PIX, Brazil's instantpayments system logo
PIX, Brazil's instantpayments system logo, on a smartphone screen. Photo: Shutterstock.

Brazilian e-commerce will never be the same after PIX

In November, days before Black Friday, Brazil's instant payment system will allow a legion of new consumers to be able to buy online, in real time

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PIX, Brazil’s instant payment system controlled by its Central Bank, will be put to the test next November 3rd, a few days before its official debut (November 16th) and Black Friday (November 27th), the biggest event for Brazilian e-commerce. More inclusive and faster than any other payment method, PIX is expected to change this industry in a matter of months, not years.

“Of all the sectors that will be positively impacted by PIX, e-commerce will be the most benefited. Today, the predominant forms of payment are the credit card and the boleto bancário (a type of cash voucher or bank slip that Brazilians use to pay bills and purchases). On the one hand, the boleto shows incompatibility with services that require real-time operability, since it takes one to two days to clear and complete the transaction, on the other hand, credit card excludes many people because it requires a credit record, and other entry requirements most consumers don’t have. PIX covers these both gaps”, explains Carlos Eduardo Brandt, deputy head of Brazil’s Central Bank payments and banking operations department, in an interview with LABS.

He says that the Central Bank works with possible scenarios for the impact of PIX in several areas, but that it does not disclose them publicly so as not to influence expectations or guide decisions by financial agents.

READ ALSO: Brazil’s instant payments system, PIX has everything to boost the world’s biggest financial inclusion process

Looking at the current online consumer behavior in the country and the effects of the forced digitization promoted by the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months, however, it is easy to understand Brandt’s statement about the impact of PIX in the sector – or even why banks and fintechs have entered in a race to ensure that their customers register their PIX access keys soon in order to start using PIX through them from the very first day.

In 2019, according to data from Americas Market Intelligence (AMI), 60% of the nearly $40 billion spent within the Brazilian e-commerce occurred through national and international credit cards. Boletos came next, with 17% of that volume. Between 2018 and 2019, the volume of spending through these two methods grew by 6% and 7%, respectively.

At the same time, debit cards and digital wallets saw their shares increase 40% and 10%, respectively, to 4% and 14% of the total volume of spending.

With the amazing growth of fintechs and digital wallets in the last few months in the country – the Brazilian neobank Nubank closed September with 30 million customers, and digital wallet PicPay, with 33 million users –, these last two payment methods should definitely change their level in 2020.

What level? Hard to know. Many experts believe that digital wallets may overtake boletos this year.

Others say that the boletos share will be partly taken up by digital wallets, partly captured by debit cards, which not only have the advantage of being old acquaintances of Brazilians in the physical world, but of being the main payment method, in a virtual version, of the more than 97 million social accounts opened by state-owned bank Caixa Econômica Federal for the transfer of COVID-19’s emergency aid.

Furthermore, the arrival of the PIX in the last two months of 2020 should steal a part of all the other methods already mentioned.

READ ALSO: Brazil’s instant payments system can reach 20 million users in its first year

What makes PIX a revolution

PIX only requires a transactional account to operate, which can be a traditional bank account or a digital payment account offered by fintechs. “Payments are the first step in this broader financial inclusion process because payment is something you do every day. You don’t take out a loan every day, you don’t take out insurance every day, but you pay every day or almost every day,” stresses Brandt.

Another important point is the speed of PIX transactions, combined with its lower costs. Tests done so far, with the appropriate security layers, such as encryption of access keys or even machine learning applications capable of “learning” the typical behavior of each user, show that a transaction within PIX takes less than 1 millisecond (something much faster than the “up to 10 seconds” promised by the Central Bank back in February, at the launch of the system schedule).

For individuals, PIX will be completely free. For businesses, a substantial cost reduction is also expected – banks and fintechs have avoided passing numbers to avoid revealing their strategies before the official debut of the system, but the Central Bank itself intends to charge only BRL 0.01 for every ten transactions, a cost not yet experienced in the Brazilian market.

READ ALSO: The rise of digital wallets in Brazil

While Nubank says it will not charge entrepreneurs for transactions with PIX, acquiring companies like Stone are enabling PIX as part of a larger package of services already offered by them to businesses, as a way of defending that there will be room for all means of payment and that entrepreneurs must continue offering all the possible options to their customers.

In the specific case of e-commerce, the availability and interoperability of PIX are two other very important factors. From 6:30 am on November 16, the PIX will operate 24 hours a day, every day of the week, making room for the automation of a series of crucial stages in the customer journey.

With PIX instantaneous transfer order, the company will be able to release services or release the goods immediately

Carlos Eduardo Brandt, deputy head of Brazil’s Central Bank payments and banking operations department.

These advantages listed here are likely to appear to consumers in the form of greater discounts and faster deliveries when they pay with PIX.

PIX “rehearsal” starts on November 3rd

Between October 21 and November 2, the PIX will be available to the 688 institutions (direct and indirect participants) already approved by the BC, but only on working days, from 9 am to 6 pm, and for some operations, such as sending messages connectivity, and registration and discontinuation of settlement service for indirect participants.

On day 3, the PIX starts operating for real, but in a restricted way, that is, for a reduced number of users and even on limited days and times. “We advise institutions to select a sample that represents their customer base. If a bank has 10% of customers that are legal entities, and 90% that are individuals, it will release PIX for a sample that reflects this basis In addition, we will also have a reduced (time) window to test the PIX “, says Brandt.

According to him, retailers, marketplaces and e-commerce sites in general will test the PIX already prepared for Black Friday, that is, expecting a big increase in the number of accesses and transactions. “Of course, mistakes can happen, but I believe they are more fine-tuning,” says Brandt.

READ ALSO: The plans of VTEX, the newest Brazilian unicorn, to boost e-commerce in Latin American neighbors

PIX for cross-border e-commerce

Last week, the Central Bank’s Financial System Organization director, João Manoel Pinho de Mello, said during a webinar with specialized lawyers that an international PIX could leave until 2023. Brandt, however, says to LABS that it is not possible to set a deadline for that PIX can connect to instant payment systems in other countries and allow international companies to sell their products and services directly to Brazilian consumers.

This depends not only on tests, which have already started to take place within the scope of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), but also on the approval of the new exchange rate legislation (sent by the Central Bank to the Brazillian Congress last year and not yet discussed or approved by the senators).

PIX has already been built to a compatible international standard, that is, it is already prepared to talk to other ecosystems in other countries. But for it to work to its fullest, this new regulatory framework is necessary


He explains that without the regulatory framework, an international PIX might work, but would be limited to low value transactions. In addition to the new legislation, Brandt points out that any PIX connection to another instant payments ecosystem would involve negotiation of terms, and service levels. “And this negotiation is bilateral, it does not depend only on us,” he stresses.

In the meantime, nothing prevents international companies that are already registered in Brazil and have an arrangement with local payment providers to be able to use PIX within the process that they have already structured. “It depends a lot on how each company is structured. If the company has an account here, for example, and makes a PIX for its account here, it can later send it via remittance abroad. It depends on how to structure the process,” says Brandt.