Reporting by Fabiola Seminario, Roberta Prescott, Eyanir Chinea and Antony Pinedo
For the second year running we recognize the work of women disrupting Latin America’s digital and fintech banking sector, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. (Yes, the majority of us at iupana are female).
There was no shortage of applications from every corner of the region, attesting that little by little, the gaps that were destined to be filled by women are being filled. There was also no shortage of talent and tenacity in the list of nominees and winners.
It was not easy to narrow down our award recipients to a few names: among them you will find directors, founders and executives who are changing the face of the industry, be it by sealing innovative alliances with a large bank in one of the busiest metropolises on the continent or securing access to lending for entrepreneurs in a capital city hit by crisis and in great need of financial creativity.
But all agree that patience and continual reinvention, particularly during a second year of the pandemic, have been essential to maintaining the velocity that sets the sector apart. Let’s see what lessons 2022 presents.
Thank you to the participants and the community that joined us to propose nominees. Here are the 2021 Disruptoras:
María Elena Machado: Attracting financing for Venezuelan fintech companies
María Elena Machado is the founder and director of Fintech Venezuela, a group that brings together more than 600 startups in the Caribbean country.
She has a degree in administration and a diploma in digital marketing. Since 2018, she’s promoted inclusion and digital literacy through her work to create alliances between banks, startups and technology companies.
Machado is a Disruptor for breaking down barriers for all fintechs in Venezuela.
This year, the association that she represents managed to establish an alliance that granted more than 15 Venezuelan companies access to loans of up to US$6,500 to operate in the cloud via Amazon Web Services’ AWS Activate platform.
AWS Activate is a service that provides low-cost infrastructure for startups.
This is an outstanding agreement considering the country’s political and economic landscape, which is blighted by hyperinflation and instability and where “the financing routes are not so open,” says Machado.
In 2021, the Interfintech project pilot got underway. Interfintech is a platform that supports innovation agreements between fintech companies and Banco Plaza, a private Venezuelan bank.
The aim of the project is to allow fintechs to use an approved system to connect to the bank under an open banking arrangement, without comprising security. Several companies have been cleared to operate as part of this process and others are expected to join.
Finally, Machado hopes to organize the 2022 Fintech Marathon in a hybrid format. The event will bring together specialists from across the sector and aims to raise money for a charitable foundation that helps people with disabilities use technology tools.
Suzy Ferreira: Working towards affordable lending for Brazilians
Suzy Ferreira is the CEO and founder of Dinie, a pioneering API-first embedded finance fintech in Brazil.
Ferriera comes from a family of entrepreneurs from Iturama, a small city in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state. From a young age, business loans and financing played an important role in her life. For example, accessing the credit market made it possible for her to attend a better high school and to study for a Master’s degree at the University College London (UCL).
However, she also knew the darker side of borrowing.
When she was around eight, her family went bankrupt because her father couldn’t afford to repay a bank loan. It taught her a life lesson: the importance of using credit positively.
“Dinie exists because I went through a series of experiences that showed me the positive and the negative sides of loans,” she said.
Ferreira is a Disruptora 2021 for her work pioneering new financial services models–and powering financial inclusion–at Dinie. The company strives to enable large ecosystems such as e-commerce marketplaces to become the bank of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
In less than 18 months of existence, Dinie has granted around 1,500 loans and partnered with Brazilian e-commerce enabling platforms such as iFood by MovilePay, Elo7 and Uruguayan payment unicorn dLocal.
“I saw this opportunity with these huge networks being created, such as e-commerce marketplaces, payments companies, payment service providers, ERPs, accounting software […] where small businesses were already connected and operating their businesses. I saw a massive opportunity for those places to be the bank of the future for MSMEs,” Ferreira explained.
The executive, who lives in the UK, said that banks are effectively becoming invisible within the user experience of MSMEs, who will be able to use their transactional data in exchange for bespoke, cheaper and effortless financial products.
“The flow of capital already happens in a lot of those platforms. So we are able to use this very rich ecosystem data to underwrite and also to be able to give small businesses very frictionless access to capital.”
Dinie was launched a few months before the pandemic exploded globally. In the first half of 2020, Ferreira said she seized the moment to accelerate growth.
“Because this was the moment that the small businesses were even more in need of our product, and our product is very cash oriented, we were able to prove very fast and knew that clients wanted our product,” she said.
More recently, in July 2021, Dinie raised US$3.8 million in a seed round. The fintech raised a further US$20 million in debt through a local securitization. The capital injection will accelerate the firm’s end-to-end embedded credit infrastructure and further expose its APIs to Brazil’s largest e-commerce platforms and provide more than 15,000 MSMEs with embedded products such as Dinie Credit Account (business overdraft) and DiniePay (Buy Now, Pay later for businesses).
The most innovative part of Dinie, Ferreira noted, is that MSMEs don’t need to visit a bank. “Banking is happening where they are, in the context of their business, not outside. It’s frictionless and it doesn’t require any effort for them to go after the bank.”
Asked how she felt about the achievements, Suzy Ferreira said she’s glad to overcome challenges, even like a massive pandemic, and achieve credibility in the marketplace. “There is nothing happier than being in this position. It’s not that the whole mission has been accomplished, but as an entrepreneur, you are always in this survival mode, so we have to count our small victories,” she said.
Bárbara González: reinventing the cryptocurrency business
In the financial domain, the crypto world is in full bloom. It’s a new industry that has been experiencing strong growth and as a result is facing challenges of acceptance, regulation and deployment.
And at the forefront of that movement is Bárbara González, financial director of Bitso, a Mexican crypto-asset exchange that’s valued at US$2.2 billion and has more than three million users.
González is a Disruptora 2021 because she has led the company’s various investment rounds, including the recent Series C that raised US$255 million and this year earned it the coveted unicorn status.
In González’s opinion, the challenge of working on this new model stems from the fact that there is a lot to build. But the excitement that these changes generate is welcome.
In order to achieve her day-to-day objectives, Bárbara González’s greatest strength has been reinventing herself in order to operate in the different phases of the firm’s development.
Bitso started in Mexico in 2013 as the first digital platform for buying and selling cryptocurrencies in Latin America. The firm now has operations in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, and this year it also became the service provider for the government-owned Chivo electronic wallet in El Salvador, where bitcoin is legal tender.
“I haven’t the slightest doubt that next year I will have to reinvent myself and I will have to learn again; to evolve at the rate that the company needs me to, in order to be able to give it what it needs in this new phase of growth.”
Laure Schlesinger: creating a digital bank for entrepreneurs
Unlike the venture capital market in Mexico or Brazil, Peru is a country where investments are just starting to appear. This requires extra effort to build trust in the innovation models that are developing on the ground.
In addition to this challenge, political instability has also changed the way country is perceived externally, making it difficult to demonstrate and sustain investment opportunities. However, that didn’t stop Laure Schlesinger from looking for them.
Schlesinger is co-founder, chief operating officer and investor relations manager at Prestamype, a Peruvian fintech offering home-equity loans and merchant accounts receivable.
“Now is the opportunity and we have to move to position ourselves as a market leader and be the first to enter this most innovative sector of fintech,” she says.
Schlesinger is a Disruptora 2021 because this year she steered the creation of vehicles to channel investment towards the firm’s loan portfolio and factoring, a transition that will allow the fintech to migrate to a model where it can start financing its credit products with its own resources.
She has also just raised US$800,000 in seed-round funding with the participation of Inca Ventures and Angel Ventures Peru, in addition to several business angels with experience in the banking sector, investment funds and European family office, among others.
Operating since 2017, Schlesinger is working towards the goal of turning her business into Peru’s first digital bank for MSMEs and requesting an operating license.
“Innovation is not only about creating a digital product: innovation in fintech is also how you anchor yourself,” says the executive.
Shantidevi Galván: forging alliances with the fintech ecosystem
The adage goes that when a door closes, a window opens. And Shantidevi Galván is in charge of opening technological windows at Citibanamex.
She works as open banking and venture partnerships manager and one of her responsibilities is to keep her finger on the pulse of the fintech ecosystem and, above all, to generate alliances with startups and technology providers that help the bank maintain its pace of innovation.
Galván is a Disruptora 2021 because, at one of the leading banks in the region, she leads efforts in new trends that will have a real impact on the industry in the coming years.
“I see the speed at which the ecosystem is moving and they are speeds that we would love to have, but obviously, issues such as user protection, security and regulatory implications make banks, let’s say, a Titanic that moves very differently,” says Galván.
“But the scope that banks have once you introduce a disruption is enormous, given the level and customer base we have […] we want to open up that customer base to the partners we are working with and there is a level of growth for both them and us that makes a lot of sense,” she says.
Mexico is preparing for the mandatory implementation of open banking next year and Citibanamex said its strategy will be to create companies to expand its credit and wealth management products, in a bid to increase its acquisition of new clients.
“For Mexican banks, it will be a ‘before and after’. You will be able to consume the data of all financial entities and see how that will also contribute to financial inclusion, so that more people can have access to credit or that more people can know their finances better, ” she adds.
In 2022, Galván hopes to continue to create collaborative projects with the ecosystem, including embedded finance; it’s a task that she recognizes is not always easy to tackle from the large organizational structures of the bank.
“Part of our job is to always be contributing, questioning how things are being done, bringing that insight into what is happening out there so that we are a bank that continues to be at the forefront,” she says.