The payments landscape for how people buy their goods and services online is evolving rapidly in the world’s two fastest-growth regions for digital buyers: Africa and Latin America, according to a bellwether annual research study, Beyond Borders 2022/2023 released by Brazilian payments giant EBANX earlier this month.
The future of payments in these two regions that are highly coveted by global tech giants and online marketplaces are “decidedly alternative and instantaneous,” and the rapid growth of digital commerce in both Africa and Latin America “is being catalyzed by payments innovations that are breaking the mold,” according to Paula Bellizia, who joined EBANX as President of Global Payments last February. Prior to that, she served in senior leadership roles at Big Tech companies including Apple, Google, and Microsoft.
In September during EBANX’s annual Latin America Summit in Mexico City, Bellizia announced the fintech’s first expansion outside of LatAm to Africa, starting with South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, while on-stage. Africa is considered the “next frontier” for rapid digital transformation – one that is now “bursting with growth potential” due to “digital adoption and consumption of online goods and services accelerating rapidly, and investment capital pouring in.”
According to Bellizia, “global merchants hoping to cash in on some of the world’s biggest growth opportunities in 2023 need to understand local payment methods and consumer preferences to win in these rising regions that are leaping over more traditional, established payment systems and embracing alternative payments.”
We recently spoke with Bellizia to gain more insights about the fresh Beyond Borders 2022/2023 study that was just released. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
Grit Daily: The e-commerce and fintech sectors in Latin America have been hot markets for venture investments and online merchant’s growth for many years. What is different about the key findings in this year’s Beyond Borders’ report?
Paula Bellizia: During the last few years, Latin America has experienced unprecedented growth in fintech funding, digital payments, online retail, SaaS, gaming, and entertainment streaming services – and that is not slowing down. Demand is especially high for cross-border e-commerce – or in other words, Latin Americans are buying more goods and services from merchants outside the region. Cross-border commerce is expected to grow at 34 percent annually across LatAm through 2025. The biggest change we’ve seen is the comeback of the travel industry, now the fastest-growing sector – which is expected to recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2023.
When it comes to digital payments, there’s been a meteoric rise in alternative payment methods (APMs), which should reach almost 40% of total Latin America’s digital commerce volume in 2022 and include digital wallets and instant, account-based transfers such as Brazil’s wildly successful Pix and Colombia’s fast-growing PSE.
By the end of this year, these account-based transfers should reach about $70 billion in total payments volume across Latin America, and they’re forecast to grow at a 86 percent CAGR to reach $121 billion by 2025.
Meanwhile, e-wallets are being used most prominently to pay for recurring payments such as gaming and streaming services and should grow around 20% per year through 2025 in LatAm’s digital commerce. The digital-consumption acceleration in both Africa and LatAm does not lie with credit cards’ growth, like we see in more mature markets.
Cash-based payments such as boleto in Brazil and OXXO in Mexico seem to be reaching a plateau in Latin America’s e-commerce sector after years of intense digitization. Overall, they account for only eight percent of online purchases compared to almost 20 percent in 2018, and their traditional adoption for e-commerce should slow in the years to come.
GD: Brazil has been at the forefront of the open banking movement in LatAm, and the Brazilian Central Bank has had great success with the rollout of Pix instant payments. Are there other regulatory changes creating emerging opportunities?
PB: In terms of Brazil’s Pix, you are absolutely right that it has been a phenomenon and is now a global reference for other central banks. In just two years’ time, Pix is now used by 75 percent of Brazilian adults. It has a higher penetration than credit cards in Latin America’s largest economy, and Pix now accounts for a significant share (16%) of all online purchases made in Brazil during 2022.
The success of Pix is due to the Brazilian Central Bank’s focus on technological innovation to combine peer-to-peer payments, security, and a great user experience that fits the mobile spread and adoption, with the democratization of instantaneous payments at a low transaction cost. It’s a formula that is now being studied by other countries’ central banks around the world.
The open banking movement – focused on the development of new digital technologies to accelerate financial inclusion and economic growth – is advancing the quickest in Latin America’s largest markets such as Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, but these new models are now being adopted across LatAm and in other rising markets. In fact, even more mature markets such as Canada and the U.S. are studying Pix and other LatAm-based innovations to reinvent older payment systems such as the Automated Clearing House that people and businesses in the U.S. have relied on for decades.
The new progressive rules that really caught our attention this year is Brazil’s move to allow for a higher limit on international transactions under a new regulatory framework called eFX. Under the initiative spearheaded by the Central Bank of Brazil, there’s increased availability for foreign-exchange transactions, a reduction of bureaucracy, and increased transparency between cross-border transactions. Brazilians now have much broader access to buying high-ticket items from anywhere in the world.
GD: Tell us more about the new payments innovations you announced during your annual LatAm Summit tied to “mega payments” and “micropayments.”
PB: The first ties in with the new eFX regulatory framework in Brazil, and the hypergrowth of the B2B SaaS market. We recently rolled out a first-of-its-kind ability to process mega payments – so, for example, it’s easier and safer to pay for cloud and software services. We now offer automated checkout purchases from $10,000 and up that are fully compliant with regulatory requirements, while assuring the necessary controls to prevent any financial losses.
The market for these lucrative SaaS and cloud services are forecast to grow 28% per year through 2026 in Latin America. The region is the fastest-growing SaaS and cloud market in the world and it should reach $20 billion by 2026.
On the flip side of the scale, we launched automated micropayments to address the fast rise of the creator’s economy in Latin America. In 1996, Microsoft Founder Bill Gates called attention to content being “where much of the real money will be made on the internet” – a statement that could not be more true, especially today. That’s why creators, who generate original content and share it online with their audiences, already account for up to 25 percent of the population in some countries, reaching 303 million people globally – according to one recent study by Adobe.
Today, Latin America has the highest social-media penetration of internet users than any other region in the world, with 89% of internet users being on these platforms. Creators have become an important aspect of digital marketing, and increasingly brands are investing in partnerships with micro-influencers with less than 35,000 followers. The payout volume for influencers, streamers and gamers in LatAm should grow at 60% per year through 2025 and reach $61 billion in volume, according to AMI. To help ‘grease the wheels’ of the expanding creator economy, we now process micropayments which allow creators to be paid quickly and transparently for their custom-built content.
GD: In September, EBANX announced its first expansion outside of Latin America to Africa – which you called the “next big frontier” for the digital economy. What are the similarities and differences between the two rising markets?
PB: Like Latin America, Africa’s digital economy is poised to grow. It’s already experiencing double-digit growth across all online-commerce verticals, and the continent of 1.3 billion people is just as mobile-driven as Latin America with an 83 percent penetration of mobile subscribers today. But while LatAm’s smartphone penetration helped boost the region’s online shopping – and later, digital payments – in Africa, the high level of mobile usage has been the foundation for payments and financial access itself. In other words, while e-commerce drove payments adoption in Latin America – in Africa, digital payments should drive broader e-commerce adoption.
The region is now at an inflection point for the rapid explosion of digital commerce and financial services. In this rising economy where only about one quarter of adults have access to a bank account and only 3% of adults own a credit card – mobile phones are playing a central role in driving more financial inclusion and access to payment options. And, similar to Latin America, new alternative payment methods such as Kenya’s M-Pesa and Nigeria’s Paga are accelerating the pace of mobile-money adoption in Africa’s largest economies.
Africa is now at the forefront of mobile money with about 70 percent of total volume transacted through mobile-money worldwide. This is driving the trend of mobile-led financial inclusion in Africa with mobile money being responsible for up to 40 percent of account ownership in some African countries.
GD: How does the trend of rising digital financial inclusion in both Africa and LatAm impact the regions from a broader economic and societal perspective?
PB: Payment innovations – especially those that reduce the friction of buying online goods and services – are leading the way for global merchants to access and win in the world’s fastest-growing markets for digital buyers: Africa and Latin America. Financial access is critical to boosting the quality of life for millions of people and businesses in rising markets. Broader levels of inclusion enable more of us to enjoy useful and affordable products and services, plan for long-term goals, launch new businesses, manage risk, weather financial hardships, and improve overall well-being.
Access to the digital economy and digital payments has the power to impact digital and financial inclusion, besides influencing job creation and poverty reduction, as well as increased investment. Increasing levels of financial inclusion lifts all boats, as they say.