Considering what this magazine is all about, you might be quite surprised by how infrequently we’ve featured workplaces in and around Canary Wharf. There are reasons for this, of course. Firstly, and most importantly, there are many sensitive financial institutions based there who don’t want journalists of any shape wandering through their hallowed halls.
This is a real shame for us – not least because we’re genuinely interested in how the major financial institutions are going to respond to the ever-changing dynamics of the workplace and to the threat of innovative new kids on the block. On a personal level, it’s also a shame because we’ve really grown to like the area.
So, on what is a perfect pre-Spring afternoon, we find ourselves wandering through Canary Wharf and heading down towards the pier and the river, where we find the new home of one of those aforementioned ‘new kids’ – Revolut.
Revolut is one of the current leaders in the FinTech market and has grown substantially since being founded in 2015. When we say grown considerably, we’re talking about a business that, in just four years, has attracted some four million customers, undertaking more than 250 million transactions and has a total value of over £25 billion. In four years!
The firm was founded by CEO Nikolay Storonsky and CTO Vlad Yatsenko. In a former life, Nikolay was a trader with Credit Suisse where he experienced first-hand the astronomical fees applied to foreign exchange transactions. Then there was a lightbulb moment – fast forward to today, and Nikolay has reinvented the way in which we spend and transfer money abroad.
Prior to co-founding Revolut, Vlad spent 10 years building financial systems at tier one investment banks. Vlad has been at the forefront of Revolut’s award-winning technology, helping build a next generation banking experience.
The company required a fresh new space, which celebrated their rapidly growing business, and turned to ThirdWay Interiors to challenge the conventional ‘corporate’ workplace in the heart of this financial hub.
We meet with Chad West, Head of Global Marketing & Communications for Revolut, and ThirdWay’s Rameez Raja, who was the lead designer here on the 4th floor at Westferry Circus.
Taking a seat in the large, open, central breakout space, we begin by asking Chad about Revolut’s real estate history. ‘We were previously on Level 39 at Canary Wharf, so it’s quite a leap from the white walls and desks of an incubator space to this! We were mixed as to where we wanted to be. A lot of our people don’t live out here – but we didn’t want to be ‘another start-up in Shoreditch’.
We quite liked the idea of a tech start-up company being in the middle of all the big banks. There were also practical considerations – we have a lot of partners, vendors and regulators nearby. We were also looking at Liverpool Street and the City, but what really tipped it in the end was that Canary Wharf Group were very keen to keep us here. They are trying to create a real FinTech hub here, so they were very good at giving us good rates, special deals etc. We also knew that, if we continued to grow and wanted a bigger space, there were options to expand here – we can expand into the space directly below, which is ideal.
‘The only negative about moving into here was that there was simply so much to be done. We had to start from scratch effectively.’
‘This was shell and floor,’ Rameez explains, ‘which was good in one way because we were able to design it alongside the developer.’
“Everyone who works here is from tech – none of us have a financial background and we’re still doing finance better than people who do have financial backgrounds”
‘We always liked the industrial look and knew we wanted concrete and metal – so when we saw the exposed ceilings and the concrete pillars, we felt it had that natural industrial feel that we were looking for,’ Chad continues.
‘It’s quite exciting to be working on a space that is still organically growing,’ Rameez adds. ‘Revolut are currently working on their own rebranding, so we’re gradually introducing that into this space in terms of the finishes, the colours and the artwork.
‘This open central space is how they want to work and connect. You can see people just hanging out here, working on their laptops, having informal meetings etc. Revolut really wanted a single floorplate – they wanted everyone to be together. When they first came to us they were only 40 people, so when they first moved in here it felt empty. Now it’s full – and we are already talking about bringing in extra desks.
‘Revolut is a FinTech business – and this intentionally looks and feels more like a tech business than a bank. The financial companies are now trying to compete with the tech guys for talent – but the traditional financials are quite a long way behind this, certainly in terms of technology.’
‘We are a tech business,’ Chad tells us. ‘Everyone who works here is from tech – none of us have a financial background and we’re still doing finance better than people who do have financial backgrounds. You won’t see suits and ties, you won’t see bureaucratic process and layers of red tape – we’ve got a very free, autonomous culture.
Our people are extremely driven and hard working. You go to most banks and they’re empty by 5.30pm. It’s just a job for those guys. What we’re building here at Revolut is a billion dollar company – and everyone here has equity in the company.
There’s a real culture and attitude here that other companies just don’t have.
‘There’s genuine flexibility to how we work here. There are some people who don’t like mornings, so they come in late and work late into the evening. That’s one of the great things about Revolut; you fit your life around your work. As long as you get your work done, you can work how you want to – and that goes for everyone. The culture here is simply way different.
‘The space we were previously in was simply depressing – even though everyone was still buzzing and loving what the business was all about. It felt like a call centre – with grey carpets and rows of desks. A good office space reflects your culture. When you’re asking someone to spend 12-13 hours a day in a workplace, imagine the difference that makes to them when it’s a great location. That’s why we’ve brought in cool sofas, breakout spaces, beanbags, state-of-theart kitchens…we want people to feel happy and healthy, and it’s also a massive appeal whenever we bring external people in. When we interview people, they want to work here! We’re now inundated with community tech groups who want to host their events here – and, like I said, it’s a massive boost for the people who already work here and for attracting new people.’
So how did Chad and the team first connect with ThirdWay? ‘We had a few out to tender,’ Chad recalls. ‘Most of them gave us the usual spiel. From our perspective, ThirdWay was the company who was most proactive in terms of proposing solutions based on our culture and what we stand for. Other companies were more focused on telling us what they’d done for other people!’
The result of this collaboration is a fresh, unique space that goes hand in hand with the new direction that the Revolut brand was looking to move towards. The brief, we’re told, was for ‘an Italian-chic style that boasts raw yet sophisticated elements’. The colour scheme is primarily monochrome, to enhance the industrial aesthetics, whilst pops of colour, incorporated into furniture and fabrics, refine the design. The ceiling was left exposed to promote the building’s core and sprayed black in the central breakout area, deliberately allowing this space to differentiate and separate from the rest of the floorplate.
Including fun elements to the newly designed office, which align with the new direction the brand is moving towards, was a key part of the project. We find a number of eye-catching bespoke neon signs, set in unique concrete blocks, while a brilliant feature wall, created from newspaper cuttings of global influential leaders and inspirational people, acts as a backdrop to the ‘Never Settle’ neon sign in the breakout area.
‘The branding really brings the space to life,’ Rameez tells us. ‘These guys really understood the importance and value that it would bring to the project.’
“We quite liked the idea of a tech start-up company being in the middle of all the big banks”
Other key parts of the project include black metal Crittall windows throughout, a high-bench reception/concierge desk, a fantastic kitchen area, with very possibly the longest breakfast bar we’ve encountered and flexible furniture solutions, which allow various areas to be multifunctional.
The main working areas lie at either end of the floorplate, and are cleverly aligned and screened from the buzz of the central breakout space. When Chad mentioned that the culture here is free and non-hierarchical, he wasn’t kidding, as we spot Revolut’s founders busily working in the heart of the open workplace. No ivory towers here.
As we say our goodbyes, Chad points out the vending machine in the lobby, which on closer inspection is actually a Revolut card vending machine dispenser. Welcome to the future of Canary Wharf!
ThirdWay Interiors (Rameez Raja)
Interface, Forbo Flooring Systems, Tarkett, Bolon
Kabe, Camira, bespoke joinery by Edward Williams
Workstories, Humanscale, Hitch Mylius, Norr11, New Design Group, Connection, Orangebox, Narbutas, Spacestor