Brazil‘s first “food stamps” were paper. A notepad from which employees detached a few sheets of paper, used to pay for meals or groceries at the supermarket. Eighteen years ago, Alelo, a brand focused on benefits, incentives, and corporate expense management from the Elopar group – that has the country’s big banks such as Banco do Brasil and Bradesco as partners – helped digitize this market in partnership with Visa.
Back in 2003, the companies set up an operation to transform meal vouchers into a card. “We digitized money at that time and have been developing a series of evolutions over these 18 years,” said Márcio Alencar, head of digital strategy, marketing, and business at Alelo, in an interview with LABS.
After the magnetic card, came the plastic with chip and, later, the Alelo app. In 2019, the company accelerated the development of new technologies and launched a platform open to partners, for sharing APIs and offering more benefits to end-users. Recently, the company transferred its entire operation (processing platforms, customer relationship, and the Meu Alelo mobile app) to the Amazon Web Services cloud, which streamlined processes.
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Today, the company led by Cesario Nakamura has approximately 1,000 employees and more than 8 million customers (people who access Alelo’s payment services, whether in the worker benefits segment, corporate expense management, or prepaid for companies). There are more than 100,000 companies that use Alelo’s services, available in 700,000 partner commercial establishments.
“The payments market in which we operate is very dynamic. Many competitors, with many new options. We need to have a very clear plan to generate value for our customers,” recalls Alencar.
Alelo’s traditional competitors, the French companies Ticket and Sodexo, now compete with startups that want to diversify corporate benefits, such as iFood, which launched iFood Refeição, a meal voucher integrated with its restaurants’ partners; and Caju, which, in addition to the meal and food voucher, also offers insurance and options to exchange benefits for subscriptions to Netflix, Spotify, among others.
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“The voucher world is constantly evolving. All companies will move towards this direction [of diversifying benefits] because in the digital economy people have access to a lot of product offerings. That poses a challenge for the companies that already exist in that market. We opted for a digital transformation at the company a few years ago and now we’re reaping the rewards,” says the director.
The COVID-19 pandemic drove this transition, according to Alencar. Last year, Alelo launched a product that integrates several different payment accounts to meet the demand for flexible benefits from the employer market, i.e. companies that want to remunerate and support employees in this new remote working model.
The so-called “Alelo Tudo” has more than 30,000 customers. The product allows the employee to receive a line of aid: the amount of payment that would go towards food, meal or another prepaid payment account can be used to pay for internet or inputs for remote work.
BRL 160 million for Alelo’s digital transformation
Alelo is investing BRL 160 million (the company’s largest investment since its founding) in technology, mainly in the use of data as a driving factor for tenants to win and retain customers and also for users, assisting them when choosing where to eat, where to shop or where to fill up. “We believe in smart consumption, in which information can generate benefits for both the user and the retailer,” says Alencar. “Developing solutions based on data is a path with no return. Not only for us but the entire digital economy.”
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Within this investment, Alelo has set up a proprietary acquiring platform for processing transactions with the shopkeeper. Yet, Alencar points out that the company is not a competitor in the acquirer market, since the platform processes only Alelo’s own transactions. Alencar did not say which products will be available on the new acquiring platform but said the proprietary solutions are part of the company’s technological agenda and that they will be products aimed at both retailers and users.
It works like this: when the customer makes a transaction with the Alelo card, whether by e-commerce or in the brick-and-mortar shop, the processing of that transaction is done on Alelo’s new platform, which is faster than before because it is hosted on the cloud.
Over the past 17 years, Alelo has processed payments with Cielo. The decision to break with the acquirer and create a proprietary platform was made to streamline processes, according to Alencar.
It is not a total rupture, as Cielo continues as Alelo‘s partner in the capture of transactions, that is, in the POS (point of sale), but there are changes in transaction processing, from authorization to settlement. “In the next six months we will launch a lot of things based on this decision to invest in an acquiring platform,” says Alencar.
Alelo’s long-term plans: super app and delivery
“The super app is a desire, we have this big and difficult dream of making the app multi-purpose,” says Alencar. Meu Alelo is an application dedicated to the user, which before worked merely for balance consultation and now works as an app for transactions.
Within the app, users have the Pede Pronto digital ordering solution, where they can order food or buy at discount pharmacies, for example. Just like Goomer, Pede Pronto offers a digital menu for ordering and does not yet have couriers. The service was launched in October last year and already has over 200,000 people and 800 shop owners using it.
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Like Goomer, Alelo’s Pede Pronto had been created to simplify orders at shopping mall food courts. The idea was just to pick up the order already paid for by Pede Pronto at the restaurant counter. But with the pandemic, the product migrated to delivery. Today, about 50% of orders are delivered by the establishment itself and Alelo said that a network structure of couriers of Pede Pronto is being tested.
“The app now has this transactional offer and has a series of evolutions that will come from this technological review that we are doing, which gives conditions for us to accelerate.”
Asked if the super app would offer credit products, Alencar said that it is an agenda under analysis. “The dynamics of credit consumption in Brazil is changing as people are looking at credit more horizontally. We are studying these possibilities, both for companies and individuals.”