Something interesting is going on in fintech in Latin America. The region is enjoying the early stages of a fintech boom. There are now over 1200 fintechs operating in Latin America. Fintech continues to lead as the largest segment attracting venture capital. And just a few weeks ago in Brazil, a company called Nubank became the region’s first official unicorn.
Andres Fontao joins us on the podcast today to talk about what’s happening in Latin American from a fintech perspective. His firm, Finnovista, helps run innovation programs in the region, connecting entrepreneurs with the resources they need and the incumbent financial firms they’re targeting to partner. Together with the Inter-American Development Bank, Finnovista just published a detailed report on fintech in Latin America.
The following excerpts were edited for clarity.
Fintech in Latin America isn’t at the levels we see in more mature markets like New York, London, Singapore or Tel Aviv. “We’re still in the initial stages of this fintech boom,” said Andres Fontao, co-founder and managing partner at Finnovista, an organization that empowers fintech ecosystems in the region.
But the region’s fintech activity is definitely growing. Finnovista has identified almost 1200 fintechs operating in the region. Venture capital is flowing to the industry. And the region just had its first unicorn emerge — a Brazilian online bank called Nubank.
“A lot is going on and it’s catching the attention of the large U.S. and Europe fintech brands and you have investors like QED, active in the region,” said Fontao.
Latin American fintech trends
Most of the early fintech activity in the region fits into three buckets: payments, lending (both consumer and business), and SMB services (like digital invoicing and inventory optimization). Financial inclusion is a huge topic in Latin America.
“You’re talking about a region where more than 50 percent of people don’t have access to formal financial services,” said Fontao. “It’s a big opportunity for fintech.”
Pan-Latin America ambitions
Many of these startups have their eyes set on expansion across regional borders. But differences in regulation complicate international growth.
“Regulations don’t make it feasible to scale geographically just yet,” Finnovista’s Fontao said.
Countries like Mexico and Brazil have large enough populations, though, to warrant their own focus. And Argentina probably has the most fintech talent and a vibrant technology ecosystem. But economic and political instability push local entrepreneurs to think beyond their countries.
Fontao sees further participation of the Chinese in the Latin American market. Tencent lead the recent investment round in Nubank.
“We’re going to see a big Chinese player — a WeChat or Ant Financial — acquire a fintech in Latin America in 2019. Probably in Brazil.”