It’s been four years since I first interviewed with Nubank. At the time Edward Wible, our founding CTO told me: “I think the future of banking, around the world, may be defined in the Global South – in places like Brazil and India.” I was skeptical, but that possibility is one of the reasons I took the job, and it has stuck with me since.
By 2021 the world was excited about the transformative potential of FinTech. The press was abuzz with five visionary companies and their IPOs
– Coinbase built an accessible and compliant future for Crypto
– Robinhood reinvented investing for a new generation
– Affirm has disrupted consumer credit with interest-free Buy Now, Pay Later
– SOFI leveraged technology to reduce the burden of student debt
– Lemonade launched purpose-driven digital insurance products
Far from the US and the global press spotlight, Nubank was quietly and rapidly advancing – one of the last companies to IPO at the NYSE in 2021. Today, Nu’s market cap matches those of all the five companies above… combined.
Economists who study how industry ecosystems emerge (see Michael Porter: The Competitive Advantage of Nations) have shown that there are reasons why global champions emerge from specific times and places. It is not an accident that Toyota emerged from post-War Japan. Or that Walmart emerged from rural Arkansas on the heels of the US interstate highway system.
The customer need was profound – for small and inexpensive but reliable cars in post-war Japan; for discount retailing in the exurban Midwest.
The competition was intense. Japan had six+ companies fighting for auto market share. US retail had fierce competitors ranging from Sears to Kmart, Costco to Toys-R-US.
Brazil is a sophisticated middle-income country where income inequality and financial anxiety are high. Every BRL$ counts. Impressive competitors, from large banks and new digital players, are competing head to head. A commitment to innovation is required every day.
Furthermore, the Brazilian Central Bank is perhaps the most policy-progressive and technocratically impressive regulator in the world. It has systematically fostered pro-consumer innovation with an agenda that includes the PIX mobile payments system, Open Finance, and the Real Digital asset tokenization.
So perhaps Edward was right – maybe the future of Finance won’t come from New York or London. But from places like Brazil but also India, where entrepreneurs like Jitendra Gupta & the Jupiter team and Kunal Shah & the Cred team are bringing next generation banking to 1B+ people. And South Africa where Gerrie Fourie and Capitec are merging digital and physical financial access in truly novel ways. And Kazakhstan, where Mikhail Lomtadze & Kaspi are building a consumer platform across a dizzying range of industries.
Tech pioneers are emerging far from Silicon Valley. The most incredible stories are being written in unusual places. Stay tuned!
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