Ualá: Moving from a payment application to a complete payment ecosystem

Right before lunch, after a morning of fireside chats at LendIt Fintech LatAm, was heavyweight Pierpaolo Barbieri, CEO and founder of Ualá.

Writer, historian, economist, and now entrepreneur, Argentina-based Barbieri operates a financial management app for 3.5 million users and recently raised $ 350 million Series D for a valuation of $ 2.45 billion. dollars.

“We live on a continent where over 50% of adults have never had a payment system other than cash,” Barbieri said. “When we condemn people to only operate in cash, we condemn them to the pursuit of building a credit history, or saving or accessing insurance, not to mention payments. “

“We thought about giving everyone accounts, giving them a global payment system, in our case a global Mastercard, and by using that we are better able to offer investments, savings products, installments, credit products, ”Barbieri said. “Since the last time we spoke, we have expanded to offer these products, as well as merchant acquisition.”

Barbieri appeared virtually on the Keynote stage

It was the highest single funding round in Argentine history, and because fintech is largely looking to the future. The Ualá’s user base captures 22% of 18-25 year olds in Argentina. So there is still room to grow up in a country with a young population, seven years younger than the United States and China.

Ualá is a reigning super financial app, complete with connected Mastercard, bill payment, investment products, loans, BNPL and insurance. Launched in 2017, the company reported that 65% of its users did not have a credit score before downloading the app but now have access to a fleet of financial services.

Barbieri said the success came not only from building a fully in-house tech store, but also partnering with outside companies that could offer services like insurance better than Ualá could on his own.

“Our idea was to create a financial marketplace, but that marketplace doesn’t need to virtualize every product,” said Barbieri.

Building with a partner

“We have mobility insurance, health insurance, cell phone insurance, pet insurance, these are the things that we have built with a partner because they need a better delivery mechanism, and we have to offer to our customers a better way to get insurance. But that doesn’t mean we have to offer these products ourselves.

Ualá branched out and was launched in Mexico last year. Now the super app plans to add full banking services with state licenses after applying for the purchase from Mexican bank ABC Capital.

While expanding into Mexico and hopefully more so, Barbieri said the biggest challenge was regulatory compliance. Outside of the EU and its banking union of sorts, there are no regions where a banking license in one country can give you access to an entire continent.

When expanding to a new country, Barbieri said it was important to maintain brand consistency while tailoring the experience to the needs of local customers.

“The biggest challenge is acquiring the license that allows you to deliver the products to the customers who need them,” said Barbieri.

“The brand is consistent, but the experiences are different. Finance is very local, when we came to Mexico we built from scratch. We kicked off the first day with things that took us 18 months in Argentina.

It’s easy to compare Latin America to China, a country that has seen an entire economy move from cash to digital in just over a decade. Barbieri said the same revolution could be underway in Latin America, but regulations and infrastructure have yet to change.

“I think it’s hard to put a number, but the pandemic has accelerated the changes. Many regulatory changes are needed, especially tax changes needed in Latin America, ”said Barbieri.

When I go to the United States, I pay for everything with my NFC-enabled phone: so the question about QR and NFC doesn’t matter as much as “beating the money” with different options and competition, and better rails. and I think Latin America is developing them.


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