This is the third episode of the #FintechInterview, a new format launched by Bocconi Students Fintech Society where we will be interviewing leading fintech managers & entrepreneurs. Today, Elena Lavezzi (Head of Southern Europe at Revolut) will give us some insights into her professional life, on what made Revolut such a successful fintech and what is coming next in the future.
Can you talk us about your background, what led you in the start-up environment and your interest in fintech and innovation? Sure, and thanks for having me! I graduated in business administration and management at Bocconi University: it has been a great opportunity that allowed me to enjoy a completely new world and environment. After obtaining my bachelor’s degree, I decided to move to the US to gain hands-on working experience for a year and then went back to Europe for a master’s degree at ESCP Business School (London and Paris campuses — ed.). These two universities were the best choice for me and for what would have come next. In fact, since my arrival in Milan and in particular at Bocconi University, I understood that I was given an amazing opportunity that could have opened so many doors for me and it was right there that I figured out that I did not want to follow a traditional career path.
What did you learn in your first years outside of the university? How did you react to the challenges that you had faced? What opened my mind was an internship I had in Milan, where I had the chance to work within a big corporation: right there I understood that the corporate world was not well-suited for me. I could not fit in the classic 9-to-5 routine, where you have low chance of making a strong impact in the company you are working for. Instead, in the start-up world you are able to work on problems by looking at them with a more flexible and broader perspective, having the opportunity to make meaningful work and see the result of your efforts quicker if not immediately.
What have been the most relevant factors to the success of Revolut? Revolut launched in a period when customers realized that other players were not able to offer them what they were looking for. This means that a key to our success was to give customers something that others were not able to provide and to listen to their requests, something that we still do constantly. Another important factor is that we try to build everything in-house, without outsourcing it: this gives us great flexibility and control over the product on the market, which always tries to meet customers’ expectation. Another factor of success is that we treat every feature as a product, putting great emphasis toward delivering services that people want.
We understand that Revolut wants to build a global financial platform, why is this so important? We are the only one, especially in Europe, in the path of building a financial super app, meaning that we have created a platform where customers can find all their financial needs and can customize their journey inside the app. Users can accomplish many tasks within the app without even leaving Revolut, an app for everything in life, a multipurpose platform where, thanks to our large user base, we can tap into many single aspects of our clients lives. We plan to become a global financial super app by enabling financial services everywhere seamlessly, and we try to do so by offering to anyone in the world the possibility to open an account within minutes and easily manage their finances.
What is the key to the competitive advantage of Revolut? How are you dealing with the increasing competition from other neo-banks? We have a few international competitors that I believe are doing a great job, but in terms of innovation, we are far beyond them. We do not want just to create a mobile bank for millennials but a true platform where customer experience is key. This is what makes Revolut great and a super app with around 13 million customers.
Revolut is being criticized for the lack of profits and the increasing loss, how are you dealing with this issue? Do you plan new streams of revenue? Our revenues and customer numbers have tripled, meaning that our revenues are up over 180% (rose to more than £162,7 million in the last year — ed.) and our customers reached 10 million last December. We are focusing on strengthening the retail and the business offers in existing markets and this also thanks to the new capital that we have raised. As next steps, we are planning on opening to new markets and consolidate both our user base and our growth and I am delighted to announce that we are ahead of schedule regarding launches and many other features. Then, the losses are up by the same proportion of our growth and, considering the launch of Revolut in new markets and of new products, I believe that they are in line with the parallel growth. This being said, of course, profitability is a key goal for us.
In your opinion what will be the biggest challenges for Revolut? If we speak about the biggest challenges in the Southern Europe region (Italy, Greece, Malta, Cyprus, Portugal, Spain, Croatia, and Slovenia — ed.), the market responded incredibly well to the innovations introduced by Revolut. For us, it is getting more important to strengthen the usage of digital payments and become more cashless.
How has COVID changed your strategy? The reality is that COVID did not change our strategy. During this tough period, with everything closed and people not able to visit branches either to open an account or to send money abroad, we were able to increase our customer base and customer usage of the app. What is amazing is that more and more people, also from targets that are not usually that closed to technology, started to evaluate, and use our product. We were the perfect fit for this moment of our history and, since we already wanted to move from being a travel card to become an everyday app, this transition was even sped up during the pandemic.
Regarding the introduction of the commission-free trading, do you think that Revolut has a value proposition, regarding investments, similar to Robinhood? Robinhood is a big player in the US and they still have not launched in Europe. We also offer the investment feature in our app and customers appreciate it, but the cool thing for me is that we offer much more. Revolut is helpful not only for investments and cryptos, that are more of a niche, but also for managing budgets for example. Here comes again the concept of a Fintech super app, where we do not need many apps to run different activities. There are a few players in Southeast Asia and China that are also doing this, but in Europe, Revolut is one of the unique companies that are scaling fast and doing so internationally.
Do you see any other company that would come close to you in the foreseeable future? I hope that more and more companies are going to use a similar scaling-up approach that, for example, I have experienced also in Uber. There are probably many such start-ups at the beginning phase and my experience tells me that this kind of approach is very successful for expansion and growth. When I joined Uber, we were 100 people and when I left, we were 15.000. When I joined Revolut we were 500 and now we are over 2.000.
How have you dealt with regulatory pressures during your growth? Compliance has been playing a key role in this period, what has your answer been? We are very careful about it and we have specialized teams dedicated entirely to these processes: we work with the money of people and so we are building our company on the trust of our customers and we must pay the highest level of attention on this topic.
Does Revolut plan any important partnership, maybe with incumbents? Recently we saw for example the acquisition of Kabbage by AmEx. “Fintegration” is becoming a more and more important theme. We already did partnerships with incumbents and traditional players like Visa and MasterCard that we announced last year. These partnerships will allow us to expand in certain markets, from South America to Asia-Pacific, in the next future. We constantly evaluate collaborations that are fundamental for our growth.
What is the role of marketing for Revolut? I do not want to sound banal, but the case for Revolut is similar to the one in Uber: the core of the marketing is the product itself, which is so good. In Revolut the first 7 million customers were reached only by word of mouth and only after reaching these numbers, we started structuring the marketing department and use referral programs, affiliation, etc. We are growing fast, and we put great attention towards PR which I believe is fundamental to strengthen and tell the right message.
What is Revolut’s strategy for the future? Our goal is the same as our current: to offer a top product. Our generation is less loyal to products and services than our parents were; for example, my mother has spent over 20 years with the same bank and never considered a different option. For us, the situation is different as we are always looking for the best product, the most convenient and the most transparent. This makes us push the bar higher and higher, otherwise, we would lose our potential clients.
Can you share with us what are the most important skills to thrive in the Fintech/start-up environment? In my opinion, flexibility is the most important skill needed for everyone who wants to succeed. Things can change fast, and you should be ready for it. My advice is not to do it because it is cool, but because you recognize the value of working in companies that have an impact on millions of people worldwide. After finishing university pick your path and identify what works best for you. What is amazing is that when I started my career the start-up world was rarely considered a path to choose while today the situation has evolved, and you can thrive in this environment. I also believe that in the post-COVID era, technology is going to be even more important than before and this should facilitate those that want to become professionals in the start-up/tech environment.
Thank you, Elena, for having shared this precious information with us. It has been extremely interesting. We will catch up soon for new updates on Revolut.
Bocconi Students Fintech Society
Authors: Luca Carlomagno Alberto Pozzi Alessio Mazzalupi Martin Palazov