Revolution Required

protest photo

by Kieron Faller, co-founder & CEO, Workio

It’s been a tough month for Revolut.

On 8th February, The Drum reported that Revolut’s ad campaign outlining precise customer data on spending on items such as vegan sausage rolls used invented statistics. This was in addition to complaints about the insensitivity of the campaign shaming single people in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, alongside the fact that the trope used in the campaign was clearly ‘inspired by’ (that is, ripping off) Spotify ad campaigns of recent years.

Then, on 28th February, the London-based fintech company was the subject of an in-depth Wired magazine article outlining its practices of requiring job applicants to do unpaid work, threats to fire people based purely on their KPI results, toxic management practices and unsurprisingly high employee turnover.

On the very same day, The Telegraph reported a lapse in Revolut’s transaction screening systems, with the company having turned off their automated system used to monitor compliance with financial sanctions. This meant that potential illegal transactions could have gone through Revolut during a three-month period in 2018. Revolut have since denied this.

Then on 1st March, The Telegraph reported the resignation of their CFO, Peter O’Higgins. While Revolut maintain that this was a separate issue from the other issues arising above, the timing was unfortunate to say the least.

Finally, on 5th March the FT published, but subsequently removed, a report of a fraud investigation into the handling of a customer complaint.

Is there a thread which links together all of these issues? Of course there is. It’s company culture.

There is clearly a take-no-prisoners, move-fast-and-break-things culture at play here. Revolut founder and CEO (and ex-trader at Credit Suisse and Lehman Brothers), Nik Storonsky’s own Slack message quoted in the Wired article makes his approach very clear. He is living up (or down) to the stereotypical view of financial traders in many ways.

 With a culture that prioritises ‘outcomes’ at the expense of process – both what is done to achieve outcomes and how it is done – it’s no surprise that Revolut culture is comfortable with falsifying data on its advertising. 

It may seem trivial to make up some data about what people bought through its service, but it is instructive in many ways. There is a lack of basic care and attention to getting things right. There is a loose approach to customer data concerns. Anyone looking at these ads from the customer or prospective customer’s point of view would have seen the glaring invasion of privacy of a transaction services provider knowing precisely what has been purchased, and then compounding this by making fun of their customers too.

This stems from a lack of empathy on the part of whoever originated and signed off the offending ads, and this lack of empathy is apparent in all of the other issues that have arisen over the last week or so. 

No empathy for job applicants – if they are doing valuable work, they should be paid according to the law. Instead those applicants were exploited. 

No empathy for employees – measuring individuals on singular KPIs in an environment where people are supposed to work in teams to achieve outcomes is fundamentally problematic. That’s not to excuse poor performance, but again, according to the law in the UK, employees are supposed to be given the opportunity to correct poor performance through performance improvement plans. 

No empathy for customers – having read the FT article before it was removed, the attitude of the ‘customer support’ team at Revolut was dismissive and not at all supportive.

At Workio, we see a variety of cultures in the companies with whom we work, but it is usually the case that cultures emanate very strongly from the top down. This seems to be the case at Revolut along with many other tech companies. The clearest parallel is Facebook, where a CEO with poor social skills has cascaded a lack of empathy stunningly well throughout a large organisation.  

Even Mr Storonsky’s mea culpa blog post in the wake of the Wired article is full of half-truths and evasions. While he mentions that these were failings of the company “12-18 months ago”, the most recent example of job applicant exploitation dates from May last year – 10 months ago. And how likely is it that that example was the last time it happened? He also mentions bi-annual employee surveys, which could be a good step, but the key is what changes in management approach based on the feedback. Without action, surveying employees is worse than not doing so. Storonsky gives no examples of changes made to the culture as an outcome of this process.

He also mentions an employee turnover rate of less than 3%, which was also provided to Wired by Revolut’s spokesperson in response to the issues raised in the article. This is a meaningless number without a timescale attached. Is that 3% of employees who have been at the company for six months, or a year? Or does it (as I suspect) include employees who started a week ago? The latter is clearly a way to improve a retention number, especially in a company with strong headcount growth. The better number would be the proportion of employees who join and are still at the company after 12 months, which I suspect is much worse than the 3% quoted.

Again, this illustrates Revolut’s comfort with half-truths and massaged numbers, and in an industry where trust is key this is a significant danger to the company’s continued commercial success. 

Revolut’s culture problems look like they won’t be coming to an end soon, but if they really are interested in making a change, we’d be happy to talk to them about how we can help.

We see the key as understanding what employees want from the workplace, not just what they are experiencing. We compare reality for each employee to that employee’s preferences using a quick, 8 minute chatbot survey. Our approach provides actionable insight, not charts and graphs, or reams of comments that HR then have to read, interpret and make sense of.

Workio shows which groups in an organisation (women under 35 in engineering, for example) are having which specific issues (feeling that the purpose & mission of the company does not match their personal values), and how important different issues are to them. With this focused information, actuions to address cultural weakpoints can be much more targeted and effective. We have achieved great results with our early clients and we certainly could help Revolut, but only if they are ready to be helped and this has to start at the top.

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