“We are in the middle of a great paradigm shift,” says Visa, the global payment technology company. And Brazil is one of the countries where the firm is nowadays investing heavily to keep up with the current revolution in the payments industry, as it moves from plastic to digital.
“Work methods based on the concept of open innovation is a global strategy for Visa, but Brazil is key in this process, due to the country’s potential growth and the vibrant scene of startups and fintechs, but also because Brazilians are known to be early adopters of new technologies,” Erico Fileno, head of innovation at Visa Brazil tells me in an email interview.
The company opened one of its Innovation Centers in São Paulo before launching, for example, a similar center in London. Both are part of a global network of centers located in technology hotspots, including Berlin, Miami, San Francisco, Dubai, Singapore and Tel Aviv. The idea is that Visa will be able to engage and collaborate with a broad range of partners and players present today in the market. And especially fintech companies.
“Non-traditional partners such as startups are extremely important when it comes to innovation and they should be with us discussing and implementing new products and services,” Fileno says. “This relationship with startups is vital when we talk about co-creating new solutions.”
And that is the reason why Visa today has two different acceleration programs focused on the fintech segment in Brazil, adds Fileno.
“Both programs are looking for initiatives with the potential to revolutionize the payments industry not only in Brazil but also worldwide. The difference between the programs is related to the content of each one. Track is focused in more mature projects and Ahead is more focused in startups that are still validating their business models.”
Fintech attraction: Ahead and Track
Led in partnership with the Brazilian accelerator Startup Farm, the program Ahead lasts for six months. In its first year, seven startups were chosen from more than 600 initially registered. The program received applications from nine countries other than Brazil and one startup selected is in fact from Israel: PayKey allows users to make payments in all social network chats possible. “Our technology puts banks where their customers are,” says the startup’s website.
The program looks for ventures focused on payments services but not only that; financial efficiency, debt renegotiation, insurance, bitcoin, blockchain and investments are other areas of interest. Another startup selected by Visa is the Brazilian Vérios, an investment service that provides automated algorithm-based portfolio management. Vérios robo-advisor promises “a good balance of all the different points that defines a good investment: diversification, security, risk, profitability and costs.”
Track is the other program created by Visa and it launched recently. Brazilian fintechs can apply online for its first iteration until 31 March. Five startups will be selected and part of the mentoring process will take place in the US since the initiative is led in partnership with GSVLabs, a global innovation hub based in Silicon Valley. Track is part of Visa’s Everywhere Initiative, a global innovation program designed to promote “the development of ‘the next big thing’ in payments as the industry shifts from plastic to digital.”
When asked what they have already learnt, or expect to learn, from such collaborations with fintech companies, Fileno answers, “Quite a lot. For example, one important lesson learnt is related to the fear of making mistakes, which is widespread in many companies. By working with startups, we realize that the error is in fact part of the creation process”.
“But even more importantly than this, we have learnt about the use of a human-centered design approach. And this is a sensitive point on how companies manage innovation. In many cases, the proposed novelty arises without even having a need, a desire or a market opportunity. Using the human-centered design approach, we look at the consumer pain, plunge into the problem to only then find a solution”.