Latin America is one of the world’s fastest growing markets for financial technology (FinTech) adoption, and Brazil is home to the largest number of startups in the region.
In the 2017 EY FinTech Adoption Index, our second annual study of consumer usage and adoption of financial technologies, Brazil emerged as the fourth largest adopter of the 20 markets studied. Furthermore, research suggests that 40% of Brazil’s digitally active consumers use two or more FinTech services,2 demonstrating the market’s eagerness to embrace digital banking, lending, payments and other services across multiple platforms.
The experiences of FinTech investors and startups in Brazil offer insight into the conditions that make the emerging market ripe for FinTech adoption, as well as into the challenges that new entrants face.
FinTech provides consumers and businesses with multiple services that aren’t always accessible through traditional banks, including instant payments, financial planning tools, and inexpensive loans. In Brazil, 40% of the population lives in rural areas where bank branches are sparse and hard to reach, and there is a ready market for banking by smartphones and other mobile devices. It is a tech-literate but financially underserved market – Brazil has the highest smartphone adoption rate in Latin America,3 making mobile apps a readily available way to deliver financial products.
As FinTech adoption in the region expands, its innovations1 are influencing the wider financial services sector. Brazil’s largest banks have a more concentrated market share than in most countries,4 but the changes taking place are typical of the dynamic opportunities that open up when a country begins to encourage FinTech growth. Usage of FinTech-style products such as digital-only banking is gathering pace because traditional incumbent banks are mirroring the FinTechs’ practices in order to participate in this growth sector along with new financial industry players, support services, and investors.
A fast-growing industry
When EY launched its first global FinTech Adoption Index in 2015, the industry was still in its infancy: globally, one in seven digitally active consumers was using FinTech. In just two years this has risen to one in three. The 2017 report found that the markets with the highest percentage adoption of FinTech, in order, are China, India, the UK and Brazil.
The FinTech development firm Finnovista estimates that 1,000 new FinTech start-ups have launched in Latin America in the past few years. Brazil stands out, however, as the largest financial technology market in the region, with 244 FinTech firms in 2017, up from just over 50 in 2015, and more than US$300m invested in the industry so far. This includes investment from large venture capital funds such as Kaszek Ventures, Sequoia Capital and Vox Capital.
Some 72% of Brazil’s FinTechs have capital from investment partners, and 14% of the country’s FinTechs have raised more than BRL20m (US$6m) each in investment. Goldman Sachs estimates that Brazil’s FinTech companies will generate revenues of around US$24b over the next 10 years, according to a report published in May 2017.
One example of the success stories fueling FinTech investor enthusiasm in Brazil is Nubank, a branchless financial services company, which provided a case study for our FinTech Adoption Index work. Since its launch in 2014, Nubank has attracted US$180 million in investment capital and it was the first Latin American company to receive the Marketers that Matter award (awarded by an “exclusive community of top Bay Area companies”) for its innovative viral marketing strategy.
The app has three million users, and hopes to grow its customer base exponentially with the launch of NuConta, their own version of a checking account open to all Brazilians as it doesn’t require a credit analysis. Founder David Vélez explains that Nubank has been extremely successful “despite all conventional wisdom,” through its policy of giving customer service analysts “complete autonomy to surprise clients with a personalized experience at any given opportunity.” This practice leads to genuine, word-of-mouth praise from customers through social media – and Brazil’s high social network usage plays to this advantage. As a result, Nubank has grown without having to heavily invest in marketing.
A demanding customer base
User experience is a key area in which FinTech firms are perceived as superior to “traditional” financial services companies. Brazilian FinTech entrants are catering to a market with a large contingent of savvy digital platform users, who know what they like. In the 2017 FinTech Adoption Index, 57% of Brazilian respondents told EY that they prefer to manage as many aspects of their lives as possible through digital channels. Some 60% of respondents use sharing economy services such as Airbnb at least once a month, 58% say they use on-demand services such as food delivery or ride-sharing at least once a week, and 81% use messaging and video chat apps daily.
For now, Silicon Valley’s reputation for technological advances in finance still exceeds Brazil’s. However, Nubank and other Brazilian FinTech entrants have shown that understanding specific market needs is equally important as technological prowess in the race to attract a growing customer base. A major challenge facing FinTechs is visibility, which they address through social media campaigns, celebrity endorsements and even co-branding with more established institutions.
In a highly competitive segment such as FinTech, the companies that gain the most market share are those with the best tools for user ease and convenience. In fact, 46% of Brazil’s FinTech users say they are generally willing to use the most convenient financial services product even if it isn’t the cheapest. Their main drivers for choosing a FinTech company are ease of setting up an account (37%) and access to a range of products and services (18%).
Our study found that Brazil’s FinTech users have been among the world’s most active adopters of FinTech apps that help them with money transfers and payments, financial planning, savings and investments, and borrowing. Some of the most popular FinTechs in the country, with around two million users, offer innovations that haven’t been widely available through the traditional financial services system. GuiaBolso and ContaAzul, for example, offer online expense controls for individual or corporate customers, while Creditas offers credit that a user can back with personal assets, such as a house or car, to reduce the lending fees.
Brazil’s conventional banks have been forced to react to these developments, recognizing that they too must offer customers easy-to-use digital tools. To that end, they have launched innovation centers and acceleration programs to develop and fund new financial technologies. Itaú Unibanco is a co-founder of Cubo, a workspace for technology entrepreneurs, while Bradesco has started InovaBra, a funding program for innovative financial products and startups. Banco do Brasil operates a lab in Silicon Valley to foster digital innovation.
Indeed, an important takeaway from the FinTech Adoption Index is that change does not only originate from small startups. Some of the biggest global FinTech successes have been the result of combining a large bank’s customer base and distribution capabilities with a smaller firm’s innovations. For their part, FinTechs are finding that partnerships with established banks can help to build their brand in a competitive marketplace.
Banks have also seen the value of becoming digital-only, so that the line between FinTech and conventional banks is becoming permeable. Banco Original, Brazil’s first 100% digital bank, was formed through a 2011 merger of two conventional banks, while Banco Bradesco operates Next, a fully digital banking platform that has become a major player in the country’s digital banking business.