For a country that’s been struggling with political and economic turmoil for the last 4 years, Brazil has found some hope with Fintech. Brazil has the most number of Fintech startups in Latin America, closely followed by Mexico. Fintech investments in LATAM rose by 31% in 2016 and it was the most popular sector within technology investments. With top Silicon Valley VCs making their first investments in LATAM, firms like Nubank and Neon have made great strides in the last couple of years.
Brazil is the largest Latin American economy with a GDP of $1.8 Trillion. The country has been in recession and political turmoil since 2014. The central bank interest rate was at one point 14.25% and with the economy recovering it has come down to 11.25%. While the economy is just about recovering from recession, Fintech is already thriving in Brazil. There are about 230 startups in Brazil cutting across various clusters of Fintech.
Why is Fintech Brazil special? Well, Nubank and Neon have managed to address a genuine gap in the market in a very millennial way, however, its not just their use case or execution that sets them apart. Its the context in which they operate.
In a recent Goldman Sachs report, Brazil’s banking system was described as susceptible to Fintech primarily because of an “Oligopolistic Market Structure”. Brazil’s top 5 banks held about 84% of loans and 90% of branches. In the US these numbers are around the 20% and in India about 30%. Fintech’s growth could mean that these banks that currently charge high fees and interests from their customers, will need to make their offering more competitive. The concentrated market is a huge opportunity for Fintechs to go after.
The other factor that makes these startups special is just that, they have thrived through a recession. While the VC/PE investment in LATAM has been falling overall, Fintech has been the beacon of hope amidst the doom and gloom, with investments in the sector showing a consistent rise over the last two years.
Nubank was founded in Sao Paulo in 2013, and launched a mobile controlled credit card service in September 2014. Due to the quality of the offering Nubank have managed to reach 3 Million users. Nubank customers can block and unblock their credit cards, change their credit limits, pay their bills and have access to all their purchases in real time all through a mobile app. They provide 24/7 customer support through digital channels and clear and simple communication. All of this was unheard of in Brazil, and has seen an extremely positive reaction from customers. With investors like Goldman Sachs, Peter Thiel and Sequoia, Nubank is certainly one of the best Fintech stories from LATAM.
Nubank was the first LATAM company to win the “Marketers that Matter” award in 2016. The previous winners of the award include Google, Visa and Netflix. A look at Nubank’s Instagram feed shows how good an approach they have to win over millennials. In Dec 2016, Nubank raised $80 Million from Moscow based VC firm DST Global. DST’s other investments include Alibaba, Slack, Twitter, Facebook and Spotify. Nubank are DST’s first LATAM investment. They have raised about $235 Million in about three and a half years, with many rounds being the first for top Silicon Valley VCs in LATAM.
Neon is the first 100% digital bank in Brazil. Neon take customer experience quite seriously as they have been the first LATAM bank to use facial recognition through Selfies to authenticate users. They have recently partnered with Visa to leverage their facial bio-metrics technology to confirm identities for online purchases. During the process of opening a bank account customers would provide a numeric password, finger print identification and a selfie. At the time of making a transaction the customer is asked for a selfie. Once the selfie is taken and submitted, it is matched to the selfie taken during the opening of the account to approve the transaction.
In November 2016, Gemalto the world’s leader in digital security partnered with Neon to come up with a one-of-a-kind Visa Quick Read design debit card. The Visa Quick Read design provides essential purchasing information conveniently on the front of the card.
In a recent interview Monzo’s Tom Bloomfield mentioned that he was particularly pleased with innovation coming out of two challenger banks, N26 in Germany and Neon from Brazil. Neon have managed to onboard 1.5 million customers in less than two years. Most customer acquisitions have come from word of mouth and referrals with very little spent on marketing.
Innovation when taken out of context can sometimes look ordinary. While both Nubank and Neon have similar use cases to their peer Fintechs in the UK and the US, the ecosystem in which they operate and excel makes them super special.
Arunkumar Krishnakumar is a Fintech thought-leader and an investor.
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