Last week, Hernando Rubio, CEO and co-founder of MOVii, a Colombian fintech well known for its digital wallet service, which already serves 2.1 million people, spoke to LABS about the startup’s plans for the coming years. What started as a chat about goals and MOVii’s role during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to deliver government financial aid to the population, became a lesson on how the company can go far beyond that.
As happened in Brazil ten years ago, the Colombian financial system is flourishing, with old arrangements (such as the acquiring one) gradually being deregulated and opened up to new (local and foreign) entrants. As a regulated payments institution as well as a Visa and Mastercard-enabled card issuer and acquirer, MOVii has been chasing its own licenses, structures, and partnerships to make the most of this moment.
“What happens in Colombia is pretty much what happens in every other emerging market, especially in Latin America. We have around 650 million people in the region, and nearly 75% of them have access to mobile phones, but only a few of them have access to financial services on a regular basis; in Colombia, for example, only 14% have access to credit. So, there’s a big gap between people with smartphone access and people able to pay for things in a digital way. Closing this gap is the goal of many fintechs,” explained Rubio.
According to him, Colombia has around 36 banks, a large part of them with over 100 years of existence, and only six of these institutions have more than 1 million customers. “We started two years and a half ago, and we’ve reached 2.1 million users – almost 800,000 of them are active. So we are clearly the biggest digital banking challenger in Colombia,” stressed Rubio.
MOVii’s formula is similar to the one from other successful fintech challengers in the region: good user experience combined with free-of-charge and efficient digital payment services. With MOVii, users need only an ID and a smartphone to open an account that carries no fees. At the same time, customers without a smartphone (which is the case of nearly a quarter of Colombia’s population) can request MOVii’s debit card.
The COVID-19 pandemic, as in other places, helped MOVii to grow faster. Around 765,000 of MOVii’s customers used the fintech in 2021 to receive financial assistance from federal or local programs such as Ingreso Solidario – a program that reached over 3 million people who were not served by other social assistance initiatives before the pandemic.
Of those 3 million, 70% had never had a bank account before the program. Despite the effect of these emergency initiatives on official statistics, which today indicate that 86% of Colombian adults have a bank account, most of them do not use it frequently.
Indeed, banking penetration is a broader concept than simply having a checking account. “Certainly, we can say that only 20% or 30% of the adult population [in Colombia] actually uses an account actively. Most still use cash, which is why 90% of transactions in the country are still done this way,” emphasized Rubio. It is both an opportunity and a challenge to bring this vast contingent of people closer to a truly banked life, but MOVii thinks it’s getting there.
Last October, MOVii secured a $15 million Series B round led by Block, Inc (made up of Square, the fintech founded by Jack Dorsey and Jim McKelvey, and other platforms) and Hard Yaka – the family office of Greg Kidd, a first-round investor in Twitter and Square. Hard Yaka has invested in over 100 companies, including cutting-edge fintechs such as Coinbase. Fun fact: this is Block’s first investment in Latin America.
In addition to capital, the arrival of these two firms to MOVii means know-how to not only expand its digital wallet operations but to develop new financial services based on crypto-assets.
MOVii wants to enable bitcoin trading on its platforms and set a new B2B Fintech as a Service (FaaS) operation, offering other fintechs the possibility of using MOVii’s infrastructure. With its own licenses of payment institution, FX, remittances, and acquiring, MOVii also owns its infrastructure – it does not depend on banks to run its operations.
“Yes, we are a digital wallet; yes, we’re an issuer; yes, we’re an acquirer. I see MOVii as a digital account that can be used both by people and merchants to pay, collect and earn money (through commissions paid in exchange for balance refill operations destined to their products and services, for example),” said Rubio about what he expects MOVii to be in coming years.
Currently, MOVii has around 60,000 business customers using its account. The fintech is just starting to offer them its acquiring services too. “In Colombia, we are like Brazil seven years ago: the 36 banks [I mentioned earlier] compete in areas such as issuance but have agreed not to compete in the acquiring space. They own two acquirers, RedeBan and CrediBanco. Because of this duopoly, we have the region’s lowest digital payment acceptance penetration, with only 8% of the formal merchants accepting electronic payments. If we add the informal ones in this statistic, we would have something like 1%-2% of merchants, only, receiving digital payments.”
Following in the footsteps of Stone in Brazil, the startup opened an ‘acquiring hub’ in Bogotá, with sales and support teams dedicated to high-TPV customers. In 2022, the plan is to open 25 more hubs in other regions across the country. On another front, MOVii wants to integrate itself with the country’s 50 physical and digital payment aggregators, which currently only have Redeban and Credibanco as connection options. For them, argues Rubio, this will mean innovation, as MOVii is the only one connected to both Mastercard and Visa and has new pricing and tech structure that will allow them to develop new products at lower costs. “In December , we connected two [to MOVii]; this year we expect to connect to other 20.”
MOVii also intends to start its digital wallet operations in Peru soon – the fintech started a cash collection operation there seven years ago.