JPMorgan-backed Brazil fintech plans to expand in U.S., Mexico

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FitBank Pagamentos Eletronicos SA, a Brazilian fintech backed by JPMorgan Chase, plans to open a U.S. office in the first half of 2021.

The payment-services firm, which has more than 100 clients in Brazil, is also expecting to start operations in Mexico, Peru and Colombia sometime next year, according to Chief Executive Otavio Farah.

Payment technology “doesn’t vary much from nation to nation,” Farah said in a virtual interview from FitBank’s office in Sao Paulo. “We can really go global, but first we are prioritizing nations where we already have demand from clients.”

Brazilian fintechs are growing outside Brazil and challenging Latin America’s highly concentrated financial system. In one example, Nu Pagamentos, a seven-year-old company that has grown into the world’s biggest standalone digital bank, purchased the Durham, N.C.-based software-consulting firm Cognitect in July after launching credit cards in Mexico in March.

FitBank, whose clients include banks, financial technology companies and nonfinancial firms, is partnering with JPMorgan to go global. The New York-based bank said in July it bought a minority stake in the fintech through its strategic-investment unit, giving Renata Vilanova Lobo, JPMorgan’s head of wholesale payments for Brazil, a seat on the board. FitBank also provides services to the U.S. bank in Brazil, which Farah declined to specify.

Among other investors on FitBank’s board are Marcelo Maisonnave, a founder of XP Inc. who left that company in 2014, and Alejandro Vollbrechthausen, Goldman Sachs Group’s former CEO for Brazil.

Fewer hurdles

FitBank was started in 2015, when innovations such as cloud computing and smartphones were already well entrenched, so it didn’t have to overcome “hurdles to adjust older systems to the new realities,” Farah said. FitBank’s open platform is capable of securely controlling and analyzing payment flows, identifying and correcting problems quickly and reducing the need for many back-office jobs, he said.

Total transactions handled by the company per month doubled to about 1 billion reais ($183 million) from 500 million reais just before the COVID pandemic began, according to Farah.

Brazil’s central bank has been trying to fuel competition by forcing banks and fintechs to share client and product information through a so-called open-banking platform. It also created Pix, an instant-payments open platform. Farah says both changes will drive more business to FitBank, which has been expanding its team.

“It was very challenging, because I had to use virtual meetings to hire 25 people I didn’t know and send to their homes a 5,000-real computer,” Farah said, adding that the firm plans to boost its 150-person workforce to about 200 people by the end of the year.

Farah said he’s now back working in the office and inviting employees to join him. That will help create a company culture and promote casual interactions that spur creativity, he said.

“I don’t think the home office is our future at all,” he said, adding that for now he’s leaving the choice up to his employees.

Bloomberg News
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