Revolut sets out on multi-year quest for US bank licence

By Eric Johansson

UK challenger bank Revolut has upped the ante in its efforts to conquer the American market by applying for a US banking licence. While its billionaire founder Nikolay Storonsky has championed the move as a bid to eventually have one million stateside users, the neobank probably won’t get its licence anytime soon.

The $5.5bn startup’s draft application to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation is only the first step. It then has to get approved, a process that often takes years.

Revolut rival Varo Money famously waited over three years and suffered through several application rounds before it was approved for its licence in 2020. Its European competitor Monzo has previously applied for a permit but is still awaiting approval.

The US’ fragmented regulatory space is part of the reason why getting a permit is a considerable and lengthy challenge in the country. Not only must applicants appease a dozen or so federal market watchdogs, but they also have to deal with state-level regulators.

A banking licence would empower Revolut to independently launch and offer new services across the country without having to rely on its local partner bank Metropolitan Commercial Bank. Most neobanks have been able to launch their services in the US without a licence by relying on such partners.

“If you simply partner with a local bank you are not able to provide all the products you need,” Storonsky told Reuters. “You rely on infrastructure and processes of the other bank.”

Revolut launched in the US in 2020, after having first broadcasted its intentions to make the jump across the pond in 2018. It so far claims to have almost 200,000 clients signed up for its US services and about 15 million across the globe in total.

The London-headquartered challenger bank provides business and retail banking services, free foreign transactions, cryptocurrency trading and a smattering of budgeting tools.

It is facing severe competition in the US, both from rival neobanks like Chime, Monzo and N26 as well as from established traditional lenders offering digital banking solutions such as Goldman Sachs.

Revolut has also asked UK regulators for a full banking license, adding to the European Union permit it was approved for in 2018.

The UK unicorn achieved a $5.5bn valuation in an equity round in early 2020, which for a short time gave it bragging rights as Europe’s most valuable privately owned fintech company.

That honour now belongs to Swedish buy-now-pay-later company Klarna after it achieved tridecacorn status on the back of a $1bn funding round pushing its valuation past the $31bn mark earlier in March.

Read more: Revolut valuation indicates growing influence of challenger banks