Linkedin: Andrés Fontao
What do you do currently?
I am co-founder of Finnovista, an organization that empowers Fintech ecosystems through collaborative activities and networks. We also design and execute Fintech startup acceleration programs. Our mission is to accelerate Fintech entrepreneurship, building bridges between startups and financial institutions and facilitating the transformation of advanced financial services and the eradication of financial exclusion.
How and when did you get involved with the Latin American fintech ecosystem?
We started looking at opportunities in the region in 2013 when the ecosystem was in very nascent stages. Back then, there were only a handful of fintech startups in each country and incumbents were weary about collaborating with startups. We built a network and a community through our events, which we first orchestrated in Colombia in 2013 and Mexico in 2014, thanks in part to some global industry players who shared our vision.
How would you describe the ecosystem in Mexico and the rest of Latin America?
It’s grown a lot since 2013, not just in sheer volume but also in diversity of the stakeholders who actively participate in it. I love the fact that regulator, financial institution, entrepreneur and investor can now sit at the same table and collaborate together. Within the region, Mexico and Brazil have the most advanced and mature ecosystems. That being said, I think we are just scratching the surface in the region in terms of activity and maturity of the ecosystem.
How is the financial system reacting to the fintech startups?
When I first landed in Bogota in August 2013 and shared our vision with some local entrepreneurs and banks, they literally told us we were crazy, “banks will never collaborate with Fintech startups!”. Today, these same banks are running acceleration programs, opening digital factories and investing in Fintech startups. It’s happening in Colombia, in Mexico, everywhere from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego. And while in many cases it’s just talk to get headlines, some are starting to walk the walk.
What do you expect in the next 12 months? Is there any impact from the political changes in the US?
Last year was a great year for VC investment in Fintech in LATAM. There was a good complement between local money and foreign money. While I expect this upward trend to continue overall in the region, I would expect the current political situation and all the noise coming from Washington to affect foreign investment going into Mexican deals. The upside to this may be that there will be greater opportunities for domestic VCs in Mexico to invest competitively in Fintech in Mexico. Along with this, I would also expect to see foreign Fintech VCs start to explore new markets in the region such as Colombia, Chile or Argentina, as most of their investments have been focused on Brazil and Mexico. On a separate note, I expect to start seeing a lot more blockchain and insurtech startups being born in the region.
What are the main challenges?
Regulation continues to be the biggest hurdle that any Fintech startup has to tackle. I also think we need a cultural shift within industry players in order for there to be greater and more productive collaboration between Fintech startups and incumbents. To this point, banks and insurers need to switch from thinking of startups as vendors and starting treating them as partners and equals. An example is simplifying and easing onboarding requirements for a Fintech startup wanting to partners with a bank to develop a proof of concept or pilot. There is no sense in making a small, pre-revenue startup go through the same process that a multi-billion dollar technology company goes through when selling software to the same bank.
What change or result would bring the greatest benefits for the fintech ecosystem?
I think we need to see more partnerships with tangible objectives and results, not just headlines that are highlighted in the press and/or community events. I also think more exits like Openpay‘s acquisition in Mexico late last year could greatly benefit the ecosystem.
Describe your typical day.
I am up at 5am and kick my day off with a hot green tea (I recently stopped drinking coffee) and I work until 7am when I stop for breakfast and help get the kids ready for school. These first two hours of my day are the most productive – interruption-free time that is usually spent reading, thinking and generating output (no email, no Slack or no calls). I am back at my desk at 8:30am when I start meetings, calls and emails which go on throughout the day. I try to be offline by 5:30pm or 6:00pm to spend time with my family, and I will jump back online, if needed, once the kids are asleep. In case you are wondering, I live in the US, just outside NYC.
Who is your favorite entrepreneur?
My grandmother. She immigrated to the US in the late 1940s, arriving at Ellis Island with US$10 in her pocket. She made ends meet with a lot of hard work and perseverance, seeking prosperity for her family and growth for her business.
A recent book do you recommend?
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop?
iOS or Android?
Favorite social network?
Twitter, but I use it more for work than for play. I tend to keep my social activities offline and to my inner circle of friends and family.
Japan with the family exploring the country, the culture and the food (and disconnecting from the Western world).
What are your goals for the next 12 months?
Scale our existing business and explore new markets and opportunities.
One word that describes you?
Pingback: e-interview: Ariana Gomez, Fiinlab | Latin American VC