You may have heard about Revolut, but not necessarily for all the right reasons. Rather than headlines about handy new features, the stories tend to focus on ties to Russia, complaints from former employees, concerns over compliance, and other scandals. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should ban Revolut from your wallet.
First, the bad news. A WIRED investigation revealed poor treatment of employees, with unpaid work and impossible targets leading to high staff turnover, while the FCA investigates complaints of money laundering and a Telegraph story revealed concerns around a system that appeared to be designed to disable blocks on sanctioned people. Revolut has said it hasn’t broken the law, and that such issues have been addressed.
The company also sparked complaints over a singles-shaming advertising campaign that appeared to suggest Revolut knew which users ordered takeaway on Valentine’s day, though the company has since said the data was fictitious and the advert a spoof.
Still, this seemingly controversial company has been valued at $1.7 billion (£1.4bn) and has six million users. Why? Simple: it can do plenty that banks can’t, in particular around currency exchange and international transfers. For instance, while other challenger banks build features to ease spending and saving, Revolut also has support for cryptocurrencies built directly into the app. It would appeal to crypto fans: why build a roundup savings pot in pounds when you can instead invest directly in Bitcoin or Ether?
Revolut was founded in 2015 by Nikolay Storonsky and Vlad Yatsenko – the former is the son of a Gazprom executive, hence the concerns about Russian influence. The London-based fintech has a more limited license than some rivals, operating under a specialised bank license via Lithuania, rather than as a full bank. That means Revolut can offer a current account for deposits and basic credit, but has some limits on the types of investment it can offer.
As the UK’s big challenger banks – Monzo, Revolut, Starling and N26 – continue to grow in popularity, we’re reviewing the services they provide to bring you a comprehensive view of their usability. This includes their features, account types and security practices.
Consumer Account Services
Revolut has all the key features of a challenger bank – fast payments and payment notifications, sub accounts for savings, rewards systems, and clear statements that are automatically analysed by category for better budgeting. But that’s not where Revolut shines.
If you’re an expat, frequent traveller, or have family overseas, the startup’s card’s multi currency support and easy transactions are an absolute godsend. You will have to pay £5 to get a physical card delivered, though, for the Standard account. This basic account is free to maintain, with free withdrawals of up to £200 a month and 2 per cent charge afterwards. Transfers to other Revolut users are free, and the app will notify you if other payments come at a cost; currency exchange is free up to £5,000 a month.
There are two other tiers of the consumer version of Revolut: Premium and Metal. Upgrading to Premium costs £6.99 a month, and comes with free card delivery and a £400 ATM withdrawal limit, as well as other perks like cryptocurrency exchange. The Metal tier costs £12.99 a month, and alongside free delivery of a metal card, adds ATM withdrawals up to £600 a month and lounge pass access. Business and sole trader accounts follow a similar structure, with a free version and paid-for upgrades.
The app allows you to set up accounts in multiple currencies, but if you’re paying with the card, it automatically converts your balance to the one you’re spending in, meaning you don’t need to have separate pots of, say, pounds, Euros, zloty and kroner for a jaunt around the continent. The card simply manages it for you, offering the best exchange rate possible, and Revolut doesn’t charge for ATM withdrawals anywhere as long as they are under £200 a month.
All of this makes transferring money to friends or family overseas simple, whether or not they have a Revolut card. For cross-currency transfers, there may be intermediary charges, but Revolut cross-currency transfers are free up to £5,000 a month and then cost 0.5 per cent; they’re always free with the upgraded accounts. If you don’t have their account details, you can still send a payment – or a payment request – via a link, where they’ll enter their own banking information. If you suffered through international transfers a decade ago, the ease of Revolut will make you weep with joy – this is progress.
That multi currency support leaks into every aspect of this system. For example, Revolut offers savings pots – “vaults” – as well as roundups, when transactions are rounded to the nearest pound with the spare change put in a savings account. But, depending on your account type, those roundups can be automatically converted into a different currency, including crypto. That means your spare change can be used to put aside Euros for a trip or to invest in bitcoin, even though you’re spending in pounds in the UK. Currency exchange aside, that’s not the only way Revolut has tweaked roundups. To boost your savings, roundups can be multiplied by as much as ten times the original. While that may make your roundup cost more than the original transaction, the flexibility is a handy way to force yourself to save more.
Frequent travellers should also note the pay-by-the-day medical travel insurance that can be bought directly in-app, while upgraded accounts get discounted airport lounge passes.
Some banking essentials are missing, though. Revolut supports direct debits, but so far only in Euros – fine for those living on the continent, but less useful for those in the UK or elsewhere. Investment accounts are starting to be rolled out, usually to those on upgraded, paid-for accounts first, Revolut says.
Business Account Services
Revolut offers business accounts for companies and sole traders. For businesses, the main account is in pounds, with a secondary Euro account, along with support for 28 other currencies. The main business account has a free version, but it’s limited to only a handful of transfers. The next step up is £25 a month, though there’s also an enterprise version for £1,000 a month. On the paid-for accounts, features include an open API, bulk payments, user permissions for access to accountants and the like, and receipt management. Revolut is working on integrating payroll, accepting card payments for free, and adding loans, overdrafts and local accounts in other currencies.
And there is an account designed just for freelancers and sole traders, both in a free version and an upgraded account at £7 a month. Stepping up to the paid-for account boosts the number of free local and international transfers, and includes business features as above as well as perks with companies such as three months free space at WeWork.
Revolut is simple and easy to use. Upon opening the app, a chart shows how much money you have versus earlier in the month, with icons to add money or exchange currencies. There’s a separate analytics tab for more detailed spending data, showing transactions broken down by category as well as merchant and country – handy for seeing how much you spend at Pret or on a foreign holiday.
The heavy use of clear icons makes it simple to navigate, with advanced features not hidden away in obscure settings lists like other challenger banks, but front and centre in the Dashboard. That single tab is home to accounts, savings “vaults”, an exchange rate tracker, an easy donations portal, and much more. Don’t like having to scroll? It’s simple to hide unused widgets away, helping to declutter the page.
The one downside of Revolut’s app is many of the features are limited to paid-for accounts, which means frequent nagging to upgrade. Tap on Cryptocurrencies, Lounges or Concierge, and the app will redirect to upgrade options.
With so many features, it’s often not clear how to use them all. To help, alongside FAQs on the website and user forums, Revolut offers a chatbot named Rita (yet another female digital assistant!) to answer basic questions directly inside the app. It’s a smart way to offer an extra layer of support to customers without having to actually talk to them.
Revolut has a few key security settings: cards can be easily frozen and unfrozen; ATM withdrawals, magstripe payments and online transactions can be easily disabled; and your phone can be used for location-based security, so if your card is in Europe but you’re not, the transaction will be halted.
And then there’s the disposable virtual card system, which automatically changes details with each purchase adding a layer of security for online shopping – meaning you don’t need to order a new card if a site leaks your card details. However, you’ll need to upgrade for a paid-for account to get that security perk, though you can use a virtual card for free for online shopping, at least protecting your physical card’s details. More generally, earlier this year, Revolut announced it was hiring penetration testers to seek out flaws, suggesting it was taking security seriously.
But the biggest security flaw Revolut has faced is its own system for blocking suspicious transfers, which was initially turned off after it wrongfully blocked legitimate transactions. That’s not a security concern for regular consumers, but those rumoured Russian ties have reportedly raised questions from the Lithuanian banking authority that granted the startup its finance license. The biggest concern may not be your own account being hacked, but Revolut losing its ability to operate. Still, there’s little to suggest Lithuania would react so strongly, and Revolut says its current accounts are covered by the European Deposit Insurance Scheme up to €100,000 (£90,000).
Even if you can set aside the concerns around how staff were treated and the sanctions list scandal – and you may not want to, as a bank is supposed to be trustworthy – Revolut isn’t necessarily going to replace whatever bank you’re using now. That said, it does have a host of intriguing features that mean it could be worth slipping a Revolut card into your wallet, real or virtual.
Cryptocurrency fans will appreciate the easy transactions, as will anyone who works in multiple currencies, and the free withdrawals up to £200 will make it a handy card for travellers. The virtual card is a clever idea for online shoppers that other banks, challenger or otherwise, should outright steal. This may never be your main bank, but it’s worth having Revolut in your own arsenal for online shopping and travel.
Looking for other challenger banks? See our Monzo review, and N26 review to see how the service compares
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