Revolut, one of London’s fastest growing fintech firms, has admitted it fabricated statistics in a high-profile advertising campaign, which has now been referred to the City watchdog.
The Advertising Standards Authority said it had passed on several complaints about Revolut advertisements on the London Underground to the Financial Conduct Authority, after being alerted that they made misleading claims about the digital payment provider’s access to customers’ transactional data.
In the adverts, Revolut claimed that 11,867 customers had bought a vegan sausage roll in the past month, and that last Valentine’s Day, thousands of other customers had ordered a takeaway meal for one.
However Revolut — in line with other banks, e-wallets and fintech payment services — is only privy to the merchant and the amount of an individual transaction, and does not have further insight into what its customer’s money is being spent on.
For example, while Revolut could see that a customer had used their card to spend £1 in Greggs, it would have no way of telling whether they purchased a vegan sausage roll. The £1 price point of the plant-based snack is shared by many other products sold by Greggs, notably cups of tea and iced doughnuts.
When challenged by the Financial Times, Revolut’s media spokesperson confirmed that the numbers used in the advertisements were “just made up”.
The spokesperson also acknowledged that the advertising campaign did not make clear that the examples used were fictitious.
“It’s a fair point. We should have had a line in the ad saying this is a spoof,” the spokesperson said.
The ASA said: “We will be referring the matter to the Financial Conduct Authority whose remit this would fall under.”
The FCA declined to comment.
Revolut has grown rapidly by offering its card holders fee-free foreign currency transactions, ATM withdrawals and bank transfers — something that traditional banks charge a much higher margin for. The company said it was signing up 10,000 new customers per day, and that its 4m users worldwide collectively spend $5bn (£3.9bn) via Revolut per month.
Last year, Revolut raised $250m from investors to fund its international expansion, valuing the company at $1.7bn.
“Revolut has a killer app, and a killer use case,” said Ronit Ghose, global head of banking research at Citi. “However there’s a tension between doing exciting viral marketing and having some fidelity to the facts.
“People will use you because you’re cool and cheap,” he added. “But if you take liberties with the truth, then it is going to hurt your trust factor.”
Iona Bain, the personal finance blogger who accused Revolut of “single shaming” with its Valentine’s takeaway ad in a series of tweets this week, said she was among those who complained to the ASA.
“I’m not surprised people have complained to the ASA, and I’m glad the FCA is investigating whether this advert misrepresented how people’s very personal data is used,” said Ms Bain, who runs the Young Money Blog.
“Financial firms should be clear and honest about the services they provide, not spreading misinformation in the name of joke marketing. It harms trust in digital banking and gives fintech services a bad name.”
Revolut declined to comment further on the complaints. The company is holding a party at its London offices for up to 200 customers on Valentine’s Day next week to apologise for the blunder, where it says free vegan sausage rolls will be served.