Investors pour $1bn into an industry spurred by financial inclusion and undeterred by money laundering curbs.
A 2019 Ernst & Young report found Colombia has the highest “fintech adoption” rate in Latin America, with 76 per cent of its population using fintech services and the industry growing at about 120 per cent a year. Investors have poured more than $1bn into the industry in the past three years, $300m of which came during the first five months of the pandemic, according to Fintech Colombia. Investors find Colombia attractive because it is a large market with a history of stable macroeconomic policy. The rise of Rappi, an online delivery tech start-up, put Colombia on the map when it raised $1bn from SoftBank last year. Venture capital funds have had their eye on the country’s tech start-ups ever since. More importantly, says Clementina Giraldo, a financial innovation consultant, the government has focused on boosting start-ups for at least 10 years. It founded Innpulsa, an agency that trains entrepreneurs and innovators and awards them funding, in 2012. The government has also made it cheaper and quicker than before to create businesses: it now takes five days or fewer, instead of at least two weeks, to register a new company or partnership. Colombia also has Latin America’s first regulatory “sandbox”, a two-year arrangement that allows start-ups in the finance sector to experiment with business models without meeting the full requirements of a traditional financial services licence, as long as they are under a regulator’s supervision. By making life easier for fintechs, the government can boost Colombia’s post-pandemic economic recovery, argues the industry. Movii and others say they have shown that fintechs can boost consumer spending by enabling citizens to use their accounts for more than just receiving money, making it easier for people to make digital purchases and payments. In the future, says Hernando Rubio, Movii’s chief executive, digital wallets will help hundreds of thousands to establish credit histories and thus access loans.