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Latin America has embraced the benefits of digital payments. This development is happening fast, and the entire region is adopting digitisation. We spoke to Daniel Passarelli, Executive Managing Director for Latin America at Worldline in São Paulo, about the impressive development in the region in the shape of Pix in Brazil, QR code-based transactions, cryptocurrencies and more
Daniel Passarelli, Executive Managing Director
for Latin America at Worldline
Can you tell us about the recent growth and development in the Latin American payments market?
Daniel Passarelli: Let’s start with instant payments which has become the main agenda of the Brazilian central bank. The central bank has created an instant payments initiative called Pix, which was launched in November 2020. The purpose of Pix is to enable consumers to send money through peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions 24/7. This solution is very similar to other products around the world, e.g. Venmo and Zelle: the difference is that the Brazilian central bank took the leadership on this agenda and had the banks develop the Pix system for P2P transactions. The next step is to make it possible for consumers to pay merchants using Pix through QR codes in in-store environments or via e-commerce platforms.
There are currently 102 million users of Pix, and over 885 million transactions were made in July 2021 alone (just eight months after the launch). From an e-commerce perspective this is huge, because it will change the way people pay merchants through e-commerce platforms throughout Brazil.
Pix is highly relevant now because it can be used by consumers without credit cards: this will democratise transactions through e-commerce. Unlike a CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currency), Pix is not blockchain-based but an infrastructure overseen by the central bank. All banks, PSPs (payment service providers) and financial institutions in Brazil had to integrate Pix through this new set-up created by the central bank, which is why it is growing and getting traction so fast. Its popularity, both with consumers and merchants, is due to its convenience and high level of security.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian central bank is working both on an open banking agenda and on a blockchain-based CBDC, unrelated to Pix. WhatsApp Pay by Facebook is another popular instant payment alternative that was launched recently in Brazil. WhatsApp Pay is integrated with schemes such as Visa and Mastercard, using the local acquirers in Brazil. Currently the solution allows the 100 million WhatsApp users in Brazil to transfer money through WhatsApp Chats.
What makes Worldline the best match for Latin America?
Daniel Passarelli: Worldline’s main advantage and value proposition is that we truly are a global company with a global mindset and reach in over 50 countries. We’ve built local integrations with the main local acquirers and partners in the main regions in Latin America. So, we have a very good coverage in terms of integration with acquirers covering the main regions of Latin America such as Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina, with an average of 70-80% market share in those countries. We want to ‘sell’ Latin America as a growth market to our enterprise global accounts. For instance, if we have a large merchant already connected to Worldline in a different region in Europe, the US or Asia who wants to expand to Latin America, Worldline would be the best alternative, as we already have local integrations and can expedite and accelerate their operations in Latin America. Having a team of local experts here is mandatory. Today, Worldline has two different offerings in Latin America; we have Gateway+ for e-commerce which connects local acquirers with global merchants. Worldline can provide the full transaction process and all the reporting, reconciliation and invoicing that merchants need. This offering is for merchants who already have a local entity in the region. We also have our cross-border Money Remittance solution, designed for merchants who do not have a local entity in Latin America. For instance, we have the leading provider of music streaming services as a client: we process all their transactions in the region and remit the funds to the client in another region. Through this set-up, the merchant can accept payments from national credit cards as well as all the alternative payment methods, such as Pix, Boleto, instalments etc.
During Covid-19, Latin Americans have become more open to using e-commerce from home. They have realised that digital payment alternatives are feasible and secure, and also that they are available for everyone, even the unbanked.
What is the current state of the Latin American payments market?
Daniel Passarelli: In Brazil the five largest banks have over 80% of the market share. However, the new digital banks have grown a lot during the past 5-10 years, together with fintechs and other digital alternatives for consumers. An example is the Brazilian NuBank, which is the largest digital bank in the world and currently has 40 million customers . They are challenging the traditional banks and creating not only a different approach to consumers, but also different digital products. Brazil has also seen the growth of different initiatives such as PicPay that are quite similar to the ones emerging in China and Asia in general, such as WeChat Pay and Alipay. This is resonating with consumers, who find these alternatives much more customer-centric and cheaper to use, tapping into a change in consumers behaviour and their approach to finance. The new fintechs are currently changing the market, and consumers are now evaluating alternatives instead of maintaining their relationship and bank accounts with the traditional banks.
Unfortunately, fraud is very present in Latin America and that is why the entire banking system and payments ecosystem have become stronger during the past years. Worldline has all the assets we need in order to offer fraud management, and we also have very good partners in the region, whose algorithms can recognise the specific fraudulent behaviours that are characteristic of the region.
Can you tell us about the open banking rules in Latin America?
Daniel Passarelli: The open banking regulation is related to bank concentration in Brazil. Brazil’s central bank is taking the leadership of the open banking agenda: they are currently pushing the whole market and ecosystem to build an open banking infrastructure. They expect to have the first phase of open banking ready by the end of 2021. The reason why the central bank is pushing this agenda is that it will be much more relevant to consumers and the merchants, giving more control and transparency, and letting the economy grow through this kind of infrastructure. This development is happening very fast because the central bank is leading it, and the fintech and start-up ecosystems are moving together and supporting the central bank in the open banking agenda.
Mexico and Colombia have been quick to capitalise on these new developments. Trends such as the use of stablecoins have become extremely popular with Mexicans living in the US: this new development allows them to send cryptocurrencies to their families in Mexico without the associated fees. Their families can then pay merchants in crypto, which will appear as pesos on the merchants’ accounts. Both Mexico and Colombia are going in the same direction as Brazil which, historically, has been the leader in terms of payments and banking in the region.
As a country with over 211 million citizens, Brazil needed to advance not only from a technology perspective but also in terms of regulations and fraud prevention. They have seen venture capitalists bringing a great deal of investment to Brazil within the past three to five years, providing the fintech ecosystem with exponential growth, and causing market share to grow as well. We will, without doubt, see even more comprehensive development throughout the entire region in the near future.
Boleto, which is currently used in Brazil, is a different kind of cash payment and is used when a consumer wants to buy an item on a website. If the consumer wants to pay using Boleto, they print out a voucher and pay via their bank, either in a physical branch or online. After two days the merchants will recognise the payment and ship the items. This payment method is popular in Brazil because the number of credit card users is relatively small. In Latin America as a whole, 70% of the population is unbanked or underbanked (meaning that while they may have a bank account, the holder may not own a credit card). Boleto is a way for the unbanked or underbanked to pay for an e-commerce purchase: Mexico has a similar solution called Oxxo.
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