‘Money spoils children’: Revolut’s $7bn CEO Nik Storonsky on inheritance, growth plans, and IPO

·5-min read
Revolut's founder and CEO Nik Storonsky (Revolut)
Revolut's founder and CEO Nik Storonsky (Revolut)

What do Nikolay Storonsky and Daniel Craig have in common? Blond hair? A smouldering default expression? Not just that — they share an attitude to inheritance.

“I think money spoils our children, right?” the Revolut founder says when I ask him if he shares James Bond’s views on passing down family wealth. Craig made headlines for saying he found inheritance “distasteful” and planned to spend or give away all his millions before he kicked the bucket.

Why am I asking Storonsky about it? Well, he’s a very rich man - at least on paper. The 37-year-old’s net worth is around $7 billion according to people who track these things. He is the co-founder of Revolut, which was valued at $33 billion in a funding round in July. Storonsky still retains a major stake in the business.

“To be honest with you, I don’t really think about it,” he says.

Still, Storonsky has to rank as one of the top wealth creators in Britain’s history. He co-founded Revolut in 2015 as a foreign exchange card linked to a smartphone app. A former City trader, he was annoyed at the high rates he was charged when spending abroad and thought he could do better.

From there, Revolut has branched out into everything from cryptocurrencies and stock trading to insurance and even holiday bookings. The rapid expansion has won it more than 16 million customers across 35 countries. It’s also earned Revolut that hefty price tag.

Storonsky, an avid windsurfer, took a much needed summer holiday after sealing the latest deal. Now he’s back, tanned and invigorated. Revolut is working on expansion to India, a banking license in the US and UK, and seems to launch a new product every few weeks. The latest is PayDay, where Revolut advances people their earned wages. The company is working on other products like buy now, pay later loans, card-to-card money transfers, and payroll services.

That’s banks, loan companies, remittance services, website builders, and payroll companies Revolut is trying to compete with. Oh and travel companies and advertising giants too — but there just isn’t space to go into all that.

“I think I have more ideas now compared to six years ago,” Storonsky says. “Every year is more and more ideas.”

Storonsky was born in Moscow in the mid-1980s, the son of a senior engineer at state oil company Gazprom. He was a champion swimmer while a student at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and worked as a trader at Lehman Brothers and Credit Suisse before setting up his business.

Revolut is a product of his background: a combination of the dispassionate mathematician’s eye, high financial literacy, and a ruthless competitiveness.

“Being competitive and having ambitions is good for people,” he says. “It pushes them to do things. In any profession it’s good for your personal development.”

The company was once seen as a close competitor to Monzo, its older and more cuddly digital banking rival. But fortunes diverged during the pandemic. When card transaction revenues collapsed due to lockdown, Monzo was forced to lay off staff and raise money at a discount. Revolut, which had long ago diversified into new business lines, saw its income surge thanks to its stock trading and cryptocurrency services.

Storonsky once said “99.5 percent of my life is work related” and I have seen him blow through a half an hour conference presentation in just 15 minutes, seemingly in rushing to get back to the office.

He expects the same from staff — at times asking too much. A Wired article in 2019 exposed the “human cost” of Revolut’s growth. It sent the company into a tailspin and forced it to fight back against claims it was built on the backs of unsustainable working practices.

Storonsky insists those days are behind them, although I spot the infamous “Get Shit Done” neon sign still hanging in the office. (The “sh” in shit is not lit.)

“We now have HR managers, we have a lot of HR managers,” he says smiling. “These additional, call it, features are implemented and processes in HR helped us to mature — but at our core we are still the same in terms of our culture.”

Revolut launched a very public campaign to “grow up” after the Wired article, a process that included appointing City of London veteran and Aberdeen Asset Management co-founder Martin Gilbert as chair.

“Apart from experience, his key help is that he’s a founder himself,” Storonsky says. “He really understands the problems that startups face. He doesn’t panic as well, which is good.”

Revolut hopes to win its provisional banking licence in the UK by the end of the year, which will allow it to push into lending products. Word from US regulators could come early next year. That would allow Revolut to push into lending — the real money maker.

“We now have more customers than HSBC in Europe,” he says. “It’s a good achievement, right? But overall we still have so much more to do. Now we need to achieve the revenues of HSBC.”

The rapid expansion and huge valuation inevitably fuels talk of an IPO. Storonsky insists the company is in no hurry. Perhaps unluckily for London, the dispassionate trader in him means the London market holds no special sway for him.

“There needs to be analysis done: is it US, is it UK, maybe there is Hong Kong? I don’t know,” he says. “Whenever we pull the trigger we will do analysis and we will decide. Formulas, we always believe in formulas.”

Storonsky has a reputation as a hard man to get to know. Interviewing him can sometimes be like getting blood from a stone but he is in a good mood when I visit.

His guarded nature crops up again, though, when I send a follow up email asking about Storonsky’s family set up. Does he have a wife? Kids? He refuses to answer. That’s a first.

Old interviews suggest he does in fact have a wife and two children. If they do indeed exist, at least they now know not to bank on that future trust fund.

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