Expediting payment settlement is a shared aim of the region’s central banks and to that end, they’ve thrown their weight behind technological and regulatory efforts to streamline operations in local ecosystems.
Banks and fintechs with a regional focus need to be aware of these instant payment systems in order to develop business models that are sustainable and comply with regulation. Other countries, such as Peru and Colombia, are also developing platforms of their own.
With this in mind, we’ve compiled a run-down of the region’s main electronic instant payment systems.
1. Mexico: SPEI – CoDi
Figures from the Bank of Mexico (Banxico) show the growing adoption of its Interbank Electronic Payment System (SPEI). The number of transactions increased by 62% in 2021 compared to the previous year, led by transfers of up to MXN$8,000 (about US$420).
SPEI began operations in August 2004 and today it is used by banks, popular financing companies (sofipos) and licensed fintechs. It’s currently undergoing a series of reforms, in preparation for SPEI 2.0, which will lower thresholds so that non-bank entities can use the system. It’s a development that iupanaPro covers in detail.
Alejandro Pineda, CEO of the BBVA group's LatAm payment aggregator Openpay, described how the immediate system process works when he spoke to iupana in August. ““In Mexico, SPEI works really well. The money arrives via SPEI to the Openpay account, which then makes the reconciliation and settlement for its customers,” he said.
According to the most recent data published by the regulator, SPEI carried out just over 200 million interoperable and free operations in June 2022.
Mexico also has a mobile payment system called CoDi that uses tools such as QR codes, NFC technology, and payment links to speed up transactions and reduce the use of cash. It was introduced in September 2019 and runs on the back of SPEI.
As of January of this year, there were just over 16 million valid accounts registered to use CoDi, but only about 2 million had ever paid or received funds using this system.
CoDi’s low level of adoption is often blamed on its unintuitive user experience (UX) and also to the fact that, in principle, its integration into entities' digital channels wasn’t mandatory initially, though that later changed.
“The integration hasn’t been difficult because it was not a parallel road,” Pineda said when asked about the technological challenges of adding CoDi in bank solutions. “They were simply protocols at the front to generate the QR codes. But once the transaction is set up, it travels through SPEI,” he said.
The system’s progress has been quite uneven compared with similar platforms elsewhere. In Brazil, Pix had been used by 55% of the population as of May 2022, while CoDi had been used by only 8% of Mexico’s population, according to Latinometrics.
2. Brazil: Pix
Pix, Brazil’s instant payment system, was launched by the central bank, the BCB, in November 2020. It has become the benchmark for financial regulators in LatAm.
In a country of 214 million people, at least 135 million have used Pix once, according to BCB data as of January this year, an increase of more than 20% compared with the same month last year.
Usage has been driven by the platform’s speed, availability, convenience, and security, as well as support from the local regulator.
An ecosystem has been created around Pix that includes Pix Saque and Pix Troco; the former allows cash withdrawals in stores and the latter allows users to receive their change in cash after making a purchase.
In addition, the roll-out of open finance in Brazil has given rise to institutions that initiate payments with Pix, which is a new model that allows entities to originate and process user payment information.
This means entities can offer other financial products (such as loans) and tailor them to the payment capacity of users. Banks such as Bradesco as well as large fintechs such as Mercado Pago and Magalu have opted for this path.
“We are launching our first open finance initiative as a Pix payment initiator via Kabum!,” which is an online marketplace the retail giant bought in 2021, said Leandro Hespanhol, commercial and new business director at Fintech Magalu, in June.
Hespanhol told iupana at the time that the company plans to leverage its payment institution to provide services to other institutions in the country.
Roberto Campos Neto, the president of the BCB, said in March 2022 that there is a real possibility that Pix will play a role in developing digital currencies and in the exploration of the metaverse.
Campos Neto also said at the end of last year that Pix protocols will be open to make it easier for any regulator to make changes to the system, which may boost the chances of a regional instant payment system materializing.
3. Argentina: Transfers 3.0
Transferencias 3.0 is an open and universal payment system backed by the Central Bank of Argentina (BCRA) that aims to facilitate transactions between the actors of the financial ecosystem through interoperable QR codes.
The country’s banks and electronic wallets participate in the initiative, which allows for transactions between bank accounts (CBU) and fintechs (CVU) using QR codes.
Transferencias 3.0 began operating on November 29, 2021, and more than two million interoperable transactions were carried out by the system in the first two months alone.
In the run up to QR interoperability, iupana spoke with Mercado Pago, which said the system faced technological and UX challenges. Without a good user experience, people would continue to prefer cash, Agustín Onagoity, director of the wallet, said at the time.
Although the regulation requires mobile banking apps or wallets to let other platforms read and make payments with QR codes, not all players have been integrated into the system. Some are awaiting authorization from the central bank, while others have highlighted cases of malpractice.
Pierpaolo Barbieri, founder and CEO of Ualá, said in November that some companies are not playing by the rules. “The regulation calls for QR interoperability. However, some use integration to avoid it. To force you to use their app — and not the one you choose,” he said via Twitter, attaching a photo of a parking company demanding customers pay using the Mercado Pago wallet.
4. Bolivia: QR BCB
Bolivia’s central bank launched a similar initiative less than two months ago. QR BCB is an interoperable, instant payment system that seeks to speed up transactions using QR codes.
While the central bank says the initiative will include bank and non-bank financial entities, for now it’s only available to clients of Banco Unión, one of the country’s largest lenders.
The implementation will progress “gradually, across all financial institutions, as they adapt their systems to make this service available to their customers,” the central bank said in a statement. The system is expected to be fully developed by 2024.
5. El Salvador: Transfer365
El Salvador’s central bank launched the Transfer365 system in June 2021 for instant interbank payments through an automated clearing house.
Commercial banks, savings and credit associations, and other authorized institutions are using the system. In June 2022, the system evolved to Transfer365 Móvil, introducing the option of instant payments using the cell phone number associated with a bank account.
Transfer365 moved some US$7.9 billion in its first year of operations.
6. Colombia: an Instant Payment System (SPI) and interoperable QR
In September, Colombia’s central bank created the Payment System Forum with the aim of using public-private working groups to spur the development of an instant payment system (SPI).
The central bank subsequently unveiled its proposal for an instant clearinghouse for transactions. The guidelines for the implementation of the open, interoperable and low-cost system are expected to be outlined this year.
Similarly, the country’s financial regulator, the SFC, recently laid the foundations for electronic wallets and banking apps to become interoperable, also through QR codes. It proposed draft legislation designed to allow all entities to communicate with each other using a shared payment code standard.
The new rules could take effect in August.
7. Peru: Wallet interoperability
The Central Reserve Bank of Peru has similarly mandated interoperability between the country’s most popular electronic wallets, Yape and Plin. The former is owned by the Credicorp group’s Banco de Crédito and the latter is an alliance between Interbank, Scotiabank and BBVA. The deadline for Yape and Plin to open their rails is March 31.
The next step for the central bank’s ambitious general interoperability system is to include the remaining banks, fintechs and other licensed financial institutions.
8. Chile: Towards instant, low-value payments
Alberto Naudón, director of Chile’s central bank, told iupanaPro at the start of this year that the institution is taking its first steps on the way to establishing an instant payment system.
The starting point is the creation of low-value clearinghouses, something that has already been approved at the legislative level.
9. Panama: From Vale Digital to Wallet 2.0
In Panama, a law that would lay the foundations for an open instant payment system is being discussed in Parliament.
The Central American country developed an electronic payment distribution platform in 2021 in order to expedite welfare payments, initially to alleviate the effects of the pandemic. Recipients of the electronic checks, known as the Digital Vale, access the program through a digital onboarding process. To make purchases, businesses scan the barcode or QR code located on a customer’s identity card, which automatically debits their account.
The authorities’ plan to scale up this payment system by opening it to other public and private entities, which exchange data on users and transactions.
10. Costa Rica: National Electronic Payment System (Sinpe)
Sinpe de Costa Rica has been evolving ever since it was created in 1996 and is now the country’s real-time payment system.
The central bank upgraded the system in 2015, renaming it Sinpe Móvil and allowing money to be sent using the telephone number associated with a bank account. In 2022, the payment system was enabled for public transport.