WealthTech in Latin America: Just the beginning

When you think about Latinoamerican countries, you believe that most of Fintechs can solve the problem of Financial inclusion as in other developing countries. In fact, wealthtech in Latin America is also a way to reach financial inclusion. Any kind of investment practice is considered an activity of wealthy people. With the rise of Robo-advisors fintechs, Latinoamerican people can be more involved in investment activities and think outside the box or outside the saving account.

I would like to start with Brazil, where Magnetis, the first Robo Advisor of Latin America was born in 2012. Later, Verios joined the robo-advisor team and today they are the two Fintechs leading the transformation of how investments are done in the country. These Fintechs focused on small investors that today face the problem of paying high administration fees and a lack of tools to monitor the investment results. In addition, to that they resolve the latent discomfort related to brokers who are more focused on reaching commercial goals instead of caring about customers’ needs. Robo-advisors Fintechs in Brazil are democratizing investment access to more customers that did not dare to reach a broker and do have the money to invest. They convey the message that investments can be done by everybody. According to the Investor Pulse 2015 survey, Brazilian millenials are very interested to use this type of solution (74% of surveyed). Having a young population, we expect in a short future a higher adhesion to this new model of investment. In response to this movement, current incumbents are adapting themselves to the technology and try to create their own solutions. The local wealthtech landscape become more complex offering new solutions. For example, Robo-advisors do serve local traders. Finally, I started with Brazil because, it was the pioneer in the Latin American landscape but today Mexico and Colombia have also developed their local robo-advisors solution. The WealthTech is disrupting the financial inclusion concept in the continent.

Thank you to assess my extract at the www.wealthtechbook.com to write a deeper analysis of fintechs in the wealth management world of Latin America.

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2017: Latin America, you can be the exception of the global trend.

The end of the year accumulated several duties and the beginning of the year was quite busy and I do apologize to stop writing for a while but now I am ready to catch up the time lost.Let’s start quickly: the end of the year and a new 2017.

The end of 2016 was quite positive for the Fintech ecosystem in Latin America.Here you have some numbers:

  • # of Fintechs in Brazil: 206 according to the Fintechlab
  • #of Fintechs in Mexico: 158 according to Finnovista
  • #of Fintechs in Colombia: 77 according to Finnovista
  • #of Fintechs in Argentina: 60 according to Finnovista
  • #of Fintechs in Chile: 56 according to Finnovista

In 2016, investments in Latin American Fintechs increased (here you have some examples):

  • For Brazil: Nubank (USD 132M), GuiaBolso (USD 20M) and BankFacil (USD 5M)
  • For Mexico: Kueski (USD 10M), Konfio (USD 8M) and Kubo Financiero (USD 7.5M)
  • For Colombia: Alkanza (USD 3M)

Now in 2017, we know that the number of Fintechs in each country have already increased, governments started structured themselves to learn to deal with Fintechs, Fintech associations has been created (Colombia and Argentina) and even the investors organized themselves to follow better the Fintech growth. In January 2017, new investments were done in the region, Ripio (old BitPago) from Argentina received USD 1.9M and Asaas from Brazil got USD 0.8M.

2017 started positively. Trends? Robo Advisors, Blockchain, Regtech…not really I believe more on Insurtech in the region. Big Insurance companies will finally follow the path that Banks started last year and will learn to deal with insurtechs and new technologies related (IoT for example) to reach a population that do not have an insurance culture.

Challenges? A lot! Regulation, higher investments for mature fintechs, scale, more early stage investments …

Banks will finally go beyond observation…will they finally buy one Fintech, two? why not.

International investments should grow because economic situation in most countries of Latin America is improving.

Finally, and my only certitude, Latin America is not the US or Europe. So if the “booming” of the Fintech sector slowed down there, it does not mean that Latin America will follow the same trend. Fintechs are solving issues that big organizations and even some governments did not want to deal locally. On the other hand, customers seem finally ready to use digital solutions. So  initiatives and projects that can finally change a continent should not be stopped and we should work to foster the fintech culture in the region (in English, Spanish or Portuguese). These are my best wishes for 2017!

 

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Source: The Economist 2017

 

 

Blockchain Hackaton…a point to start

I think that the inflexion moment was the Davos conference of January 2016. The WEF had the delightful task to open the eyes of most of international bank leaders about a technology that can disrupt the financial services sector and beyond. The rocket took off after this event and since, most of international banks have created a blockchain department in their organizations to search more about this technology that disturbs banks and insurers.

Personally, I still believe that I am a beginner about blockchain and still need to investigate more about the technology… I mean “Blockchain revolution” book is on the top of my literary shopping list.

But as we need to start small, this is an opportunity to write about an event that happened some weeks ago in Sao Paulo, the first international Blockchain Hackaton. The event was organized by the Blockchain Center with the support of Ewally, Accenture and Bradesco. Let’s start, what is the Blockchain Center? Some months ago, the fintech community of Sao Paulo opened a space where startups using blockchain technology and bitcoins can work together, where events related to blockchain can be organized and where anybody who is interested in the technology can go to.

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Robert Schwenteker – Blockchain University

 

Robert Schwentker, head of the Blockchain University in L.A, was present to mentor during the event. He has already organized and participated in several blockchain hackatons around the world and this was his first time in Latin America.

During a day and a half, developers and business people worked on solutions that use this technology and can bring money. To start the journey, several key actors of the Brazilian blockchain and bitcoin community made some presentations to immerge the audience into the blockchain world. Robert Schwentker presented a high level understanding of blockchain, how it is disrupting our current world and some possible solutions that can emerge from this technology.

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Joao Paulo Oliveira and Elias Rodrigues – Foxbit

 

Then Foxbit, the biggest bitcoin broker in Brazil took the stage to present its business and sharing some programming features from its platform with the developers.

IBM had also shared its knowledge about blockchain and went further on the programming tools to provide some guidance. Then Rippex, the gateway of Ripple in Brazil gave some examples of the use of blockchain in financial transactions. For your information, Ripple is the famous startup that uses financial technology to facilitate international payments in real time. Why I am saying “famous” because Santander is one of its clients and has become the gold weapon to disrupt the international remittance market. Finally, the last presentation of the day was performed by OriginalMy. Edilson Osorio, its founder, is quite a reference of blockchain in the country and one of the first ones to use the technology beyond the banking industry. He did a clever comparison of blockchain and Pokemon Go to understand the use of the technology and provided programming tips to the audience. Why to complicate when it can be as easy as capturing a pokemon.

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Edilson Osorio – OriginalMy

 

Then, the moment of ideas came out. Several people in the audience suggested a list of initiatives (from solutions for the medical sector to financial inclusion) and Robert S. helped to moderate the creative moment. I said “creative” moment because when you have to start to put that on reality, challenges are harder and we need to reshape the initial project. The three teams that arrived to the final were: a crowdfunding using blockchain, a certification system of diplomas using the technology and a voting system for building management. The final winner was “CertMe”, a solution that authenticate university diplomas on blockchain.

During this journey, I want to highlight some important points:

  • Several developers that attended did not know programming in blockchain and had to learn in the moment.
  • 98% of the participants were men
  • I met a faculty girl student at the hackaton. She participated to dig more on blockchain because she heard that mastering this technology will warranty her a job within the big banks for the coming years.
  • The final solutions presented were not disruptive rather general but let’s be realistic, it is the first hackaton in the city. Several people discovered blockchain and had to deliver a solution in a day and a half. It was a short time to take a disruptive approach.
  • Developers stated that there is still a lack of documentation about programming with blockchain on the internet. Big companies as Microsoft or IBM should facilitate materials (in every language) and environments to push developers feel comfortable with the technology.

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In a previous event, I heard that “blockchain is like sex for teenagers, everybody talks but nobody does nothing”. Well, we still have a long way to ride but I would say that this was a good beginning. Developers rolled up their sleeves and started experimenting what is programming with blockchain. We need more events like this in order to create among the coders the curiosity to learn more about the technology. Blockchain is the future and we cannot be left behind now that the global movement has started.

Thank you Robert Schwentker and Blockchain Center for organizing the event.

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Searching innovation… go to the Innovators Summit in Brazil

Some weeks ago, Sao Paulo hosted the Innovators Summit Event gathering international and national speakers. This was the second year that the event took place in Sao Paulo. For one day and a half, attendants immerge in the new trends of innovation within an organization and within several sectors.

Technologies were presented and discussed during the event showing the potential that can be reached if we implement that in Brazil. The different panels were meant to induce attendants to look for innovation thinking outside the box and also learning how to boost innovation when you work in a big company. To sum up there is no more a reverse way, innovation has to be in our companies whatever the size and organizations need to learn how to accept it and seed this new state of mind in all the levels of the hierarchy.

Obviously, if we talk about new trends, panels about fintechs and blockchain have to be presented.

To start, we had the presence of Robert Schwentker from the Blockchain University. It is a university in California that provides blockchain related technical classes and organizes events for developers and the startup community. For beginners, the presentation was a great material to educate the public to the world of bitcoins and blockchain, in few words it is a sort of new internet where all transactions are transparent and we can ensure traceability and therefore safety. Several countries are creating new solutions using this technology and even the World Economic Forum recognized it as a disruptive technology of the future. Xapo and Ewally are South American examples of startup using the blockchain technology. In fact, Robert emphaticized that now we are going to the next level of the technology creating more complex solutions linking blockchain to internet of things or artificial intelligence for example. More organizations have realized the potential of this technology and companies as Citigroup has created its own cryptocurrency and consortiums were created as R3. Blockchain is starting to invade financial products (wallets, investments, merchants, financial data, payroll , insurance…) and big organizations cannot missed it anymore.

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Coinbase also spoke out at the event to depth in the discussion of bitcoins. Coinbase is a digital asset exchange company headquartered in San Francisco, California. It is a global leader in digital currency, and present in 33 countries. There are still some controversies about the real success of bitcoins but its volume and usage are growing globally. Sam Rosemblum, from CoinBase insisted that regulators will be the key drivers to accept the existence and advantages to use a digital currency. He mentioned for example Japan as a model about openness and acceptance of bitcoins and saluted Brazil regulators to start investigating and learning about digital currencies.

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Finally, there was a conversation with Kay Schmitz from IFC and its investments in Latam and Africa. IFC has performed high level investments in fintechs, by mid-2015, it had invested over $180 million in equity and debt in early- and growth-stage fintech companies around the globe and Latin America is becoming a more attractive place. Kay considers that in the next 5 years (maybe less) the role of banks will definitively change, going beyond credit and deposits…As a specialist of fintechs, he confirms that cooperation of banks and fintechs is crucial and productive to attend client  needs  (from millennials to baby boomers). In Brazil, he sees great potential on fintechs providing loans because the credit penetration is low in the country and has the highest net margins in the world.

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Kay points out Mexico as the second country of fintechs in Latam due to the size of the market and a high need of credit for all the population. Then he mentioned Colombia and Peru, emerging countries which focus on financial inclusion. To conclude, banks are confronting big challenges in the close future because digitalization is imminent but still do have a big number of clients that refuse or are in the transition period to stick to an agency. In addition to that, customers claim convenience and customization so banks have to invest in user experience too. How to find the balance between modernization and old structures? … Unfortunately, there is no a sole answer.

To finalize speakers recognize that Brazil has a special place in the heart of investors, (besides economics figures and political disappointment), it is quite difficult to not like this country. These are encouraging words for every Brazilian startup and a chance to not miss with international investors.

I would like to thank +Innovators and CI&T for the event because they did choose carefully the speakers and it is great to listen new points of view about the fintech environment in Brazil, its positioning worldwide and of course its potential.

Thank You +Innovators and CI&T and we look forward the next year with more innovations (certainly not yet discovered) in the agenda.

 

 

 

Seedstars in Brazil and the winner is…

I would like to write about an international initiative that arrived in Sao Paulo two weeks ago and is travelling around Latin America.

Seedstars organizes the world’s biggest startup competition in emerging markets, visiting 65 countries to find the best national startup that will later go to Switzerland. On April 2017, all the winners will be gathered in Lausanne to share a unique experience and participate to the competition of the global winner.  The last year, the global winner was Giraffe, a South African mobile application that enables businesses to hire medium skilled staff faster and cheaper than any other recruitment network and also connects job seekers to these opportunities.

Romulo and Julianne are the regional leaders for Latin America and they have the hard mission to travel around most of South American countries to find out the best national startups. The job looks quite appealing but there is a lot of work behind: searching about each ecosystem, connecting with local influencers and organizing the events in every country (usually in a very short time).

After a national call for applications, the team has the difficult task to select 10 startups that will participate to the final local selection. For Brazil, there was one final in Sao Paulo and then another one in Rio de Janeiro to select the best startup of the country. Two days before the competition, the 10 selected startups were invited to receive a session of mentorship with the organizers and some of the sponsors, Swissnex and Grant Thorton. The goal of this session is to give some advices to prepare the pitches and to provide some guidance about the search of investments, one of the most difficult tasks in the life of a startup. The final of Sao Paulo was organized at the Google Campus Sao Paulo, to keep the spirit of technology and entrepreneurship …of course. Besides the pitches of each startup, two panels were presented during the event. The first one was a presentation of Aliança Empreendedora that showcased the evolution of its activities boosting social entrepreneurship and empowering women entrepreneurs. The second panel was a discussion about financial inclusion in Brazil and Latin America. It was a great conversation about diverse initiatives abroad, mainly in Africa and Asia and the beginning of some interesting projects in Latin America too as Compartamos in Mexico and Bim in Peru. The panel was composed by the ex CEO of Payleven, the Director of Marketing from PayU, the head of Innovation of Accenture and the founder of Avante. I wanted to give a special remark for Avante because it is a great Brazilian example of financial inclusion that can disrupt the local market. This startup has recently acquired Sling, an Israeli fintech that provides mobile financial services to small entrepreneurs. I do certainly expect a rapid growth and impact of this startup for the coming years. One interesting point highlighted is that beyond an excellent technology, the human contact is very important to penetrate the market of the unbanked people. I do agree with this point because technology will help a lot to fill the gaps of the current financial institutions but human contact will still be crucial to convince low income people that financial services worth it and can really beneficiate them.

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Going back to the competition, the finalists of the Sao Paulo event were: MGov Brasil / EduqMais , MeuCambio, QueroQuitar, ToGarantido, IU, Foxbit, MeuTicket, Veerbet, Mecasei.com and ReacHR. All of them presented a great pitch of their startups and answered the questions of the jury that was composed by investors, sponsors and the organization committee. …And the winners were:

  • Foxbit, a bitcoin broker, had a special recognition for having the most “likes” on the social medias during the event.
  • MGov Brasil / EduqMais, the winner for the education prize is a SMS platform for school-family/parents communication and engagement to foster participation in children education.
  • GoodTicket, the winner of the second place, is a solution uses the cellphone to do the payment and the reception of meal vouchers.
  • QueroQuitar, the winner of Sao Paulo, is a platform that modernizes the collection process using technology to alleviate and empower the debtor during this painful journey.

 

togarantido

 

After the final of Sao Paulo, Juliane and Romulo went to Rio for the finals of the country. For this last Brazilian competition, Bit.one won the second place. Bit.one is a platform that uses blockchain technology to perform payments (gateway, wallet, pre-paid cards, trade-exchange…).  And finally the competition in Rio confirmed the national winner, QueroQuitar. Natalia Alexandria, the representative of QueroQuitar will fly to Argentina in November for the regional summit and then to Switzerland next year to join the international network of Seedstars national winners. Great work Natalia and good luck for the next steps!

One of the sponsors of the event was PayU who will also support the events in Argentina, Mexico and Colombia. As you may know PayU is an international leading online payment service provider dedicated to create an efficient payment process for merchants and buyers. As an International fintech, PayU is involved in initiatives to boost the fintech and startups ecosystem. Present in 7 countries of Latin America, we celebrate when fintechs contribute to the development of innovation in Latin America.

Following the itinerary, nexts stops of Seedstars Latam are Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Panama and Santo Domingo. Keep tuned for the dates if you want to apply to some of the countries.

As Juliane and Romulo, there are other Seedstars ambassadors travelling around Africa, Asia and Europe searching for disruptive startups. Where do they find this energy? According to Juliane, the team shares the values of any entrepreneur: proactivity, autonomy and passion for their work.  Certainly, thanks to these teams, Seedstars has become a reference of innovation and startups knowledge within the emerging markets.

All the winners can be happy to go to Switzerland to meet the Seedstars teams and investors. But more than that, nothing can compare the amazing experience of meeting the other founders: from Nepal, Bolivia, Korea, Brazil, Nigeria and 60 more countries…after all, diversity always brings more innovation.

Great job Seedstars!

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Fintechs from Brazil: Bankfacil (BKF)

From now on, I will write small presentations of fintechs that are disrupting and creating impact in their country. Besides the description of the product, I would like to provide the why and the how, founders arrived to this path in order to present both sides of a startup. For this post, let’s start with the basic product of a financial institution: a loan.

Every good story starts with a problem…

And yes, when we talk about loans in Brazil, we do have a problem. To get a loan in Brazil is very expensive. Brazil is the third country in the world with the highest real interest rates (source: Worldbank). We tend to say that Brazilians are all indebted, even more than the US. In fact, that is not true. The amount of debt is lower but the monthly payments are higher due to the interest rates. As a result, Brazilians remain with a long debt burden difficult to control in the future.

A solution please!

There is a way to offer credit cheaper. Widely offered abroad by banks, the credit with collateral is not very famous in the Brazilian market. This product was not offered by the banks in Brazil because it reduces their margins (high interest rates loans are more attractive). Knowing that most of the active population in Brazil owns a car or a house, a significant part of the population could beneficiate with this product. For a consumer loan, in general you pay 4.47% to 8.14% of monthly interests to a financial institution. With BankFacil, interest rates start since 1.05% per month. Using digital channels, BankFacil assesses your information and collateral and then offers you the best conditions for the loan. Of course, using technology reduces also the general cost of the service that’s why BankFacil services are rather appealing for the customer compared to the ones’ from financial institutions. The customer does not pay anything for the service. BankFacil receives its commission from the financial organization behind the loan.

Is the market ready to adopt this product?

The target public is Brazilians who need a loan and own homes and cars but aren’t using them as collaterals. This market in Brazil represents a collective debt of R$ 178.7B ($52.2B USD) across credit card financing, personal loans and overdraft fees (source WSJ). Getting a loan in an inexpensive and easy way seems exactly what Brazilian population needs, specially now with a difficult political -economic situation.

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BankFacil desk

Who started this project?

I had the opportunity to meet Sergio Furió, founder and CEO of BankFacil. He is Spanish and came to Brazil to follow his girlfriend, today wife. In fact, she made him discover the reality of financial services in Brazil (quite different of what he saw abroad) and with that he found out a big opportunity. It is a solution that existed and was not correctly explored in the country and today can solve a latent pain of several Brazilians.

Sergio has a background of finance and consulting. He worked for Deutsche Bank and BCG in Spain and the US before coming to Brazil. I thought that to be a foreign entrepreneur in Brazil is very difficult. But he told me that before to move in he prepared himself searching the market and looking for contacts in the country for mentoring or potential partners. Once in Brazil, and even reaching with the right people, to be an entrepreneur is not an easy path for anyone.

The company started in 2012 and it took two years to get a first investment. In 2015, the startup received the support of Redpoint e.ventures and Accion’s Frontier Investment. With 80-90 employees today, BankFacil plans at least to double the number of employees for the end of the year. I asked him if he had a purpose when he created the start-up. He told me that he looks for fairness within the financial services. Financial services products are needed by everybody and financial institutions should provide fair fees/interests to a population that needs and cares about their money.

One month ago, BankFacil was chosen to participate to the Google Launchpad Accelerator program for 6 months (San Francisco and Sao Paulo). We certainly expect some surprises from BankFacil after this experience.

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BankFacil values

A short story …

Last week, I took an Uber Pool in Sao Paulo. The person with who I was sharing the car was the wife of a startup investor. During the ride, I was telling her that her husband should have a look on fintech startups that offer the same products as banks and with lower fees/interests. We drop her first and then the Uber driver asked me to explain him better what is fintech because he needed a loan and interest rates were very high with his bank. I asked him if he was the owner of the car, he said yes. I just answered BankFacil. I gave him the site and explained him very quickly the process. When I left the car, he told me that he will definitively try it.

Solutions that bring new and transparent alternatives to deal with population money deserve to be communicated or broadcast…after all, that’s why we love fintechs.

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Addendum: On 06/16/2016, BankFacil announced that Kaszek Ventures became a new investor of the startup. Thus, BankFacil joins the fintechs Nubank, Guiabolso and Konfio that already are part of the Kaszek Ventures portfolio. Congratulations BankFacil!

Viva Mexico! Viva!

With a population of 120 million people, Mexico is the Latin America’s second largest economy (growth of 2.5% in 2015). The country who is “so far from god and so close to the US” according to Porfirio Diaz, knew how take advantage of its strategic position when we are talking about Fintech.

Personally, I thought that being so close to the US could corrupt the startup culture in Mexico opting for the easy path and doing copy/paste of American solutions. I am happily surprised that it is not the case. Mexico has a tradition of innovation and creativity along its history and its entrepreneurs pulled out solutions from its own culture and reality to solve latent problems. So let’s roll out the carpet for Fintech.

In Mexico, 60% of population is unbanked and only 20% have a credit card. Fintech appears as the best solution to finally solve the unbanked issue. In a country where cash is dominant and people prefer to save money under the mattress, banks had real difficulties to get them on board. Fintech companies have great challenges in front of them: educate the unbanked people about financial services and give them confidence using technology.

In order to help them in this mission, several initiatives were created by international programs, accelerators and incubators. For example, Village Capital and Accion Venture Lab partnered with Mastercard Center for inclusive growth, Pomona Impact and United IT Consultants created a program to support entrepreneurs making financial services more affordable and accessible for Mexicans who lack access to traditionalU financial services. This program of three months started in 2015 and recruited 12 ventures. At the end of the program, two peer-selected enterprises received USD 50.000 in investment each. The winners last year were:

  • BillPocket: a payment facilitator for more than 5.500 Mexican merchants using their mobile points of sale.
  • Credilikeme: an online lending platform that uses facebook to reach, analyze and engage borrowers.

The inscriptions for this year were already closed and we are waiting to know the selected startups.

Accion Venture Lab is an investment initiative that provides seed capital and support to innovative financial inclusion start-ups improving financial access for people living in poverty worldwide. In his current portfolio, there are 4 Mexican startups:

  • Clip combines a card reader plug-in for smartphones with innovative back-end risk management platform to enable nearly any merchant in Mexico to accept credit cards.
  • Konfio is an online lending platform that uses innovative credit algorithms an alternative data analysis to help microbusinesses in Mexico who do not have access to credit obtain affordable working capital loans.
  • Salud Facil offers low income customers access to affordable credit to cover their healthcare and medical costs in Mexico.
  • Quippi aims to replace high priced traditional remittances to families in Mexico with PIN-based gift cards redeemable at local retailers (grocers, clothing stores, convenience stores…).

Fintechs also saw opportunities in the recurrent problems that Mexicans living in the US face sending remittances to the country. These solutions demand work and involvement in both countries. This is a door opened for Americans to be involved in the solutions, as partners or investors for example.

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Clip at the Venture Capital Conference – Alianza del Pacífico

 

BBVA, the bank that “embraces the disruptive power of Fintech” is present in Mexico and through its BBVA Innovation Center, or #Piso33, it organizes events to boost innovation and technology in the Mexican Community. BBVA Bancomer has disrupted the financial services market in the country with the launching of several digital products first (digital wallet or hiring car insurance through an app).

On September 2015, the Finnosummit took place in Mexico for the second year. 350 participants of the Fintech community attended to explore with the 25 international speakers the future of the Fintech industry. The final of the BBVA Open Talent in Latin America occurred during this event with 12 finalists, among them there were some Mexican ones:

  • Openpay has an API that allows companies to accept and end payment to clients and vendors through internet and mobile phones.
  • ZaveApp helps you to reach your goals saving money without thinking about. You save without fees, easy, quick and fun.

On 20/09/2016, we will have the third edition of the Finnosummit at Mexico City. For more information, you can click here.

This year, Innotribe announced its first partnership with SWIFT’s Latam Regional Conference (LARC) to harness innovation happening in the region. The event will be organized in Mexico City from 28-29th june 2016.  Innotribe will select 12 startups to enter the startup challenge, showcase their products at the event and receive expert coaching and mentoring. The three finalists will attend the SWIFT’s annual global financial services conference, held in Geneva where they will share the stage with Fintech experts and representatives from leading financial institutions worldwide. For more information please click here.

If we talk about Fintech, we cannot ignore bitcoin and blockchain, the technology that is disrupting banks. In December 2015, the laBITconf took place in Mexico DF, gathering more than 300 attendants and 40 international speakers as Andreas Antonoupoulos and José Rodríguez, from Bitso, bitcoin pioneer in the country. Bitso is a Mexican bitcoin exchange that has recently acquired Unisend Mexico in an attempt to become the leading bitcoin exchange in the country. The conference shows the involvement of Mexico in the international ecosystem of digital currencies. Bitcoin seems very promising as a solution for the Mexico’s remittance market and cross border payments.

To consolidate all the initiatives and activities happening in the country, in October 2015 the Mexican association of Fintech, “FINTECH México”, was created. This association intends to create a collaborative environment boosting innovation and also union in front of important actors of the ecosystem as regulators and big companies. With a focus on 5 key areas (education, technology, research, regulation and networking), they plan to make the Mexican Fintech community stronger locally and internationally. This week, the association was awarded as one top brand influencer at the Innovate Finance Global Summit 2016.

At the Venture Capital conference of the Alianza del Pacifico in March 2016, Mexico congratulated and encouraged for more work of the four countries (Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru) to attract more investments in the region. After all, the four countries together have a bigger market than Brazil.

Today, there should be more than 100 Fintech companies in the country but this number should grow quickly (in 2020, 63% of mobiles in the country will be smartphones). Mexico brings an ocean of opportunities for digitalization and innovation in financial services that we expect to really change the financial landscape of the country.

Mexico is “so close to the US” (easy access to US knowledge of Fintechs, international American speakers/influencers go easily to its territory, interest of American investors…) but above all is a Latino American country so he can play a leading role in the spanish speaking community.

We expect to hear more about Fintech Mexico activities and successful histories, especially related to financial inclusion. Because as Cristine Lagarde, IMF secretary, said once “Mexico can become the inspiration for the rest of the world to “dare to dream.””

 

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Challenge accepted! Build a fintech in a weekend

On the weekend of 18th – 20th March, I had the opportunity to participate to the StartUp Weekend Fintech in Sao Paulo. As a Fintech follower, I wanted to be part of the event to experiment the steps of an entrepreneur. It is not easy. You have 54 hours to create a startup, with a team that you meet on the same day, and deliver a validated MVP on Sunday night. I was ready to spend an interesting weekend.

My first surprises came up just before that Friday night. Reading about the organization of the event, I found out that two sponsors of the event were BM&F Bovespa (Brazilian stock exchange) and XP investimentos (largest independent investment company in Brazil). The support of these two big financial organizations to the event shows the commitment to see the Fintech industry grow in the country. The Stock Exchange would be certainly happy to witness some Fintech IPOs and investors are avid to identify some Fintech unicorns in the Brazilian landscape. We are also waiting for that…

On Friday 18th, the event took place at the Brazilian stock exchange building that gathered 120 people for the 2nd startup weekend Fintech. The facilities were amazing and helped thrill the audience to get involved in the development of financial solutions during the weekend. It is not a game, it is serious work!

More than 40 pitches with ideas of businesses were presented at the beginning by people from the audience. Finally, only 18 were selected and teams were put together. The tools to overcome the weekend were the canvas and the lean methodology. Not all the audience was used to these methodologies but the facilitators took a time to explain and teach a bit about.

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First of all, the organization team did a great job calling financial services expert mentors. We had people from big companies (banks, brokers) and Fintech founders (asset management…) who were available to answer all our questions and give some advices about the product, market and how to deal with the clients. Something very important for Fintech events is the presence of lawyers, experts on regulation. You can have an excellent idea or clients can validate it because you are solving their problems. But if the idea does not attend the regulation 1111 from the “financial services holly book” of the country, you cannot do anything. When you have projects involving asset management, exchange rate transactions, blockchain, insurance and more in the room, you need some experts on the deal. That’s clue in the Fintech world, experts on regulation are fundamental when building a Fintech because you have a big risk to close the startup, pay a fine or even go to prison…

Our idea evolved during the weekend. Potential users were interviewed in the street who validated the solution or gave us more insights and ideas about their problems and possible solutions. In fact, that is the magic of the event and the blood of any startup: be able to change rapidly to alleviate user pains.

At the end of the event, every team had to perform a three minutes pitch in front of a jury to present the solution. Again the jury was compounded by well recognized personalities from the investment ecosystem in Sao Paulo.

The event ended up with three winners, that in fact reflects what is disrupting in Brazil right now. …And the winners are:

  • Garanfia: an online platform that sells insurance bails to tenants considering their risk profile. Today insurance bails are sold exclusively by few big companies. This solution intends to offer a more competitive and customized product in order to offer new alternatives to the user.
  • Pague o Basico: an online platform addressed to the population with low income to pay utility bills in a convenient way (prepaid card). This Fintech focuses on financial inclusion allowing the user to feel more comfortable with its payment activities.
  • BC Stock: a platform to negotiate stocks of privately held firms using blockchain technology. This highlights the increasing curiosity of the Brazilian market for blockchain. Someone from the Fintech community suggested organizing a startup weekend only about bitcoin and blockchain. What do you think?

One of the sponsors of the event was Educity, a startup that promotes financial education using gamification. Educity won the first Fintech Startup weekend Sao Paulo in 2014. Since then, the startup grew up participating in accelerator programs, looking for mentors and some investors. They are launching their beta version now and they are very active in the Brazilian Fintech community. Why do they organize the Startup Fintech Weekend this year? To give back and share what they learnt. Their example helps to motivate all the teams to go ahead with their ideas, if they really believe it. As Educity team mentioned, now it is just the beginning, it depends how we will do the next steps to ensure the creation and success of the startup.

On Monday, the financial press of the country dedicated several articles about the event: to sum-up the event was a success. Again, this is another example that Fintech is alive in Brazil. The startup Fintech weekend allowed gather big names of the finance environment, current actors of the Fintech community, regulation experts, IT experts and 120 participants that want to dig more about disruption in financial services.

I highly advise to organize this event in the cities. It is a big opportunity to reinforce the Fintech community and welcome potential new entrants. The field work during this weekend showed a certainty, users are unsatisfied with the financial services that they use today…now it is our turn to work on the solutions.

Thank you to BM&F Bovespa, XP Investimentos, EduCity, NextBank and Techstars. Great event!

Note: I was part of the team Pague o Basico. Now, the real work is just starting but I am sure that you will hear more from the team soon.

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Colombia and its wildest imagination

Colombia is famous for its salsa dance, its coffee and is considered one of the happiest countries in the world. Some weeks ago, it was also recognized as one of the fintech entrepreneurship hubs in Latin America. Indeed, Colombia has recently worked to build a technological and innovative environment to boost the creation of startups and of course fintech.

The country has a solid economy with a growth above 3% for 2015 and a better estimation for 2016. By 2015, it became the 4th largest economy in Latin America. Some years ago, the government decided to invest in developing the technology and innovation sector, setting up the country as one of the region’s strongest. The ambition is high with challenging goals. By 2018, the government expects to have 63% of the country connected to broadband. And according to 2015 GSMA figures, out of a population of 48.6 million people, there are 26.1 million users of internet in the country and 51 million mobile connections. Tom Phillips, Chief Regulatory Officer from GSMA, states that Colombia is one of the fastest growing mobile markets in Latin America. The Colombian government has also launched the “Vive Digital” program to make internet accessible to the poorer households. As part of this program they developed the App.co program to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country. App.co has already taught 50,000 people how to code. For 2018, it is planned to reach 90,000 people. In 2010, 10% of small companies had access to internet. In 2015, 60.6% of small companies do online transactions for their business (source datexco). Moreover, several private and governmental organizations emerged to educate and provide support to Colombian entrepreneurs, as for example Innpulsa, RutaN, la corporacion Colombia digital. The effort has paid and Colombia was considered by the world economic forum as one of the leaders on entrepreneurial ambition and innovation.

Big companies contribute to the entrepreneurial and innovative development of the country too. Talking about Fintech, BBVA Bank is one of the most active actors in the ecosystem. The Spanish bank has opened its first center of innovation in Bogota. This space presents the last innovations of the bank in technology and also organizes opened events related to entrepreneurship and digital technology. The bank is an unconditional worldwide supporter of fintechs. Every year, the BBVA organizes the BBVA open talent in three parts of the world: Latin and Central America, Europe and North America. This is a competition where the bank looks for innovative projects, products or beta-versions related to Financial Services (i.e. Big Data, security, e-commerce…). The winners participate in a 2 weeks program to meet high net worth people from technology and finance and executives of the bank. The goal is to start developing a project with the bank where both parts are winners. In the last edition, 180,000 euros were distributed among the 6 winners. In the South and Central America 2015 session, there were 196 participants and Colombia was the most represented country with 57 applications. For more information about the 2016 session, please click here.

On February 16th 2016, the Finnosummit event occurred in Bogota to discuss about Fintech in Latam. The main topics discussed during the event were Fintech opportunities and innovation, financial inclusion, blockchain and regulation. The Finnosummit event is organized by Finnovista, an international organization that accelerates the development of startups focused on digital financial services and empowers the fintech ecosystem worldwide. 260 people attended the event gathering entrepreneurs, investors, financial entities, consultants and organizations of development from all Latin America. During the conference, the Finnosummit challenge took place: a pitch competition among 9 fintechs previously selected by Finnovista. The winners were Aflore and Alegra. Let’s keep them in mind because they promise to be great actors in the Latin American ecosystem.

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Aflore: is a different type of financial services company. It makes loans accessible to the unbanked middle class through a network of informal financial advisors who people already know and trust. The contact between the lenders and the borrowers is performed through a technological platform. The company has already been awarded with several local and international prizes.

Alegra: is a software for small and medium companies to manage their accounting and invoicing through the cloud. The purpose of the startup is to beneficiate the small companies to take control of their finances. The startup is already present in Chile, Peru and Ecuador and they plan to reach other Latin American countries and the US soon.

Colombia had some exit stories too and the one in Fintech is Pagosonline.com. This startup is the Paypal of Colombia, leading the electronic payment service in the region. In 2011, the company was acquired by the multinational group Naspers, one of the major global players in electronic commerce and owner of a worldwide network of online payments platform called Payu Group. PagosOnline became Payu Latam and is planned to be the largest payment platform in Latin America (already present in Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Panama and Colombia).

There are several activities of Fintech happening soon in Bogota, stay tuned:

  • On March 2nd 2016, there will be a conference about blockchain and digital transformation led by Digital Bank at Hotel Cosmos Bogota. For more information, please click here.
  • On March 3rd 2016, the Innovation Center of BBVA is organizing a tour with the Ministry of Innovation and technology, where the bank will share with the attendants its digital strategy and his work with the fintechs. For more information, please click here.
  • On May 25th 2016, Digital Bank Latam will organize the annual fintech meeting, where more than 300 attendants will discuss about the latest innovation in Latam on technology, payments and financial services. For more information, please click here.

The government, banks and private organizations have a clear goal: to boost innovation and fintech for everybody in the country. Today, 35% of the adult population in Colombia is unbanked and all the actors are working to reach them, not just investing in knowledge and knowhow but also in infrastructure.

New projects are now focused on identifying local and international investors and convincing VCs and seeds investors to settle in the country. Colombian startups have a lot of potential because they do act local but they become Latino American actors very quickly. Why not become global too?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, famous Colombian writer said “It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles to wildest imagination”.

From the wildest imagination, we can certainly expect disruptive ideas. With so many initiatives going on, the Colombian fintech cannot disappoint us. Colombia seems ready to defend a leadership position in the Latin American Fintech arena.

 

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Fintech can also be social…

 

Press likes writing about how banks will lose their power on account of the thread of Fintech startups. Long articles are dedicated to forecast the future of the financial services industry that in addition to a strong regulation, new comers can steal a big part of the pie. Bets can start… some will back small David (fintechs) and others would prefer Goliath (banks). Who can be the winner?

 The winner is the consumer!

The mantra of any successful startup is “the consumer is the king”. Startups solve problems that the consumer suffers or create solutions that make him better off. Let’s be realistic, today none of us feels entirely satisfied with the products offered by our banks. By ignorance or risk averse, some clients remain stuck with banks that prioritize reaching financial goals at the end of the month instead of the goodwill of the client. For the year 2015, two of the biggest banks in Brazil presented records in profits. This is ironic in a country with a deteriorated economic situation where growth is negative and unemployment increases. In fact, banks earn more money when the client doesn’t know what is contracting or simply do not understand.  

To counterattack this situation, Fintech startups can play a key role empowering the consumer.

I do believe in social entrepreneurship model and its impact in our society. If you think carefully, a Fintech startup can also be considered as a social enterprise. According to the Brazilian central bank, 40% of the financial active population is unbanked in Brazil. Fintech startups, with their technology and mobility, can definitively target this market and boost the financial inclusion within the country. In all Latin America the problem is very similar opening the path to startups to attend this forgotten market. Fintech startups build social commitment when increasing access to financial services. On the other hand, Fintechs also create social impact with the “banked” people playing the “transparency” card. Usually, they offer a service that is easily understood and controlled by the client. Products or services are very similar to the ones offered by a bank except that clients pay less fees in most cases. According to Let’s Talk Payment publication, it already exists startups enabled to substitute any service of the banking value chain. In other words, Fintech startups represent choice, new alternatives that release the consumer from the monopoly of banks. With the agility of Fintech startups clients become trained and empowered vis a vis of financial products. Indeed, the Fintech ecosystem has the power to evolve society. Thus, Fintech innovations should be advertised as something that anyone and everyone can benefit from.

In Latin America, I had the opportunity to attend a conference where Thiago Alvarez, one of the founders of GuiaBolso (Brazil), presented the history of how GuiaBolso was created. During his speech, he insisted in the purpose of the company to improve the financial health of the Brazilian population. GuiaBolso is a Personal Financial Management (PFM) platform that automates budgeting and guides financial decision-making through an application. Knowing that Brazilian population struggles understanding and managing its monthly budget, GuiaBolso launches a tool that provides advice to control and save some money. GuiaBolso has become one of the most famous applications downloaded in Android and Apple in Brazil. Making Brazilians savvier with their expenses is one of the main messages of GuiaBolso and one key of their success too because the goodwill of the clients is showed above all.  

More Fintechs should follow the example of GuiaBolso and communicate more about the purpose/values of the company and the benefits that they are creating for the users. Banks should not be the worries of the Fintech, but the users.  

As a Fintech founder, as an influencer or as an user, our mission is to raise awareness about Fintech startups to reach a bigger audience. Target market should not be limited to millennials or financial/tech specialists. Fintech startups represent a real option to improve money management and that is the problem of any human being.  

 

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