Since 1990, CIAB FEBRABAN has been one of the biggest IT conferences in the financial sector, this year attracting more than 23,000 visitors, which included industry experts, CEOs of top banks, entrepreneurs and policymakers. Among those visitors was Laurence Cooke, CEO of the startup nanopay.
This year’s conference theme was “exponential intelligence,” highlighting up-and-coming technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT). But of greatest interest to nanopay — and indeed, to many others, especially from developing economies — was growing talk around digital fiat currencies.
“Banking in Sub-Saharan Africa is very different from banking in Brazil, and that’s very different from the rest of South America,” Cooke said. “They have different problems and are solving them in different ways. But every central bank in the world is at least thinking about what a central bank digital currency might look like.”
Cooke said developing economies are leading the conversation. He believes this is because they have less to lose than economies that are already stable, where it’s a bigger risk to try something new.
For that reason, he said, it’s entirely possible that countries seen today as “third world” could end up leapfrogging their so-called “first world” counterparts in the payments technology space. He noted there are already more mobile payments generated by cheap $50 phones in Africa than on iPhones in high-tech locations like Singapore and Australia, and that’s because those populations don’t have access to any other type of banking. It’s mobile or cash — and cash isn’t always easy to come by either.
Cooke said he was heartened by the spirit of conversations at CIAB FEBRABAN, where a close level of collaboration between FinTech firms and banks was evident. That’s very different from the narrative painted in more developed countries, where FinTech companies and traditional banks are often at odds.
Indeed, Cooke admitted it can be difficult to get banks in such countries to give a startup like nanopay the time of day — but at the conference, he said, banks were eager to initiate conversations and their representatives were more than open to potential partnerships.
“Their innovation agenda isn’t being led by FinTechs versus banks,” Cooke said. “It’s FinTechs collaborative with banks.”
That, he said, means the opportunities are vast, and it’s time for startups and innovators to seize them.
“Brazil has 80 million unbanked,” Cooke said. “If we can bring them in, it transforms the country.”