Which neobanks will rise or fall?

The neobank, or digital bank, phenomenon continues to take the world by storm, with global winners, from Brazil’s Nubank valued at $10 billion and Berlin’s N26 valued at $3.5 billion, to Chime, now valued at $14.5 billion as the most valuable consumer fintech in the United States.

Neobanks have led the charge of the $3.6 billion in venture capital funding for consumer fintech startups this year. And as the coronavirus-fueled acceleration of digital transformation continues, it seems the digital bank is here to stay, with some estimates pointing to neobanks reaching 60 million customers in North America and Europe by the end of 2020, and surpassing 145 million by 2024.

The space is also becoming more crowded, a trend which will only accelerate with fintech eating the world and creating greater infrastructure that enables any company to include a bank account as a product extension.

As a result, neobanks are not a monolithic model and not all are created equal. Looking underneath the hood of business models across the globe reveals remarkable operational differences and highlights specific features that are more likely to succeed in the long-term.

Five global models of neobanks

Today there are five distinct models that are leading globally:

Interchange-led: Relies on payments revenue, sourced through interchange as the revenue driver. Every time a customer uses the neobank’s card as a payment method they get paid [e.g. Chime / US; Neon (hybrid of 1 & 2) / Brazil].

Credit-led: Leverages a credit-first model, starting off with a credit card or similar offering, and later providing a bank account [e.g. Nubank, Neon (hybrid of 1 & 2) / Brazil].

Latin America’s digital transformation is making up for lost time

“Gradually, then suddenly.” Hemingway’s words succinctly capture the recent history of tech in Latin America. After more than a decade of gradual progress made through fits and starts, tech in Latin America finally hit its stride and has been growing at an accelerating pace in recent years.

The region now boasts 17 unicorns up from zero just three years ago. For the first time, the most valuable company in the region isn’t a state-controlled oil or mining behemoth, but rather e-commerce platform MercadoLibre.

We are only in the first chapter of this long story, however. When we compare the penetration of tech companies in Latin America to both developed and developing markets, we estimate that the market could grow nearly tenfold over the next decade. The value to be unlocked will be measured in trillions of dollars and the lives improved in the hundreds of millions.

Our venture capital fund, Atlantico, conducts a thorough annual analysis of market data from Latin America in what we call the Latin America Digital Transformation Report. The report consists of hundreds of data-rich slides based off of original studies, surveys and models constructed from a combination of public and proprietary data shared by many of the region’s leading tech companies. This year, for the first time, we have decided to make the report public and here we highlight some of the findings from this year.

Global venture capitalists, the likes of Sequoia, Benchmark and a16z have planted their flags through key investments in companies like Nubank, Wildlife and Loft. Those are not isolated incidents – venture capital investments in the region have nearly doubled annually for the last three years according to the Latin American Venture Capital Association (LAVCA). In order to understand what investors are seeing in the region, we analyzed the market through a simple framework we apply throughout our report.

The starting point for this framework is the socioeconomic foundation in place. The context in which transformation occurs is important in shaping its possible outcome. The same ingredients applied in different contexts and time periods will produce very different results. Thus, we believe that Latin America is unique globally, and the types of companies that will flourish (and to what extent) will be different than in other parts of the world. Trying to shoehorn foreign business models and products is unlikely to yield good results.

In the case of Latin America, it’s key to remember the region boasts a population twice that of the United States and a GDP half that of China’s (but similar on a per capita basis). In short: Latin America is big, a central factor that has the power to attract capital and talent. However, also critical to note is that economic inequality is severe. While a quarter of the region’s population lives in poverty, the wealthy in Mexico City and São Paulo enjoy living standards in line with their peers in New York and London.

This unique mix of large opportunity and critical problems waiting to be solved has provided fertile ground for the gig economy to flourish. Case-in-point: Brazil is Uber’s largest market globally in volume of rides, with São Paulo its largest city. Rappi, a major food delivery player in the region, valued at over $3 billion, grew its sales by 113% over the first five months of the pandemic. When taken together, the largest ride-hailing and food-delivery services in Brazil are already the largest private employer in Brazil, a formidable contribution to reducing high unemployment.

When we track technology company value as a percent of the economy (tech company market cap as a % of GDP) we clearly see that Latin America, at 2.2% penetration, has a ways to go. Our estimate is that it is 10 years behind China (at 27% penetration), which itself is five years behind current U.S. levels (39% penetration).

Image Credits: Atlantico

However, it is important to note that Latin America is making up for lost time. This metric for tech company penetration or share has been growing on average at 65% per year since 2003. In comparison, the growth in U.S. tech company penetration has grown at 11% annually in the same period, while China’s has expanded at 40%.

https://www.atlantico.vc/latin-america-digital-transformation-report

Image Credits: Atlantico

Drivers of digital transformation

Within the socioeconomic context of the region, we advance to looking at the three drivers of change in our framework: people, capital and regulation.

On the people front, the greater visibility of successful role models has catalyzed a desire to follow entrepreneurial footsteps. People like Mike Krieger (co-founder of Instagram), Marcos Galperin (founder/CEO of Mercado Libre) and Henrique Dubugras (founder/co-CEO of Brex) have shown that local talent can go on to build global companies.

In a survey we conducted with nearly 1,700 college students from the top universities in Brazil, 26% of students voiced a desire to work at startups or big tech companies. A whopping 39% expressed plans to start a company in the future, that number rising to 60% when we consider only computer science students. As more and more of the region’s top graduates flock to tech, it gives us confidence in the accelerating growth of the sector over many years to come.

On the capital front, the growth of venture funding in the region has been frequently written about. Last year, it hit a peak of $4.6 billion after doubling from the year before. However, what perhaps is more surprising is that despite this rapid growth, we are still far from the ceiling. When we view venture capital investments as a proportion of GDP, we see Latin America as only one-seventh of the U.S. level and a quarter of the level in India.

Jüsto adds another $5 million in funding to build its online, delivery-only grocery store for Latin America

As it begins expanding beyond its home base in Mexico City, the on-demand, online only grocery store Jüsto has  added another $5 million in early stage funding.

The new money came from Bimbo Ventures, the strategic investment arm of one of the world’s largest bakery companies, Bimbo, and Sweet Capital, the investment fund from the founders of King.com.

Over the summer, the company expanded its services beyond Mexico City to Carretaro and saw explosive growth. According to Jüsto co-founder and company spokesman Manolo Fernandez. With sales in the first week equaling what had taken the company 200 days to achieve in Mexico City. Tavarez said it was an indicator of the demand for the company’s service across the country.

The $5 million top-up comes only a few months after Jüsto raised $12 million in funding from a slew of well-known global and Latin American investors and shows just how robust the early stage investment scene in Latin America is becoming.

As the company expands it may look to engage in some joint ventures with delivery services in other countries to expand its footprint, according to Fernandez, but for now, the focus is on growing its footprint independently.

The company will look to open operations in cities in Colombia, Peru, and potentially Ecuador in the next year, Fernandez said.

Atlanta gets a billion dollar startup business as Greenlight’s family-focused fintech nabs $215 million

Greenlight Financial Technology, the fintech company that pitches parents on kid-friendly bank accounts, has raised $215 million in a new round of funding.

The round gives the Atlanta-based startup a $1.2 billion valuation thanks to backing from Canapi Ventures, TTV  Capital, BOND, DST Global, Goodwater Capital and Fin VC.

It’s a huge win for the Canadian-based venture investor Relay Ventures .

Since it launched its debit cards for kids in 2017, the company has managed to set up accounts for more than 2 million parents and children, who have saved more than $50 million through the app.

“Greenlight’s rapid growth is a testament to the value they bring to millions of parents and kids every day. My wife and I trust Greenlight to give us the modern tools to teach our children how to manage money,” said Gardiner Garrard, Founding Partner at TTV Capital, in a statement. “TTV Capital is thrilled to provide continued investment to help the company empower more parents.”

The company pitches itself as more than just a debit card, with apps that give parents the ability to deposit money in accounts and pay for allowance, manage chores and set flexible controls on how much kids can spend.

It’s a potentially massive business that can lock in a whole generation to a financial services platform, which is likely one reason why a whole slew of companies have launched with a similar thesis. There’s Kard, Step, and Current which are pitching similar businesses in the U.S. and Mozper recently launched from Y Combinator to bring the model to Latin America.

“Greenlight’s smart debit card is transforming the way parents teach their kids about responsible money management and financial literacy,” said Noah Knauf, general partner at BOND. “Having achieved phenomenal growth year-over-year, this is a company on the fast-track to becoming a household name. We look forward to working alongside the Greenlight team to support their continued growth.”

Miami-based Marco Financial is launching a revenue-based lending service for Latin American SMEs

Marco Financial, a new Miami-based startup, is looking to take a piece of the roughly $350 billion trade finance market for Latin American exporters with its novel factoring services business. 

Small and medium-sized businesses in Latin America can have trouble getting the financing they need to launch export operations to the U.S. and Marco said it aims to bridge that gap with new risk modeling and management tools that can make better decisions on who should receive loans.

For smaller businesses in Latin America, accessing trade finance to export their goods is a major concern and a top reason why many dont succeed,” said Javier Urrutia, director of Foreign Investments at PROCOLOMBIA, an organization that promotes foreign investment and non-traditional exports in Colombia, in a statement from the company. In Colombia alone, a 1% increase in exporter productivity in our textile industry would result in 500,000 new jobs for the country.

The company is backed by a small seed round from Struck Capital and Antler and over $20 million in a credit facility underwritten by Arcadia Funds.  

As a former owner of a small business in Latin America, I saw firsthand how difficult it is for SMEs in this region to access trade financing that will let them export their goods while retaining enough capital to keep their business running,” said Peter D. Spradling, COO and co-founder of Marco, in a statementAccess to trade finance is one of the greatest hurdles in business operations and the traditional system dominated by banks is simply not working anymore, disproportionately hurting SMEs and further restricting economic mobility and job creation in emerging markets. Equity funding and a material credit facility let us serve this underserved market in Latin America and help build a healthier, more equitable trade ecosystem reflective of an increasingly borderless global economy.

Spradling met his co-founder Jacob Shoihet through the Antler accelerator, a Singapore and New York-based early-stage investment and advisory services program that connects entrepreneurs and tech operators to launch new businesses. 

Shoihet, a classically trained musician who fell in with the startup scene in New York through work at Yelp, was eager to launch his own company and connected with Spradling over shared interests in intermittent fasting and sports.

Small and medium businesses have a hard time receiving loans from traditional lenders thanks to tighter regulations and capital controls dating back to the 2008 financial crisis, according to Marco’s founders. And the long periods that companies have to wait between when goods are shipped and orders are payed can put undue pressure on business operations. Factoring solves the gap by lending to merchants based on their receivables.

Marco said that it can reduce the length of the loan origination process from over two months to one week and provide funding to approved exporters within 24 hours.

The company is initially focused on Mexico, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia and Peru, and chose those markets because of Spradling’s previous experience as an importer and exporter across the region.

“We look for companies that not only target massive, sleepy industries but also for ones that are led by management teams with fresh perspectives and asymmetric information that position them to upend incumbents,” said Yida Gao, partner at Struck Capital, in a statement. “In short order, Marco has assembled a world-class team to tackle the multi trillion-dollar trade finance market in a post-Covid time when SMEs around the world need, more than ever, reliable capital to fund operations and growth. We are excited to be part of Marco’s journey to support the suppliers that are the backbone of global trade.”

Brazil’s banks try to outflank challengers by investing in a $15 million round for Quanto

Trying to outflank competition from neo banks and other potential challengers, two of Brazil’s largest financial services institutions, Bradesco and Itaú Unibanco, have invested in Quanto, a company developing technology to let retailers and other businesses access financial information and services.

Joining Brazil’s two largest banks are Kaszek Ventures, one of Latin America’s largest venture capital firms, and Coatue, the multi-billion dollar hedge fund. 

Bradesco joined the round through its InovaBra Ventures investment fund while Itaú invested directly and had its participation approved by Brazil’s Central Bank, according to a statement.

“Open banking changes the way we understand and consume financial services, but it’s quite exciting to see the Brazilian market embracing this new moment in such a positive way,” said Richard Taveira, Quanto’s chief executive, in a statement. “Brazil has the potential to lead the use of open banking worldwide, and this round is a testament to that.”

Brazil’s Central Bank is deeply invested in the prospect of opening up banking regulation to allow information and data sharing between payment processors and technology providers, retailers, and other service providers in the financial services value chain.

Quanto, which provides standardized bank data application programming interfaces that allow institutions to slash the time it takes to ccess bank account data.

“Open banking is an important evolution in the financial services market and we believe that Quanto can contribute in an impactful way in creating a more competitive market, focused on the customer experience,” said Rafael Padilha, Director at Bradesco Private Equity and Inovabra Ventures, in a statement.

The Quanto technology could enable financial product distribution through the same API platform as business to business services, the company said. Quanto claims that its services will make it easier for customers to access low-interest credit lines with a single sign-on model and to receive competitive interest rates by sharing banking data with multiple lenders in a single flow.

“Quanto provides the rail for banks and fintechs to compete, and consumers are the ones who win”, said Taveira.

Thunes, a fintech startup serving emerging markets, raises $60 million led by Africa-focused Helios Investment Partners

Thunes, a Singapore-based startup developing a cross-border payments network to make financial services more accessible in emerging markets, announced today it has raised a $60 million Series B. The round was led by Africa-focused firm Helios Investment Partners, with participation from Checkout.com, and returning investors GGV Capital and Future Shape.

Thunes launched in 2019 when financial tech company TransferTo split into two companies: Thunes for business-to-business solutions, and DT One, which focuses on consumer services like mobile top-ups and data bundles.

Thunes develops APIs and other technology for financial companies, including banks, digital wallet providers, and money transfer services, that helps them reach customers in emerging economies, who often don’t have access to traditional bank accounts. Instead, many rely on digital wallets or mobile money accounts to make or receive online payments.

The company now operates in about 100 countries, up from 40 when TechCrunch covered its $10 million Series A in May 2019. The latest round will be used to grow its operations across Africa, Asia and Latin America, and brings Thunes’ total raised so far to $70 million.

Headquartered in Singapore, Thunes also has offices in London, Shanghai, New York, Dubai and Nairobi. Chief executive officer Peter De Caluwe told TechCrunch that Thunes looked for active investors who could help it work with banks and regulators in new markets, and help them connect with potential clients. Part of its Series B round will be used to hire teams in countries it wants to enter or expand its operations in, including Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia.

“Having Helios, who know many of the regulators and players already in Africa, will allow us to grow faster and get introductions,” said De Caluwe. “GGV did the same for us in China, because GGV is well-established in China and the [San Francisco] Bay Area.”

In an email to TechCrunch, Helios Investment Partners co-founder and managing partner Tope Lawani said the firm focuses on fintech, especially payments, in Africa, and backed Thunes because it is building important financial infrastructure.

Its other investments include online payment platform Fawry, which recently went public on the Egyptian Stock Exchange.

“Cross-border payments represents a significant market opportunity globally given increasing cross border trade and globalization; yet, across several emerging markets, fragmented and complex payment ecosystems often leave businesses and consumers struggling with slow, costly and unreliable ways of moving money,” Lawani said. “Thunes’ unique platform which was set up to address these pain points by providing accessible, fast and reliable payment solutions stood out to us as a company very well positioned to capture this growth”

Peter De Caluwe, the chief executive officer of cross-borders payment network Thunes

Peter De Caluwe, chief executive officer of cross-border payments network Thunes

Pulling together a fragmented ecosystem

Similarly to how the SWIFT system connects traditional banks, Thunes’ cross-border payments network makes it easier to transfer money online to recipients in different countries, even if they use different financial services, by serving as a hub for financial institutions, digital wallets and other payment systems.

De Caluwe said Thunes divides its markets’ needs into four categories. The first are countries that are primarily cash-driven, like the Philippines. The second are places where there is a dominant digital wallet, like MPesa in Kenya (one of Thunes’ clients). Then there are countries like Indonesia, where there are a host of new financial instruments, like GrabPay or GoPay. Finally, Thunes also serves banks that usually work with businesses.

“Nobody really connects all these players together. It might sound very logical to do that, but it’s almost like building an infrastructure, making sure there are pipes, tunnels, or whatever you want to call it, going between a wallet in Africa, a bank in China or accounting in Southeast Asia,” said De Caluwe.

SWIFT (or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication), founded in 1973, revolutionized the financial industry by connecting banks through a standardized messaging system. This is what enables people to deposit checks from another bank into their accounts.

Thunes wants to do the same thing with digital financial services in emerging markets. “All of these e-wallets, bank accounts, mobile money accounts, we plug them into our central platform, so they become interoperable, which means that you can easily transfer money from one country to another country over our network,” De Caluwe said.

Thunes’ market opportunity is massive: based on data from a strategic workshop it conducted with financial research firm EY, about $45 trillion flows between the countries Thunes operates in. That amount includes many different kinds of transactions, but Thunes is taking a focused approach to which ones it handles, with APIs designed for specific use cases.

The first example De Caluwe gave is for remittance companies, including MoneyGram, Western Union and Remitly (all Thunes clients), to move money into digital wallets and bank accounts. Another API was developed for processing large amounts of payments and is used by clients like VIA, a region-wide mobile wallet alliance launched by Singtel Group, the Singapore-based telecommunications conglomerate. Thunes’ technology allows people to make payments from their VIA wallets in different currencies and countries. A major part of Thunes’ business is also its B2B solutions, designed for cross-border trade, that allows companies in different countries to transfer money directly into each other’s bank accounts without needing to deal with a maze of interbank connections and long wait times.

How Thunes’ technology helps

Part of Thunes’ Series B is earmarked for product development, specifically technology that will enable more collections from countries. De Caluwe explained that so far, most of Thunes’ solutions have focused on moving money into its markets. A potential use case for collections are Chinese retailers who sell to customers in African countries. Thunes’ new solution will allow them to collect payments directly from a digital wallet like MPesa, while making it easier for people to make payments on sites that don’t accept digital wallets or mobile money accounts. To serve those customers, Thunes is also working on digital bank accounts, which it has already begun piloting in Indonesia. Users are able to deposit cash into their digital bank accounts at ATMs, and then use those funds for online payments.

Other noteworthy Thunes clients include Grab, which uses its real-time payment system to make daily transfers to drivers’ digital wallets, bank accounts or cash pick-up locations, and the National Bank of Dubai.

Traditional methods of sending money across international borders are time-consuming and expensive, and there many financial tech companies looking to solve some of those pain points. Some of the best-known are Transferwise, Revolut and Payoneer.

Thunes differentiates by focusing almost exclusively on emerging markets, where the barriers to entry are high. Transferwise theoretically is a competitor, but it doesn’t serve as many markets as Thunes, and is also a potential client for Thunes’ technology, De Caluwe said.

Thunes does compete with regional digital payment hubs, but De Caluwe said the market opportunity is so vast he’d be “happy to share that $45 trillion with many players, because even if we could get one or two percent of that, we would already be a very larger business.” He added, “the market is so large and the systems that are currently used are broken or not helpful because many consumers can’t even get access to it since they don’t have a bank accounts, they only have a digital wallet or mobile money account.”

One advantage of Thunes’ technology is that it significantly reduces the amount of transaction fees consumers or businesses need to pay. The company makes revenue by charging a fixed transaction fee between two cents to $2, depending on the destination country. If there is a currency exchange involved, it charges a small markup on the exchange rate, using mid-market rates for reference.

“We need to make money, but our price also needs to be very attractive for a bank, a financial institution, digital wallet or mobile money accounts, so they can also make a markup on what they’re selling to the customer,” De Caluwe said. “So we operate on small margins, high volumes and high frequency.”

Hear E-Prix Champion di Grassi on the future of electric motor sports (including scooters)

Lucas di Grassi is returning to TechCrunch’s stage, and we’re going to talk racing electric vehicles. Again. Because electric is the future of motoring including motorsports.

There’s a lot to talk about with di Grassi. He’s an outspoken proponent of electric vehicles, previously helping to develop Formula E, push forward the AI racing circuit Roborace, and is now developing an international electric race scooter series. He’s seemingly focused on justifying the benefits of electric vehicles in the name of the environment and acts as a Clear Air Advocate for the UN and is organizing a technology and business event for a zero-carbon future in Latin America called Zero Summit.

Di Grassi is a racer in Formula E and a former champion, taking the podium in 2016. Before racing for the series, he helped develop the vehicles used in Formula E. Now, even with his plate full of other projects, he continues to compete in the electric F1 series.

The last time he spoke at a TechCrunch event, he talked extensively on Roborace’s development and arrival. At the time he was the CEO of Roborace, and now, nearly two years later, Roborace still seems like a far-fetched idea.

Di Grassi teamed up with former F1 driver Alex Wurz for a different racing series involving electric scooters. Called eSkootr Championship, the series is said to feature purpose-built scooters that are capable of speeds up to 100 km/h. The pair, along with motorsport entrepreneur CEO Hrak Sarikissian, and COO Khalil Beschir, an F1 broadcaster and former A1 GP racing driver, hope the series’s lower cost of entry will draw racers from different backgrounds and disciplines.

We hope you can join us at our TC: Sessions Mobility event on October 6 and 7 to hear from di Grassi and other icons trying to change the face of mobility. Tickets are currently on sale and available at an Early Bird rate until September 4th, 11:59 p.m. (PDT).

The H-1B visa ban is creating nearshore business partnership opportunities

In June, President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily suspending work visas for H-1B holders, which includes skilled workers like software developers.

Considering that 71% of workers in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs are international, the order poses a number of logistical and business challenges for startups.

While nearshoring was an option before the virus struck, the urgency to nearshore due to the visa ban, combined with the remote revolution taking place, has meant companies are reconsidering it as a solution. As a result, the suspension presents an opportunity for companies to bring on board software development capabilities from abroad.

Nearshoring is a way to hire teams in locations that share similar time zones and are easily accessible. Nearshoring also enables U.S. companies to utilize services from close locations, where the talent, working conditions, and salaries are more favorable. In fact, it can save businesses up to 80% on costs, while providing employees with flexibility, autonomy and better career development pathways.

Not only is nearshoring a pragmatic response to the visa ban, it has the potential to be a long-term hiring alternative for businesses. Here’s how:

Laying the groundwork for remote teams

Amid the pandemic, demand for developers has remained high, no doubt due to companies needing teams to build, maintain and optimize digital platforms as they transition to online services. The visa ban means that businesses in foreign markets can help meet such demand, particularly as tech talent from other countries comes with a fresh, different skill set that empowers companies to solve problems in new ways.

In the past, moving to the U.S. and living the American Dream oriented many foreign businesses’ professional paths. However, the trend has changed. The appeal of the United States was slipping prior to the virus — it ranked 46th out of 66 for “perceived friendliest to expats” — and post-COVID-19 may be even more detrimental.

In a more connected world, businesses and individuals can reap the benefits of U.S. opportunities — top technology stack, access to exciting companies and world-class research — without having to actually live in the country. In this respect, nearshoring means foreign teams have the best of both worlds: the comfort of home and ties to an international powerhouse.

The remote shift is demonstrating that teams can function well at a distance; some studies have even revealed that employee productivity and happiness benefit from remote work. In the global remote shift, nearshoring is being seen as an accepted and advantageous model. Companies that opt to nearshore in response to the visa ban can take advantage of the changing tides and use this time to lay the groundwork for best practices within remote teams. For instance, by devising policies for things like communication, tracking progress, vacation and development plans according to the new conditions and specific mission statements. As a result, businesses can seamlessly build professional partnerships.

Another advantage of nearshoring is that the flexible teams contribute to a ready-to-scale model for startups. By having development partners located in different countries, companies can network on a wider level and grow faster among local markets. Rather than start from scratch when expanding, nearshoring gives companies a presence — no matter how small — across regions, which can later be built upon.

Attracting fresh investment

Similar to having a readiness to scale, the H-1B visa suspension positions nearshoring as a viable way to strategically partner with foreign development studios. In contrast to offshoring, nearshored businesses are often more vested in the projects they work on because they share time zones and are thus able to work more closely and with greater agility. Within startups, such agility is essential to continuously test, iterate and pivot products or services. Outsourced teams often have defined outputs to achieve, while freelancers are split across several projects, so aren’t completely ingrained in companies’ visions.

With nearshoring, startups can target partners that have experience in a particular area of business or with a specific tech feature and accelerate their time to market. Instead of building systems from zero, they can launch into version 2.0 because the wider choice of experts means there’s a higher chance of partnering with teams who already understand how the industry functions. Nearshore partners also have vast knowledge across industrial fields at a level that is impossible for direct hires to have. Companies therefore don’t have to tackle the difficulty of curating a great team, because nearshore partners are an already solid pairing.

When it comes to funding, this synchronicity, agility and preparedness indicates that a startup has momentum. For investors, nearshoring shows that the company has on-the-ground insights about potential markets to disrupt, and that the business model can thrive using remote teams. As the world braces itself to go fully digital, startups that have already adopted remote processes that catalyze growth will no doubt catch the attention of investors.

Promoting greater diversity in teams

Latin America is a clear choice for U.S. businesses looking to nearshore. The region’s proximity, increasing internet penetration, and impressive number of highly skilled developers are all a significant draw.

It’s also worth noting that diversity plays a core role in nearshoring. Currently within tech, Hispanic workers are noticeably underrepresented, making up a mere 16.7% of jobs. Despite the physical distance, nearshoring in Latin America can bring people from different social and economic backgrounds into companies, boosting their visibility in industries as a whole, and setting a firm foundation for equality.

Studies also show that diversity influences creativity among teams, as well as increases company revenue.

Moreover, nearshoring accelerates diversity in a manner that isn’t disruptive. Foreign team members don’t have to sacrifice their home, friends and family to further their professional career. Relocating to the U.S. can be daunting for people who haven’t previously worked abroad, especially when factoring the change in living costs and new culture norms. Nearshoring means teams can work from locations they’re familiar with, so need less time to get up to speed on business processes. They additionally have the emotional support of their social circles nearby, which in the current climate is important for employees’ personal and professional wellbeing.

Leveraging the right partnership

Research is key to successfully find a nearshore company, and startups don’t always have the time and resources to conduct an in-depth analysis of locations and their ecosystems. The most practical manner to nearshore the right talent is with a nearshoring partner that is responsible for scouting, vetting and communicating with foreign developers.

To find an appropriate partner, ensure that they have previous experience in your industry and positive testimonials from startups in your location. They should also have a clear presence in the regions they operate in; try checking online for their press releases, events they sponsor and general content that validates they are active and respected.

Once you’ve found an appropriate nearshore partner, rely on them to know what teams in your preferred locations need in terms of culture. Nearshore partners will essentially be your development partner — you can leverage them to be your whole Research and Development department. They can guide you on the tech side of your business, advise you on the right team at the right time, give you direction on stack and methodology, and curate the right environment for the team to be productive. In contrast, hiring freelancers comes with risks because you won’t necessarily know the specific needs of the location they’re in. Be aware — if there’s a cultural disconnect, you risk not finding a partner, but a vendor that’s buying into a superficial version of your startup, as opposed to your real startup vision.

Once you’ve settled on a well-fitting nearshoring partner, ensure you have detailed contracts with all team members, as well as nondisclosure agreements. Nearshoring requires a level of mutual trust, however, at such an early stage of your company’s lifecycle, you need to know that your processes and data will not be revealed to competitors. Check that your nearshore partner’s financial status is secure and sufficient for a long-term model. Correspondingly, service level agreements will set the parameters for job responsibilities and deliverables. After all the formalities are covered, you can focus on curating fruitful, long-term relationships.

Acclimatizing in the new normal

The COVID-19 crisis has made recruitment a remote-dominated sphere. Traditional modes of hiring are being reassessed, and companies are realizing that teams don’t have to be in an office to be productive. In fact, not having to cover visa and administration fees for foreign employees is much more cost-effective for companies.

As time passes and businesses develop habits best-suited to remote work, nearshoring will become increasingly popular. People are prioritizing joining teams where their career development, well-being and ethics are protected, all of which nearshoring can offer with the added benefit of not completely upheaving workers’ lives.

Startups who embrace nearshoring early on could find themselves competing with top tech firms that struggle because of recruiting limitations. With the end of the pandemic unknown, and thus no hard deadline for the visa ban, tech companies have to look at alternative modes of building teams. Startups have the advantage of revising their remote product development approach without disturbing workflows too severely. They are also known for pioneering fairer and more innovative workplaces that are enticing for a broader scope of employees.

Nearshoring is mutually beneficial because developers don’t have to give up their culture for a great employment opportunity, and businesses can reap the benefits of diversification. Ultimately, the H-1B visa suspension could stimulate true globalization in tech, where companies can achieve their best performance using global resources.

Lana has launched in Latin America to be the one-stop shop for gig workers’ financial needs

Lana, a new startup based in Madrid, is looking to be the next big thing in Latin American fintech.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Pablo Muniz, whose last business was backed by one of Spain’s largest financial services institutions, BBVA, Lana is looking to be the all-in-one financial services provider for Latin America’s gig economy workers.

Muniz’s last company, Denizen, was designed to provide expats in foreign and domestic markets with the financial services they would need as they began their new lives in a different country. While the target customer for Lana may not be the same middle to upper-middle-class international traveler that he had previously hoped to serve, the challenges gig economy workers face in Latin America are much the same.

Muniz actually had two revelations from his work at Denizen. The first — he would never try to launch a fintech company in conjunction with a big bank. And the second was that fintechs or neobanks that focus on a very niche segment will be successful — so long as they can find the right niche.

The biggest niche that Muniz saw that was underserved was actually in the gig economy space in Latin America. “I knew several people who worked at gig economy companies and I knew that their businesses were booming and the industry was growing,” he said. “[But] I was concerned about the inequalities.”

Workers in gig economy marketplaces in Latin America often don’t have bank accounts and are paid through the apps on which they list their services in siloed wallets that are exclusive to that particular app. What Lana is hoping to do is become the wallet of wallets for all of the different companies on which laborers list their services. Frequently, drivers will work for Uber or Cabify and deliver food for Rappi. Those workers have wallets for each service.

(Photo by Cris Faga/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Lana wants to unify all of those disparate wallets into a single account that would operate like a payment account. These accounts can be opened at local merchant shops and, once opened, workers will have access to a debit card that they can use at other locations.

The Lana service also has a bill pay feature that it’s rolling out to users, in the first evolution of the product into a marketplace for financial services that would appeal to gig workers, Muniz said.

“We want to become that account in which they receive funds,” he said. “We are still iterating the value proposition to gig economy companies.”

Working with companies like Cabify, and other, undisclosed companies, Lana has plans to roll out in Mexico, Chile, Peru and, eventually, Colombia and Argentina.

Eventually, Lana hopes to move beyond basic banking services like deposits and payments and into credit services. Already hundreds of customers are using the company’s service through the distribution partnership with Cabify, which ran the initial pilot to determine the viability of the company’s offering.

“The idea of creating Lana was initially tested as an internal project at Cabify,” Muniz wrote in an email. “Soon Cabify and some potential investors saw that Lana could have a greater impact as an independent company, being able to serve gig economy workers from any industry and decided to start over a new entrepreneurial project.”

Through those connections with Cabify, Lana was able to bring in other investors like the Silicon Valley-based investment firm Base 10.

“One of the things we’ve been interested in is in inclusion generally and in fintech specifically,” said Adeyemi Ajao, the firm’s co-founder. “We had gotten very close to investing in a couple of fintech companies in Latin America and that is because the opportunity is huge. There are several million people going from unbanked to banked in the region.”

Along with a few other investors, Base 10 put in $12.5 million to finance Lana as it looks to expand. It’s a market that has few real competitors. Nubank, Latin America’s biggest fintech company, is offering credit services across the continent, but most of their end users already have an established financial history.

“Most of their end users are not unbanked,” said Ajao. “With Lana it is truly gig workers… They can start by being a wallet of wallets and then give customers products that help them finance their cars or their scooters.”

The ultimate idea is to get workers paid faster and provide a window into their financial history that can give them more opportunities at other gig economy companies, said Ajao. “The vision would be that someone can plug in their financial information for services. If they’re working for Rappi and have never been an Uber driver and they want to be an Uber driver, Lana can use their financial history with Rappi to offer a loan on a car,” he said.

That financial history is completely inaccessible to a traditional bank, and those established financial services don’t care about the history built in wallets that they can’t control or track. “Today if you’ve been a gig worker and you go to a bank, that’s worth nothing,” said Ajao.