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Friday, December 04, 2015

Can Mexico be the hub for fintech in Latin America?

"We look at the growth of fintech startups across Latin America." according to Jonathan Keane, freelance journalist, living in Ireland, covering business and technology. 

Photo: IDG Connect

Financial technology, or fintech, is having its moment. Just a few years ago, startups operating in the fintech space struggled to gain the same sort of notoriety or investment rounds as the hottest chat app or mobile games of the time. That’s been rapidly changing.

Just recently we’ve seen Japanese electronics and ecommerce giant Rakuten launch a $100 million investment fund for fintech startups globally. Despite this potentially global reach, different regions will throw up different challenges for fintech. North America and Europe seem ripe for the picking with mobile payments, commerce and the traditional banking sector getting involved.

The landscape for Latin America is very different though. World Bank figures from last year show that in Latin America, just about 51% of adults have a bank account but this is growing compared to a few years ago, all the while internet and smartphone penetration is growing with it.

This creates a heady mix of opportunity for fintech. People are warming up to banking services at the same time that smartphone penetration is swelling so it makes sense, at least on paper, that fintech startups should benefit but there are still plenty of challenges.

Lawrence McDaniel is head of investor relations at Startup Mexico and says that of the startups he’s seen there’s little in the way of fintech: “All of them are between PowerPoint stage and trying to win a first customer or find an early adopter.”

Mexico is in a nascent stage but there’s a wealth of burgeoning innovation centres and resources like incubators and accelerators for startups to use, he tells IDG Connect. “There are hundreds of innovation centres in Mexico today, up from zero a few years back,” he says...

Expanding into the US
For many startups in Latin America, getting out of their home country and bringing their product or service global is always the main goal.

This was the case for Colombia’s Easy Solutions, an anti-fraud firm specialising in financial institutions, which moved to Florida in 2007 to expand its global operations but to still be physically closer to its roots than say Silicon Valley.

The company was founded in Bogota. CEO Ricardo Villadiego says this helped initially in hiring because of a young population coming out of many universities. “It is also a centre for financial services in the region, which helps support the creation of fintech,” he says, but adds that more needs to be done in Latin America to stimulate growth in the space.

“First, offer investor guarantees for their investments by having more stable economies. Often, taxes can fluctuate significantly in short periods of time, affecting the investor’s confidence in funding a growing organization,” he says.

“Additionally, the process of opening a company in the country can [be] very cumbersome because wait times are long and there is a big amount of entities involved to complete the process.”

The players within Mexico’s entrepreneur community have recognised this. In October, more than 70 members established the country’s first financial technology trade association that will be working towards staking Mexico’s claim as a LatAm centre for fintech.

Source: IDG Connect