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Sustainability Perspectives

Episode 63: Meet Amparo Nalvarte and Victoria Blanco Alegria

Welcome to the final episode of our limited series celebrating Women In Fintech. This time, we focus on the Latin American region, exploring the growth in fintech and the rise of innovations and women leaders and entrepreneurs in the industry. We recognize two women founders and executives, Amparo Nalvarte and Victoria Blanco Alegria, who discuss their hard work, career journeys and their future in the space.

Guests - Amparo Nalvarte, Co-Founder and Chief Alliance and Investment Officer at B89 and Victoria Blanco Alegria, Founder and CEO of Ábaco.

  • KEESA: Joining us today is Amparo Nalvarte, she's the cofounder and chief alliance and investment officer at B89, a fintech allowing fair and transparent cross-border digital payments. Amparo, thank you so much for joining us. So let us know, what led you into the digital payment space, which seems to be very hot right now! You have a specific market in mind, so what led you to the space and the market that you're focused on?

    AMPARO: well, I think that it’s important to start with my story a little bit. Because when I start in FinTech, I create a payment gateway by Culqi in 2013. The exit was in 2018. When I finished everything with Culqi, I started creating B89 as my second start up. So I was working in the world of FinTech and payments specifically, my first start up was focused on merchant companies. And on the other side in B89 I am focused on the customer side, people who want to consume so I think that in that market, the digital banks or neo-banks are working and growing very fast. They are focused on digital payments and focused on specific niche, also there is a trend focused on verticalization of banking. So that’s part o f why we created B89 as we want to focus on the Hispanic community but with a cross-border solution. We don’t want to be another neo-bank only focused on the local market. We believe we are citizens of the world so that’s why we create a very solid platform with cross-border payments at B89.

    KEESA: so tell us a bit about neo-banking which might be new to some folks. What does it entail? And what solutions does it provide?

    AMPARO: neo-banks are focused on payments and payments can be for example a credit or debit card, or wallet, that’s part of the products that a neo-bank has. What sis different from a neo or challenger bank for example. A neo-bank is a new start up or fintech that use the banking license of a partner so they can work. In challenger banks, those are the banks that can be digital but have their own banking license. So, it is like a differentiation on how we manage the operations, the license and the regulations. 

    KEESA: Thanks for sharing that background. When looking at this industry, we can talk about the neo-banking aspect of it, people in the financial services industry. How did you find models? And specifically, what drew you to those models?

    AMPARO: I have 2 types of role models. The first one is when I started with Culqi, I was just finishing university and didn’t know anything about payments. So, I made a person, a Peruvian guy who lived in Europe, he worked there with a payment gateway. Because of the contest and everything we were doing in that moment, he met us and we started talking about payments. So Europe is like 10 years ahead of what we have here in Peru. So he expxlained a lot of the payment industry. That was the first role model I had in that moment that’s related to the industry. When I was looking for another start up for example, Stripe is one of the best role models that I have seen. I really admire those guys that created Stripe and we were following what they were doing in cases of payments for merchants. In case of payments for issuers, I think the guys were doing a great job at NuBank. NuBank is huge and are in the top 10 of the startups in the world that have the highest valuations and the only one that have a female founder in that league, so I really admire those people.

    KEESA: And going back to B89, let us know a little bit about the way forward. What do you see the future looking like? You told us about why you created it and why it exists. Where do you see yourselves in the next year and next couple of years?

    AMPARO: With B89, we want to consolidate our value proposition. We want to be the neo-bank of the Hispanic community in the world. So we need to be in more countries to give that value proposition to everybody. So we have started in Peru in 2020, we have our product running here, but we are opening the US at the end of 2021. So for us, the united states is very important because 20% of the US population are Latinos. So it is a very big market, and it is the heart of money movement. A lot of people residing in the United States send a lot of money to their country of origin so they are moving money and that’s what we want to do. We want to make sure our product can work in the US and continue our expansion to other countries of Latin America.

    KEESA: Absolutely. There is a market and there is a need. Why is it important to encourage young women, women and girls interested in STEM – why is it important in your opinion and how you were encouraged and are encouraging other women now?

    AMPARO: It’s really important because when you see now, for example, in my case, most of the people I work with are male. And when I talk or when I have different ideas, or when I am thinking about women or if they don’t understand me or think I am the crazy girl or things like that, it’s kind of difficult to manage the situaiton because we are the minority in that part. But we need more girls studying these types of careers because when they grow, they can lead people and can be on the table making decisions and thinking in a different way because not only are numbers important, but the soft skills also that a woman has are very important. And we need more girls on the table to make important decisions.

    KEESA: Love that. And you really talk about 2 different gaps if you will, you talk about addressing the gap that exists in the market in terms of digital payments in the culture, your business and the gap existing for women. So in terms of being a woman of color, what do you think needs to be done to address these gaps? Either in the market or career areas? 

    AMPARO: If we want to increase th enumber of women in leadership roles, I think it is quite difficult. So we need to work with the youngest people. So if we start at Universities or schools and we really empower people not only with professional skills, but empower women with security. In most cases, women think in their minds that they cannot achieve these things, but we need to break those paradigms in our minds. So I think that it is a girls’ need neuromodel that can show them we can do things and the barriers are only in our minds. I think that’s very very important.

    KEESA: The last question here is what advice would you give yourself if you could go back? To some situations that you can now see more clearly or from a different perspective? 

    AMPARO: I think that I follow my instincts and always do. But I need to hear them more in the professional world. People don’t care about your feelings or what your instincts says – you need to support them with numbers to support your instincts. So, I think that we need to work a little bit harder to find those numbers or those things that support what you’re feeling in that moment. I hope that that can change but I think that it is important to have the reasons or important reasons for some people if you really want to make things happen.

    KEESA: Great advice and great information Amparo. Thank you so much for joining us. 

    AMPARO: Thank you so much. 

    KEESA: Victoria Blanco is founder and CEO of Ábaco, a Columbian microcredit fintech that focuses on democratizing the financial market for those that work for the gig economy. Her background in computer engineering led to tech job opportunities in companies like AirBus, then an opportunity to develop marketing strategies for Deloitte, brought her to Colombia from her native Spain. Now with a background in FinTech she has brought us Ábaco, the social impact startup. Welcome Victoria.

    VICTORIA: Hello, thank you for inviting me and giving me the chance to tell you about me and about Ábaco. 

    KEESA: We want to hear about Ábaco and the social problems it solves. But first, why is the Latin American market a great place to be right now?

    VICTORIA: Well, Latin America is a really big market where there's a large scope of options and growth in fintech area. For Ábaco it’s perfect because of the large amount of banks, lack of new processes that can measure customer risk and the exponential growth of the gig economy.

    KEESA: So tell us, who is benefiting from Ábaco specifically? What do your clients look like and what are they struggling with? What sorts of positives do you bring about to these clients and who are they?

    VICTORIA: Ábaco provides a financial opportunity to gig economy freelancers. We are working with the main gig economy platforms such as Rappi, Delivery Hero, LaManicurista and GoCap. We started our solution in Columbia in 2019 and this month March 2021 we have already launched in Mexico. In the case of Columbia we are creating the opportunity to gain access to Venezuelans in the country without regular visas. Ábaco is the only solution for them. Our customers don’t have any previous financial history and they don’t have many opportunities in the market and the ones that they have, are products with high interest rates. Ábaco brings a product to the market that really fits with their needs. With our value proposition they can get into the financial system with a product with low interest rates.

    KEESA: And how did you come up with this idea? Sometimes they need access to resources in this gig economy so they can continue to move their career forward. How did you come up with this idea of helping folks in the gig economy to help them have access to this? 

    VICTORIA: well, when I was working in Columbia I realized there’s a large number of people without financial services. Traditional credit scores can mess with them because there is a lack of information in the process. When I was living in Columbia one night my flat mate ordered a Rappi and it came to the house really late because he fell from his motorbike. We offered him a place to stay until the storm stopped. He said he needed to change parts of the bike, but banks don’t provide him any credit. He went to a bank and showed his earnings and the answer was ‘sorry we can’t help you, this information isn’t valid’. But his earnings were 3x the minimum wage. Why don’t we use this information to create a credit score? These people have good earnings. This is where the story begins. Next steps, I start to test it and provide microloans for spare parts. These microloans have a low amount and also a high product that allows us to test our models really fast with a product. 

    KEESA: What does your future look like? What do you want for your company in one or two years? 

    VICTORIA: Ábaco wants to be the credit reporting agency in the economy. People who are living paycheck to paycheck. Currently we are a lender business model because we must test our data model. But in the future, we want to be a big tech that can rate anyone from bringing information from mobile apps in your phone – apps, wallets or ecommerce. This rating will go to Proptech's and banks to provide services to our customers.

    KEESA: What is it about Ábaco that will ensure you are in all Latin America? What’s your secret to ensure you get there with Ábaco in one or two years and cover the whole region?

    VICTORIA: I think we have a really high scalable solution. At the end of the day, if our solution works for Columbia it can work all deliveries in LATAM because the information and methodology is the same. Of course, we will have to fix some cultural apparats in our model. 

    KEESA: great information Victoria. As well as your interest in computer engineering and fintech and bringing it together for social impact. Victoria Blanco thank you so much for joining us.