iupana presents Disruptoras 2020: The most innovative women in fintech and banking in Latin America in 2020.
This year, women leaders in Latin America’s financial sector have demonstrated their disruptive ability to counteract the uncertainty and adversity that businesses have had to face.
Innovation and resilience have been key to facing the challenges posed by the pandemic. That is why at iupana, we are proud to unveil Las Disruptoras, recognizing the women who have led innovation in banking and fintech and highlighting their hard work and dedication during this difficult year.
iupana’s editorial and analysis team – also composed of women – selected this group of 9 leaders who stood out in innovation, strategy and leadership in financial services in Latin America, according to our established awards methodology.
Here are Las Disruptoras: The Most Innovative Women in Latin American Fintech and Banking in 2020.
Gabriela Estrada is founder and finance and risk manager at Vexi, a Mexican startup that offers credit cards and has more than 115,000 clients.
Prior to joining the world of startups, Estrada spent 15 years in traditional banking. That experience served her well during this pandemic year, when she led a US$ 1.3m convertible notes issue, accompanied by a US$ 1.7m debt issue. Her goal for the first quarter of 2021 is to close a round of up to US$ 20m.
Because of her leadership of a high growth fintech, in addition to her ability to get funding for the company in an extremely complicated time, Estrada is one of iupana’s 2020 Disruptoras.
Her biggest challenge (and lesson) in the months of the pandemic was how to serve the un-banked market – Vexi’s main clients – during the crisis. Historically, this sector has been considered high risk, but a series of strategies allowed them to address the situation and prevent increased delinquency and collection rates.
“What we did was get closer to the clients, lower the minimum payments and the interest rates for all our products, when many other institutions increased them because of the risks the market was going to go through,” says Estrada, while mentioning that the un-banked market is “very loyal”, especially to those institutions that grant them their first line of credit.
“It has been an extremely difficult year in every way, one of many challenges was to tighten our belts within the company. But I’m super happy for the customers’ support and that Vexi’s presence is now pointing to really take off in 2021 and impacting many more people.”
Natalia Pinzón is co-founder of the Fintech Association of Guatemala, an organization she started two years ago to give greater visibility to the country’s growing financial startup community. Today, the association has 23 members.
As head of the group, one of the main challenges she took on was to create the foundations of an industry that does not exist in the country, as well as to make the ecosystem known. To achieve this, she established an internal structure to ensure it would “put the members at the forefront.”
Additionally, Pinzón also serves as product manager at Bowpi, a lending as a service fintech. The startup, she says, has given her the knowledge, experience and confidence needed to explore and grow professionally in this division.
This year she led the complete revamping of the lending as a service platform, as well as the culture area, facing the challenge of keeping the team motivated remotely during difficult times such as the last few months.
Pinzón is a Disruptora for her leadership capacity not only in fintech but also for being a promoter of the fintech ecosystem in Guatemala.
Among Bowpi’s long-term plans is to internationalize to other countries such as Mexico and the Dominican Republic. They currently operate in Guatemala and Honduras.
Together with the Association, she plans to participate in the working groups of the National Strategy for Financial Inclusion 2021, led by the Guatemala’s central bank and financial services regulator, a plan that seeks to reduce the percentage of unbanked people in Guatemala, which is currently 56%.
“The finance and technology industry are prominently led by men, and as a woman it is sometimes difficult to have a voice, but I have learned that is up to me to stand out. Being confident is something that has helped me,” she reflects.
Amparo Nalvarte began her fintech career with Culqi, a platform that allows any Peruvian business to accept payments over the internet, and of which she is still a director and minority shareholder. Her incursion into the initiative allowed her to win several awards, such as the Everywhere Initiative, an innovations award organized by Visa.
In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, Nalvarte is a Disruptora for her support of the ecosystem, celebrating, championing and advising other female entrepreneurs.
Her most recent venture in the sector is with B89, a neo-bank that will soon launch in the Peruvian market, starting with a credit card, and where the executive is founder and director of investments and alliances.
This second startup has been less difficult to launch, thanks to the contacts, knowledge and networking gained through building up Culqi. In terms of capital raising, for example, it used to take between 6 and 8 months to close a round of US$ 300,000, she says. Now, in much less time, she has managed to secure larger amounts, even from a single investor.
“Raising investment during a pandemic, without having a physical interview, and going and selling your startup to an investor who doesn’t know you and only sees you for a little bit through a camera is a challenge, but what is most valuable here, is personability,” says Nalvarte.
Looking ahead into next year, Nalvarte plans to continue working on B89, to develop financial literacy and wellness tools for the fintech’s users. The startup is in a pilot phase and has a waiting list of more than 20,000 people.
The disruptora explains that personal growth is key to the parallel growth of businesses and credits this factor to her professional success.
“We have always lived in a culture where women are not enough to take a leadership role, to lead a startup, to be mothers and entrepreneurs at the same time,” says Nalvarte. “But I think that when a woman starts to work on her self-awareness, on her spirit, on her inner beliefs, and starts to really understand herself and her own value, that’s where all that confidence comes out, the possibilities are endless.”
Victoria Blanco runs ábaco, a Colombian microcredit fintech.
iupana chose Blanco as a disruptora due to her leadership and direction of the Colombian startup. As a result of Covid-19, Blanco, who is based in Spain, had to interrupt her visit to the ábaco offices in Colombia, placing high trust in her team’s operational skills and efficient performance.
The startup has provided multiple learning opportunities she says, and she has grown with the business.
“Entrepreneurship is a merry-go-around of emotions, anything can happen to you any given day. It is important to know how to manage and learn to bring emotional stability, which is not easy to achieve in this journey. But I’ve learned how to manage it, and I’ve matured because of it,” says Blanco.
For next year, the goal is to bring ábaco to Mexico, and start thinking about a third market. She also plans to increase the current team to almost double the number of personnel, as well as to generate a reliable credit score, which can be shared with various financial entities.
“The financial system should think about opening up. After what is happening in Europe, where banking is being reinvented, this is going to reach Latin America,” she says.
“[The bank] has to think about what’s around it, and what has already been created, to include it as a solution that can help all customers. The more we collaborate, the faster progress will be made, and the better service will be provided.
This year, open banking has been on everyone’s lips.
It has become relevant – and no one doubts its growth. Prometeo, an open banking platform in Latin America, has followed the publication of regulatory frameworks this year that confirm the potential.
Aleman, co-founder of Prometeo, has been involved in open banking from the very beginning. As a conference speaker, advocate for the potential of open banking, and leading voice on the subject, Aleman is a Disruptora.
Aleman explains that while there was a lot of uncertainty before about the application of open banking in Latin America, it is now much more viable and scalable.
“For us, who are visionaries of open banking, it’s felt like an endorsement,” she says.
Next year, she foresees a period of growth thanks to the movement in various countries including Mexico, Brazil and Chile, which have allowed them to validate the “opportunity for business and open banking companies that are bringing value to the ecosystem”.
Mexico and Brazil will be the most important open banking markets in 2021, she predicts.
For the executive, 2020 has also been a challenging year, but one of great growth, not only professionally.
“When you build a company, you always aim at growth and always analyze yourself more in business terms, but in reality all professional skills carry other skills that are more internal, such as empathy, emotional stability, and social responsibility, among others.”
It’s been a year of huge digital payments adoption. Anabel Perez, CEO of NovoPayment, led many initiatives during the pandemic that helped bring more people into the financial system digitally.
NovoPayment is one of the leaders in its class at enabling global financial services and digital transactions. The company’s bank-grade solutions use APIs and other flexible delivery models to help financial institutions, merchants, and others, make the most out of their services to generate new deposits, transaction flows and customer experiences.
During her career, Anabel has put efforts in shortening inclusion gaps through digital payments. She recently reflected on the issue and mentioned that “digital inclusion without financial inclusion is less significant for any society”.
Now the objectives are shaping up to achieve rapid and value-enhancing changes in the process of modernizing and expanding two types of structures: digital mobile communications and financial systems.
Perez has become a reference in the payment industry, for her innovation and development of payment solutions and services, for this, she is a Disruptora.
“This year has made it clear why accessible models, digital-first and mobile-first, are so necessary for companies and individuals.”
Maria Laura Cuya has vast experience in the fintech sector: she is currently president of the Fintech Association of Peru and founding partner of Factoring Lab, a company focused on providing factoring services for SMBs. She is also CEO of Innova Funding, a marketplace that connects investors with SMBs and is president of APROFIN, the Peruvian Association of Financial Products for SMBs. In addition, she is a speaker and advisor in the development of new business models.
“The main purpose with Innova Funding is to make finances human for SMBs, giving them power. We seek to democratize the financing of microenterprises,” says Cuya.
Her company currently has a team made up of 53% women, “which makes us proud because our financial and technological model is enriched by their impact.”
It ensures that Peruvian SMBs led by women have a greater impact on their environment, so it seeks to strengthen them with financial education so they can make sound decisions.
She has led Peru’s Fintech Association for two years, and her work has helped promote the sector nationally and internationally. She has played a leading role in forming alliances in Peru and Latin America, and collaborates with the World Bank, addressing issues of financial inclusion and open banking.
Thanks to its active participation in several companies and startups, it is one of the main references of the industry in its country.
“My dream is to achieve more human and fair finances for the SMBs in the region,” says Cuya.
In Latin America’s open banking vanguard, Marcela Zetina oversees integrations with external partners and leads innovative projects for BBVA Mexico, and stands out as Disruptora for her leadership in open banking execution in Mexico.
While open banking is becoming increasingly relevant, the reality of not only understanding the opportunity for traditional financial institutions but also designing and executing concrete strategies and partnerships are highly complex tasks. It requires an intense mix of strategy, technological knowledge and leadership, qualities that Zetina shows in her role at BBVA.
Besides overseeing the development of APIs for the bank’s clients, Zetina is also very involved in open finance, betting on strategic alliances with the fintech ecosystem, enabling collaboration programs, and testing various solutions for the development of new products and digital banking experiences.
Angélica Arana stands out as a Disruptora both for her leadership in innovation within a traditional bank that is rapidly modernizing – Banorte is approaching the fintech world and has invested US$ 200m in a financial partnership with Rappi – and for her leadership and support of women in financial technology.
Arana explains that the biggest challenge this year has been to simplify people’s financial lives, considering that not everyone is ready for the digital world.
While she considers digital inclusion important for customers, she stresses that this move must be made with the necessary provisions.
“It’s like when you send a child out on the street and he doesn’t know how to cross it, or how to take care of himself. It’s the same when you add to the digital world a lot of people who haven’t been in it and don’t know how to protect themselves,” she says.
This year, Arana oversaw multiple architectural processes of this kind for Banorte and explains that her priority for next year will be open banking, which is emerging as one of the biggest challenges of 2021 for the entire local system.
She expects that Banorte will join the trend, focusing not only on regulatory compliance, but also taking advantage of all the potential that open finance offers, in order to include more people in the system and help them have a better management of their financial life.
“It’s a win-win for everyone,” she says.