claims to have around 300,000 customers in the U.S., a fraction of the nearly 15 million users the company says it has amassed worldwide.
"In the U.S., we're a very small player in Revolut’s world," Oliveira said. "Many of our customers that we have today have come through word-of-mouth referrals, or organically."
By introducing new features, such as offering small business services and entering into the Mexico-U.S. remittance corridor, Oliveira said the company expects to differentiate itself from other U.S. challenger banks whose product suites aren’t as all-encompassing.
"Our position in the U.S. is slightly different than our fintech competitors. Each of them do a few things really well — early access to paychecks, no overdraft fees — but Revolut’s real position is to be there through a customer's entire financial life cycle," he said.
International remittances, access to crypto and credit products, as well as the ability to open junior bank accounts for users’ children, are all a part of what Oliveira called Revolut’s financial ecosystem.
"The app is a pretty powerful tool, once you're introduced to it. That's what Revolut really stands for," he said.
Becoming a bank
The company’s long-term U.S. strategy is to become a bank, Oliveira said.
"We want to be captains of our own destiny and we really feel that being our own bank will give us an element that is missing. And that's the word, 'trust,'" he said. "Once you have a bank license, you've stepped up to the level of full regulatory oversight, testing all the elements that come with being a bank in the United States."
Revolut is currently partnering with New York City-based Metropolitan Commercial Bank in order to offer its customers FDIC-insured accounts.
Oliveira said Revolut chose to apply for a charter in California thanks to the state’s close ties with the fintech industry.
"California clearly understands what fintech means, they have Silicon Valley here, and it really felt like we would have a good reception with the state regulator here, which we have," he said. We've been talking to them for over a year in this process, long before we filed."
A large portion of Revolut’s employees and customers are based in the state, Oliveira said, another reason California was an attractive option for the company.
"We really felt that it was the best place for us to put our foot down," he added.
The company’s pursuit of a bank license also represents its desire to get in front of what could be increased scrutiny of bank-fintech partnerships.
"We want to be a major player in the United States, so that means just by size alone, we expect to be pretty large," Oliveira said. "When you have a sponsor bank relationship with a smaller mid-sized bank, we felt that ultimately, the regulators are going to be looking at these relationships, not just us, but all the fintechs that have a sponsor bank relationship and start to dig a little deeper and to ask more questions."
Oliveira said he believes regulators may eventually put more bank-like restrictions and controls on sponsor bank relationships.
"Our decision was — we'd rather be a bank and show everyone that we are at that level," he said. "We can also make our own decisions as our own bank. And that's important for us."