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Fintech banking firm Revolut is a major player in the Maltese market, and its reach is growing Europe-wide. For a UK-headquartered firm, uncertainties surrounding the United Kingdom leaving the bloc can cause unease among Revolut users. However, the company says they are ready to offer intact services for users whatever the Brexit outcome will be. Revolut’s Dimitris Litsikakis, Country Manager for Greece, Cyprus and Malta, tells Business Malta about the Brexit, the rapidly-growing Maltese market with one-fifth of the population being Revolut users, the planned expansion out of Europe, and recent compliance frenzy in the news.

With the delayed deadline for a Brexit deal to 31 October, uncertainties around the United Kingdom leaving the bloc have not settled yet. Nevertheless, Revolut says they prepared for any possible scenario. “If the United Kingdom and the European Union strike a deal, or if there’s a period of transitional relief, then we would continue to passport our UK-authorised permissions — via Revolut Ltd — across Europe, and there would be no action required on our customers’ side,” Mr Litsikakis tells BM.

Should the two parties be unable to reach a deal, Revolut has plans in the pipeline. Last year, Revolut Payments UAB was set up in preparation for a no-deal Brexit scenario. Revolut says that although this entity is fully operational, it is only a precautionary measure, for now. “We are pleased to confirm that this new entity is now in beta phase. As we all sit and wait to see what happens, mitigating any disruption to your services is our paramount concern. We will only switch our EEA-based customers over to this new entity in the event of a no-deal scenario,” the country manager responsible for Malta says.

Although an uncertain environment might linger on until at least the 31 October deadline, Revolut says that European customers should rest assured. “We want to assure all of our customers in Europe that we have taken the necessary preparations to ensure that they can continue to use Revolut in the same way, whatever the outcome,” the country manager underscores.

A market of ‘phenomenal’ growth

It is almost impossible to line up for payment at any POS in Malta, seeing not a single individual flashing a Revolut card. It is equally unlikely to carry out a conversation with acquaintances without bumping into Revolut card holders, or people who have at least heard about the concept. What makes the Maltese land such fertile soil for a fintech company such as Revolut?

“The Maltese market is extremely important to Revolut due to a large number of expats, migrant workers and professionals transferring money in and out of the country. So far, Revolut has proved to be incredibly popular in Malta, with over 90,000 customers signed up to date, that is around one-fifth of the population. We are signing up around 200 customers per day and only expect that to increase. Six months ago we only had around 30,000 customers in Malta, so the growth has been phenomenal,” Mr Litsikakis says.

“Revolut has proved to be incredibly popular in Malta, with over 90,000 customers signed up to date, that is around one-fifth of the population. We are signing up around 200 customers per day,”

says Revolut’s Dimitris Litsikakis.

Revolut believes its popularity lies in the “modern design” that their mobile application offers for users, as well as the fact that they issue no hidden fees and sport responsive customer service. Additional features such as instant payment notifications, automatic spending categorisation, budgeting tools, spare change saving and enhanced security further boost their prestige in the eyes of users, the company believes.

Furthermore, Revolut allows users to buy and sell a selection of cryptocurrencies, as well as to get pay-per-day travel insurance through their app. Registration for a Revolut account takes places in approximately ten minutes, and once an account is opened, users can send, spend and exchange 29 currencies in-app and spend fee-free globally in over 150 currencies, up to a threshold of £200 every month on the free plan.

Revolut’s expansion comes in a time when people appear, albeit slowly, to become more open to fintech solutions, as well as they are becoming more conscious about taking elevated control over their finances. “Fintechs are gaining in popularity across the world due to a growing shift of consumers using their phones to handle their finances and demanding more from their banks. They are no longer happy to accept rubbish exchange rates and monthly fees. Fintechs, such as Revolut, offer an alternative to the big banks,” Mr Litsikakis says.

For fuelling further growth, Revolut is planning to host more RevRally [awareness-raising promotional] events this year in Malta to encourage more consumers to open accounts with the company. “In Europe, we currently have over 4.6 million customers and are building a European Growth Machine that will help us scale at speed in every European country where Revolut’s service is currently available to further boost our customer numbers,” the country manager tells BM.

Additionally, Revolut aims to grow out of Europe. They expect to expand into a number of global markets in the coming months, with foreseen launches in the United States, Canada, Singapore, Japan, Australia and New Zealand planned in 2019.

Revolut insists on unshaken compliance

The Telegraph broke the news on 28 February that Revolut was “accused of violating basic banking rules by failing to block thousands of potentially suspicious transactions on its platform,” the report writes. Citing documents The Telegraph says had acquired, the online daily reported that Revolut switched off its system flagging suspicious transfers.

This was briefly followed by news that CFO Peter O’Higgins had resigned from his position at the company. On top of this, Revolut ran into technical issues on 1 March, affecting their app’s functionality including top-ups, exchanges and other features. Revolut’s engineers fixed the issues in a matter of minutes. Nevertheless, some Maltese customers, reading international news and swiftly jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions, ran to ATMs quickly withdrawing money, in the belief that Revolut was going down.

Nikolay Storonsky, the founding CEO of Revolut, soon after the news broke denied reports suggesting that his company would have been involved in activities raising the issue of possible “money laundering”. He also said that no connection could be found between the resignation of his company’s finance chief and the alleged “money laundering”, despite what news reports suggested.

Business Malta asked Revolut to explain the events of end-February and early-March from their perspective. “In the middle of last year, we rolled out a new sanctions screening system in parallel with our existing systems and controls. The new system required recalibration on the basis that it was creating some false positive cases (pending payments),” Mr Litsikakis tells BM about the roots of the events. During this period, Revolut says their 200-strong compliance team reviewed all payments on their platform. “The new system and subsequent recalibration had nothing to do with money laundering, and we want to make it abundantly clear that there were no breaches,” Mr Litsikakis puts his feet down.

“The new system and subsequent recalibration had nothing to do with money laundering, and we want to make it abundantly clear that there were no breaches,”

says Revolut’s Dimitris Litsikakis.

By the second week of March, the Telegraph substantially amended its article and issued a correction statement both online and in their print edition related to news they broke about Revolut.

“We would like to clarify that there never was any lapse in our anti-money laundering controls or our sanction screening process. It is also important to note that a number of articles erroneously conflated our anti-money laundering systems and our sanctions screening process,” Mr Litsikakis insists.

Business Malta was interested to learn about the magnitude of cash withdrawal in Malta at the time of unfavourable news stirring waters among its local users about the company; however, Revolut declined to disclose figures. “We do not share details of how much money is deposited in Revolut,” the company says.