In the words of fictional crime-solving priest Father Brown: “It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.”
In emerging economies, existing financial systems work fine for those who can afford to participate, but don’t work at all for the millions who cannot.
The neglected problem is that those excluded masses still need a way to conduct the daily business of modern life. Enter Airfox. We see a way to extend financial inclusion to the underserved, and we’ve selected Brazil as the venue for service rollout.
“Why Brazil?” The short answer is that Brazil is where we see the highest potential for success and social impact. But speaking as a Brazilian immigrant myself, the whole story is much more convoluted and highly personal.
Seeing the problem
I hold many fond memories from the first 12 years of my life in Brazil — family bonds and family business, stories with my Grandma, and learning to navigate the world with fellow young Brazilians.
I also hold many troubling memories from childhood in Belo Horizonte — discrepancies of wealth, high rates of illiteracy, distrust in the government, fear of violence, and nonexistent financial systems.
Airfox was born out of this dichotomy, so starting service in Brazil was less a question of “why” and more a question of “how.” Brazil now ranks among the world’s 10 largest economies, but nearly every vertical, from healthcare to education to financial services, is desperately in need of transformation. The country is rampant with inequality. The wealthiest 10% of Brazilians concentrate 43% of national wealth, while the poorest 10% of people concentrate 0.7%. Widespread inaccessibility to financial services perpetuates such disparities and stunts economic mobility.
Even through a seemingly never-ending recession, Brazilian banks managed to remain one of the most profitable retail banks in the world. In a country of nearly 210 million people, five banks control 82% of all consumer lending. Astronomical fees associated with banking products and services, including some of the highest interest rates in the world, have left nearly two-thirds of Brazil’s population primarily un(der)banked and operating in a cash-based economy.
For many Brazilians, it’s clear that they are not being treated or served equally by the government or established institutions. The rich seem to matter more, and the poor are left feeling powerless. But when the traditional system doesn’t work for the masses, and everyone is not in it together, there is space for something different. In a tech-literate but financially underserved market, mobile apps offer a readily available way to deliver more inclusive financial services.
Seeing a solution
I envision a trusted bank for the people, by the people — a bank that helps customers manage, create, and optimize their financial life and wealth with affordable, efficient, transparent, and innovative technologies. Airfox is on a mission to become the most trusted, preferred, and affordable financial technology institution for the underserved consumers in Brazil. Ambitious? Yes. Possible? We’re already knee deep.
I envision a digital challenger bank that removes barriers and costs for users to access and manage their money. For underbanked customers in Brazil who want transparent banking, payment, and loans, Airfox is a solution that provides full-stack financial services, payments and loans via a mobile app. Billions of unbanked individuals will be able to open a payment account with no charge, complete banking services with little to no fees, transfer money seamlessly, and access financial services via their mobile phones.
I envision a bank that is not merely transactional. Airfox exists to be responsive to the needs of an enormous community. We were founded to be convenient and accessible to the underserved. We’re dedicated to designing secure and reliable financial services tailored to our customers’ actual needs and life experiences. And our model prioritizes a relationship-based mindset that can scale to serve as a genuine solution to the genuine problems of millions of people globally.
This Airfox vision is already becoming a reality in Brazil. We see the world as it really is — and that helps us develop real solutions.
About the author
Victor Santos is a successful technology and social entrepreneur with a proven track record of building innovative solutions for underserved populations in the U.S. and Latin America. A Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur of 2018, Victor is the co-founder and CEO of Airfox, a company bringing financial services to the unbanked by leveraging blockchain and mobile technologies. Prior to Airfox, Victor held positions at Google, where he worked on the AdWords agencies program, and iWorldServices, where he worked with VoIP and opened the company’s Latin American division. Victor also previously co-founded Ciao Telecom where he launched the company’s VoIP platform and advertising-based mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), and grew the company to double-digit millions in revenue. Under Victor’s direction, Ciao launched a new virtual carrier in partnership with Sprint, offering an ads-backed, Latino-focused free cell phone service. Victor received his B.S. from the University of California, Berkeley.