Revolut, the global fintech player valued at $33 billion, will soon offer commission-free stock trading to U.S. customers for the first time, CNBC has learned.
The start-up is set to announce Tuesday that it secured a U.S. broker-dealer license, enabling it to compete with the likes of Robinhood and Square in the red-hot world of retail trading, according to CEO and founder Nik Storonsky.
Revolut has grown to become one of the dominant European consumer fintech firms since its 2015 founding by continually piling on new features. The app started out as a way for people to avoid currency conversation fees while traveling, but quickly added banking, trading and crypto features among dozens of products. It now has more than 16 million customers.
That approach helped it garner a massive $33 billion valuation in July from investors including Softbank and Tiger Global, firms that see London-based Revolut as a contender to create the first global financial super-app. But to get there, it needs to crack the U.S. market, where competitors from Robinhood to Chime have already staked out corners of the fintech ecosystem.
“We are building a single app where people can manage all aspects of their finances, from banking and foreign exchange, to cryptocurrency and stock trading,” Storonsky said. “We’re eager to break down common barriers to entry around stock trading such as account minimums and complex interfaces.”
Revolut launched in the U.S. last year just as the pandemic began, and has since added high interest savings, small business banking, U.S.-Mexico remittances and cryptocurrency trading.
Retail stock trading may give it the broadest appeal yet, however: More than 20 million new investors have entered the fray since last year, according to JMP Securities. Amid the trading boom, which has benefited disruptors and legacy players alike, others are looking to jump in: PayPal is working on its own stock-trading platform, CNBC reported last month.
Revolut is currently testing its stock trading service, which will allow users to buy ETFs and shares of NYSE and NASDAQ listed companies, according to Ron Oliveira, head of Revolut’s U.S. business. It will be available in a few months and will eventually allow for fractional share purchases and investing spare change from card transactions.
The broker-dealer license took 16 months to acquire through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Oliveira said. Specifically, Revolut is approved to be an “introducing broker” and will lean on New Jersey-based fintech DriveWealth to clear the trades, just as it does for Revolut’s European trading business, he said.
FINRA “took a deep dive, they asked lots of questions because they wanted to see exactly what the consumer experience was,” Oliveira said. “It took them a period of time to get comfortable, but we’re very happy they got there.”
Payment for order flow
While a Revolut executive said in 2019 that its European operations wouldn’t lean on payment for order flow, an industry practice where market makers pay brokerages for client orders, the U.S. business is shaping up to have a different approach.
Revolut will earn payment for order flow revenue in the U.S., according to a spokeswoman. The tactic is one of the main ways Robinhood earns revenue, and it’s a practice under scrutiny by Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler.
Revolut is also working with regulators on its U.S. bank charter application in California, first reported by CNBC last year, said Oliveira. That process isn’t likely to be completed this year, he said.
The company will eventually aim for a public listing in the U.K., U.S. or perhaps a dual listing, said Storonsky. After raising $800 million in July, Revolut should be done raising money from private investors, he said.
“That will be my hope, because the reality is we are generating free cash flow,” the founder said. “We shouldn’t need any additional capital from external investors.”
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