Looking for a space to innovate…Banks are available

During my trip to Mexico, I had the opportunity to visit some innovation spaces opened by banks. Several banks praise the collaboration with fintechs and that’s why they decided to dedicate specific areas to work together.

BBVA is considered as the friendliest bank with fintechs and one example of this close relationship is the opening of several Innovation Centers in the world starting by Madrid in 2011. In Madrid, the BBVA Innovation Center has an area named “the Living Labs” where the bank presents its most innovative products to the public. The building organizes events related to new technologies, fintechs and entrepreneurship, these ones opened to everybody. Beside, the innovation teams of the bank do also work in this place. Being in Mexico, I went to the BBVA Bancomer building in Mexico DF, to visit the “Piso 33”, or “Floor 33th” the innovation center of Mexico. This floor was opened in January 2016 to follow the innovation models of the other BBVA subsidiaries. Several events are organized with fintechs and entrepreneurs. The space is inside the headquarter of the bank allowing the employees to attend the events or workshops at any time. I was there the day before the final of the Latin American Open Talent, and I could see the commitment of the international and local executives of the bank to know better the fintechs. This type of interaction brings more empathy and learnings for both sides.

 

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BBVA Innovation Center

 

Banregio Bank, a Mexican regional bank, with focus on services for small and medium-sized companies had also inaugurated a “laboratory” to interact with startups. The goal of the bank is to define a new way to work and provide new products that can involve startups, the small and medium sized companies and the bank. Banregio Labs wants to connect the startup ecosystem with the financial services industry offering a space to work for the startups, training and connections.

In August 2016, Gentera opened an innovation lab to interact with fintechs. Gentera is the group behind Compartamos Bank, the largest microfinance bank in Latin America. Fiinlab, the name of the lab, intends to incubate fintechs and work with all the actors of the ecosystem in one place. The space is in the same building of the headquarter therefore constant interaction with the employees of the bank is encouraged too. Being a group that believes and promotes financial inclusion, Fiinlab’mission is to find and share new innovation business models that mixed with technology can create impact on society.

 

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Fiinlab

 

When comparing with Brazil, I realized that financiaI institutions that bet on physical spaces to interact with fintechs took a different approach.

Itau Bank and Redpoint Eventures inaugurated a building of five floors, named CUBO to be close to the startups. The building is a coworking space for startups, not only fintechs. Several events are organized at the building to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. Some other companies as Saint Gobain, Accenture, Mastercard among others did a partnership with CUBO to approach the startups that work there. As any resident of a coworking space, the startup pays a monthly rent at the CUBO. The building is far from the headquarter. CUBO has become a reference point for the Brazilian entrepreneurship gathering several members of the ecosystem in one place.   

The insurance sector is also betting on innovation spaces. Porto Seguro, the biggest insurance company of Brazil created an accelerator program named Oxigenio. To accelerate these startups (somehow related to the insurance market), Porto Seguro built an exclusive area for them to work.  The residents of the building share the space with employees of Porto Seguro that are opening a startup. To transform the area in an innovation spot, several events about entrepreneurship and innovation are organized to for the general public.

 

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Oxigênio Aceleradora

 

In fact, there is no a unique winning shot to be the best in innovation and that’s why banks try several alternatives to test which will be the best way to learn, to breathe and to swallow innovation. It is interesting the different models that we have in Latin America and as any “startup project” , these models should pivot and bring more innovative structures in the future.

Do banks earn money with these initiatives? It is not evident because they cannot measure if there is an additional revenue coming directly from these projects. However, they set KPIs about the impact that they are creating in the fintech environment (for example number of startups incubated, additional investments during the period of incubation, new partnerships …). In other words, the return of these investments (dedicated buildings, organizing events..) is taken by the entrepreneurs and the fintech environment. These initiatives boost opportunities for Fintechs to do networking, to meet investors, to create partnerships and find new clients.

 Banks, you are doing more than collaborating, you are putting the bricks and reinforcing the columns of the fintech ecosystem…that’s why the bank-fintech relationship is more than complicated.

 

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BBVA Innovation Center

 

 

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Are you ready to be the bank of the future?

Last week, I attended the AIM Banking Brazil 2016 event that gathered banks and financial institutions of the country. During three days of conferences and workshops, the speakers triggered the audience to think about what could be the bank of the future.

Brazil is a big digital country. The internet penetration in 2015 was around 66% (source:internetlivestats.com). In 2020, GSMA forecast 72% of smartphone penetration in the country. More alarming, Brazilian population is addicted to smartphones: two in five would rather give up electricity and water than their device (source:emarketer.com).

How should banks respond to this social transformation? The AIM conference tried to provide a light to understand step by step what will be the bank of tomorrow.

First of all, let’s talk about Banco Original, the first 100% digital bank in Latin America. The bank has become an example of how a bank can disrupt the market. Banco Original deals with its clients without paper or doing lines in agencies because all the operations can be done online by cellphone or with a computer. Officially launched in March 2016, its first marketing campaign showed Usain Bolt to defy the public about how original can they be. The bank has an innovation lab that follows the last trends in technology and products. The head of innovation of the bank Guga Stocco, who has not a financial services background, pointed out that innovation today comes from all the sectors and any new actor as a coffee chain for example can become a direct competitor of a bank one day. The launch of Banco Original had also created disruption because at the same time regulation was updated by the Central bank of Brazil allowing to do the entire opening and closing process of a bank account by internet. This is an example that the local regulator is aware of the new trends of technology and it is willing to evolve. Financial institutions (banks or fintechs) have the responsibility to guide the regulator to accept new solutions that will boost innovation and at the same time protect the client and the economy.

AIM_BancoOriginal

 

Banco do Brasil, the oldest bank in the country and controlled by the Brazilian government, presented its innovation case too. Created a year ago, the innovation department has already created disruption within the historic institution. The team started slow and had some difficulties at the beginning but with the time they settled new methodologies and creative processes to change some internal practices and thus the culture of the bank. Innovation is not only about the final product for the client but how the bank works on the delivery of this one. Banks are starting practicing design thinking or lean startup methodology with new projects …But can a bank pivot quickly? As a startup?

Proactivity and allowing themselves to make mistakes are some new practices that banks have to learn. For that, the market designed some approaches to “learn innovation”:

  • Co-working space/incubators: Itaú opened the CUBO in Brazil, a co-working space where the startup community gathers. For the bank, this is an opportunity to have an overview and be close to a boiling local startup ecosystem.
  • Accelerator programs: Bradesco created the InovaBra Program two years ago. During 10 months, a group of 10 startups will work with the bank to improve their MVP. Startups have access to the resources of the bank and the bank learns about their technology and the way they work thanks to continuous interaction between both sides along the program.
  • Corporate Ventures: Santander created Santander InnoVentures. It is a fund that helps fintech companies grow from a very early stage (i.e. seed) to a more mature stage. So far there is no investment in Latin America, only in the US and Europe. In Brazil, Bradesco has recently announced the creation of a venture to invest in fintechs.
  • Acquisition: The most active bank in the world with acquisitions is BBVA who recently acquired Holvi, a Finnish online only bank. The integration process is still in process so the results of this type of relationship are still under assessment.
  • Innovation Labs: Banco do Brasil and Banco Original have decided to create their own innovation lab. All the innovation process are led from the own teams of the banks.

There is no evidence of a better approach, that’s why some banks bet on several options at the same time.

Whereas the innovation topic arises in the conversations, there is an expression that is repeated, “user experience”. All the revolution of the innovation leans on who is your customer and what can the bank do to create a unique relationship.

Let’s start with millenials…

They are a generation that today doesn’t trust banks, believe in sharing economy and prefer to spend most of the time in social medias. They were born with technology and they live for technology. For them, time is shorter because there is so much information available on the network. Artificial intelligence or virtual realities were concepts that belonged to movies some time ago and today are a reality. Millenials love technology but they also need to feel special. Nubank, one of the most successful fintechs in Brazil, is loved by the millennials. In addition to its great user experience, Nubank managed to provide a “cool” call center that provides customized attention to its clients. Google wallet is arriving this year in Brazil and millennials will certainly be the first adopters. The big challenge for the bank is how to hook this generation that breathes technology and innovation and tends to claim “I don’t need a bank”.

Another group of the population that cannot be neglected is the low income people. Despite their income situation, they do have a smartphone and most of them do not have or use a bank account. Innovation also means financial inclusion for a part of the population that most banks preferred to forget so far. Vivo (mobile company) launched Zuum, a pre-paid bank account that gives you a debit card and allows doing some financial transactions (transfers, payments…). All the transactions can be performed with a mobile.  Zuum has just started in the country but is growing fast and has a great potential for the coming years (40% of the population of Brazil is unbanked).

Once you know well your customer, you develop a friendly technology to deliver a product or service for a low fee. The kings of this know-how are the fintechs. Imagine a picture where several bees (call them fintechs) can hurt a gorilla (call it bank)… Several debates exist about the potential of fintechs to compete against banks. Let’s be realistic about one point, the fintech world is not easy either.

AiM_Guiabolso

 

GuiaBolso and BankFacil participated to the event presenting their business case and sharing the challenges that they have to face every day. Guiabolso was born with the purpose to help a Brazilian population that does not know how to manage its money and gets constantly indebted without any control or education. On the other hand, Bankfacil realized that interests in Brazil are incredible high compared to other countries and identified other alternatives to offer cheaper lending products (lending with warranty) that can alleviate the debt burden of the population.

Both fintechs claimed that the relationship with banks is not always easy because some banks do not see/share potential opportunities that could beneficiate both of them. From their side, they are always opened to have a conversation with banks because some interesting partnerships can be created. Compared to a bank that has so much capital, a fintech needs to hunt for investments at the same time that they develop their services, and certainly that is the most difficult part of any startup. Today, these two startups have gathered a group of mentors and investors that believe in their projects putting them as strong representatives of the Brazilian fintech world.

What have fintechs created within the financial services that make them so appealing?

Fabricio Dore, an innovation leader highlighted three structural changes that fintech set and is revolutionizing the banking world: the user is king (user experience empowerment), digital is the new identity of banking and the power of network (facility to connect with other startups/fintechs). The opened question for the audience was what are you doing to stop being a bank? My answer: follow fintechs.

During these days, I met people from technology, marketing or business representing a financial services institution. In fact, when dealing with innovation these three departments need to work together. Some organizations created the role “Chief Digital Officer” to be in charge of the digital initiatives. With the time, we expect that the Chief Digital Officer and the CEO will be the same person. Because digital won’t be an arm of banking, digital will be banking.

The main sponsor of the AIM conference is Technisys. I wanted to write a note about Technisys too because it is a Latinoamerican company that is spreading innovation in technology within the financial services community. Technisys powers Latin American banks to deliver digital services though all the channels. Founded in 1996, it has strongly grown with big clients including Citibank, Banco Itaú, Banco Estado de Chile and Banco Original among others.  Technisys was ahead of its time when it introduced the concept of omnichannels and digital and today these are the main services required by all the banks. Technisys is strongly involved in solutions and projects about innovation for banks. We consider him as a strong ally in the construction of a new environment of financial services in Latin America.

In Brazil, big banks have already started to position themselves developing digital products and looking for interact with fintechs. During the last World Economic Forum in Davos, international organizations debated about the future of the financial services system talking about fintechs and blockchain in front of an audience composed of worldwide bank CEOs. This was an awaken moment for the CEOs to really understand and follow the evolution of technology to define the future of banking.

The audience of the AIM Banking Brazil event was compound by big, medium and small banks…Each of them have to assess how to approach the innovation and the technology evolution because the path to the digital transformation will depend on the culture of the bank, the customer profile and the risk appetite of the organization.

The cards are on the table “digital is the future”, unfortunately there is no a unique way to arrive there but several combinations that need to be defined according to the strategy. Looking for a tip…Imagine what can convince a client to claim in all the social networks “I love my bank”.

Great event AIM and Hanson Wade!

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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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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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