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Nubank formalizes entrance to Argentina, continues its massive expansion

This post is also available in: esEspañol (Spanish)

Contxto – Argentina’s Fintech boom has officially attracted Brazilian heavyweight challenger-bank Nubank to launch operations with its southern neighbor. Announced on May 9 by iProUP, this bombshell of a move may trigger both positive and controversial results in the region.

In summary

According to iProUP, the Brazilian virtual bank was presumably planning its expansion in stealth mode. Originally, the firm wasn’t talking to the press. However, the challenger bank has since done all the necessary paperwork to register operations in Argentina. It even announced Rafael Soto as the director of the local operation.

Rafael Soto reportedly resigned his position as Wenance‘s CTO to lead the Public Limited Company in Argentina. In the end, this debut could position Nubank as one of Argentina’s most prominent contenders poised to transform the banking industry.

Considering that Nubank also recently launched in Mexico as the “Nu” brand-subsidiary, the Fintech competition will be fierce for here on out.

Some may consider the traditional and tech sectors to complement one another. The fact of the matter is, though, that there’s a tremendous influence at stake. Since Nubank is the largest digital bank in the West, Brazil’s third unicorn’s involvement in Argentina may change banking as we know it forever.

On the other hand, some Argentine challenger banks like Brubank are nervous for phonetic reasons. That’s to say, both Nubank and Brunbank have similar sounding names. There’s speculation that there may be some branding controversies on the horizon.

In-depth

Argentina currently boasts over 130 rising Fintech companies. Over the last year, the industry accumulated over US$6,000 million with a growth of 110 percent. Numbers will most likely get even bigger in 2019.

Moreover, CEO and Founder of Nubank David Vélez contends that his company has expanded to fight the lack of competition in the traditional banking market. According to him, four or five banks own 70 to 80 percent of the Latin American market.

“If you want a credit card or bank account, they’re supposedly doing you a favor,” said Vélez, whose enterprise already has 8.5 million clients. “It must be the other way around.”

Fintech is experiencing such a positive reception in Argentina due to approximately 48 percent of its population not being affiliated with any bank. This means that one in two people are eligible challenger-bank customers.

Around 70 percent also don’t use traditional financial services. Most just withdraw their salaries from an account and don’t maintain a credit card, either. Based on these disparities, reports say that Nubank is the fifth most active credit card issuer in Brazil. Perhaps this statistic will apply to Argentina before we know it.

Mostly everyone is still tight-lipped about the Nubank maneuver, though. Nevertheless, the company has put all of its ducks in a row, such as registering its brand name and a new internet domain for its Argentine branch.

Much of this was possible due to Nubank’s collaboration with China’s Tencent. As the fifth largest tech corporation in the world, Tencent invested an impressive US$180 million to own part of Nubank’s shares. Thanks to this partnership, the first of its kind in Latin America with an Asian holding company, the Brazilian neo-bank raised its valuation to US$4 billion.

Conclusion

Argentine competitors such as Wilobank and Brubank may be afraid that Nubank will absorb a major share of the market. However, with most features becoming something like a commodity, the battle will most likely become a margins game.

Some traditional banks are also creating their own neobank offshoots to compete against digital platforms. Take Santander launching its Openbank platform in Latin America, for instance. This may only be the beginning of the new versus old competition at play.

Interestingly enough, more digital banks will soon arrive in Argentina as others consolidate. These include Naranja and Rebanking in partnership with American Express. To say the least, such “saturation” could give some power back to ordinary consumers.

One thing is important to take in mind – not many Brazilian startups have managed to expand to other Latin American markets successfully. Whatever the outcome is, this will certainly be a case study, some time from now.

-JA

Jacob Atkins
Jacob Atkins is a journalist specializing in Latin America. He studied journalism and international relations at American University in Washington, D.C. and has previously reported from Chile, Ecuador, Haiti and Mexico. When he isn't writing he's most likely hiking or drawing.

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