How FinTech is Growing in LATAM with Martin Naor | Bankingly #25
One of the most exciting and active sectors of business for new startups all over the world is FinTech – Financial Technology. Briefly, that’s the application of information technology to the world of finance. The term FinTech really shot to fame – or perhaps infamy – with the rise of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin in the last two or three years. But, whilst there are a lot of recent startup companies working with such cryptocurrencies, it would be a big mistake to assume that’s the whole story.
If you use a mobile app for banking or make a card payment with your mobile phone, that’s FinTech at work. If you transfer money to friends or family abroad over the internet, that’s FinTech at work too. It’s become the norm rather than the exception.
And it’s revolutionising money management in developing countries. There are now easy to use tools that can be used by people in remote villages who’ve never had access to a bank.
Some of the most successful new FinTech apps and services have been developed in countries that are themselves developing, or have reached full development but still recall the stages of development they went through to get where they are today.
There are so many new developments in so many countries that big international meetings to present and discuss the latest – FinTech summits – seem to happen almost every week of the year somewhere in the world.
One of the biggest and most important in Latin America is the annual Montevideo FinTech summit. Uruguay is a good example of a country that has itself developed over the last 20-30 years and is now really active in building new IT tools – not just FinTech – that are particularly apt for developing countries in Africa and parts of Asia.
When our host, Oliver Dowson, was there recently, he met with Martin Naor, the President of the Uruguay FinTech Chamber. He’s also the Founder and CEO of Bankingly, where they’ve developed digital tools for financial institutions, no matter how small and no matter where they are. In our conversation that we recorded for this podcast, Martin talks with Oliver about this development, how Uruguay is leading in Latin America in development of Fintech solutions, and why international delegates should plan on attending the Montevideo FinTech forum
OLIVER: I’m talking to Martin Naor. He’s the CEO of BankingLE here in Montevideo in Uruguay and he’s also the president of the FinTech Chamber of Commerce. Martin, thank you for joining me on the Growing through International Expansion podcast.
MARTIN: Thank you very much for coming all the way here.
OLIVER: Well it’s a pleasure. Now, FinTech’s a subject of interest to an awful lot of people. But before we get into this in more general terms, can you tell me a little bit about Bankingly? What you’re doing there and how it’s developed.
MARTIN: Absolutely. So Bankingly is a digital channel suite for financial inclusion, focused on the financial institutions that work at the bottom of it, all around the world. We focus mostly on emerging markets, but also on some developed markets and we are based here. In Uruguay the way we operate is with software from Microsoft Data Centres around the world. And we build that here in Uruguay based on the resources where we have our centres of excellence, the people we actually built the product. And from here we are expanding all around Latin America and the world.
OLIVER: So how many how long have you been going?
MARTIN: Bankingly itself has been going for the last three and a half years. It it is a spinoff of one of the older technology companies here in Uruguay that is actually 25 years old.
OLIVER: Having a FinTech chamber presence implies a very active FinTech sector here in Uruguay. Tell me a little bit about it.
MARTIN: Yes there is. Uruguay has a kind of dual legacy both on the technology side, where there are close to 400 IT companies here in. For a country that has three and a half million people it’s quite a bit, and there has been a very vibrant technology industry for the last 25 years. There is also a long history of Uruguay being a financial services centre for the region. So those two things provided a decent start point for our FinTech industry. You have kind of the dual focus of the industry, one focused on the domestic market, local payment systems and local financial systems – very relational stuff. The traditional things that a Fintech chamber typically does. And also a baby ecosystem of companies looking internationally.
OLIVER: Shortly I think there’s going to be a Fintech summit. Can you tell me a little bit about it from your perspective?
MARTIN: Well it’s an exciting event. It has become the flagship event for the FinTech industry here in Uruguay. This is going to be the third edition, and has been growing and becoming better since day one. It catalyzed the whole efforts of the industry around that event, even though there are a lot of international events. The Fintech forum has become the main centre of attention for the FinTech industry in the year.
OLIVER: Would you recommend overseas visitors coming as well?
MARTIN: Absolutely. I think if you want to have a perspective on where the industry is where it’s going, and how would it look for you to be operating in Uruguay, either for the domestic market or for the international markets in LatAm, that’s a very good starting point.
OLIVER: From the perspective of Bankingly, for example, your own company. I think you’re looking at international expansion for that, way beyond Uruguay itself. Tell us a little about the markets you’re headed towards.
MARTIN: Well, because where we have been focusing for the previous 20 years, we started in Latin America. We knew we had lead customer references and stuff like that from my other company. But then very quickly we started looking outside of Latin America. So now we have customers in Africa. We have customers in Europe. And we actually closed a big investment ground late in 2018 to invest heavily on our Africa expansion. That’s where we’re putting a lot of effort in right now.
OLIVER: That’s because it’s an application or service basically designed for smaller banks or credit unions or financial institutions? Is that correct?
MARTIN: Yes. We see the opportunity as being emerging markets that have large populations either unbanked or under banked. That’s where we see the opportunity. It doesn’t mean that there is no opportunity for us in more developed markets after that, and we get a lot of inbound interest from their end markets. But our outbound proactive effort is towards emerging markets right now, in Latin America and in Africa.
OLIVER: We’re sitting under a sign that says “helping people love their bank”. It’s obviously quite a challenge to do that. And it must be something to make people love their bank in every country.
MARTIN: Well, we put our lofty goal for ourselves now. Missions are supposed to be hard but achievable. And we definitely believe it is.
OLIVER: I hope it’s very successful, and I’ll look forward to seeing you again at the FinTech forum later this year. I hope that much of our audience listening to this will be interested in getting more information about it as well.
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