COLOMBIA - Finance
The Co-Founder & CEO of Puntored, Andrés Albán Holguín is the former president, board member, and co-founder of the Colombian Fintech Association. He has almost a decade of experience working in the software industry in Europe and has led ventures for more than 20 years, using technology to provide solutions in the fintech, retail, and mass consumption sectors in Latin America. He is an industrial engineer with an MBA from Cass Business School and senior management studies from Stanford University and the London School of Economics. In addition, Holguín won the Expert in Economic Transformation award from Endeavor Colombia in 2022 and was nominated as Best Business Leader 2021 by Portafolio Magazine.
We were probably one of the first fintech companies in Colombia, even before the word itself existed. There was no concept at the time of financial service companies backed by technology. Since the beginning, our aim, and where we saw the greatest opportunity, was to bring financial services to people in remote regions of the country and the outskirts of cities who lacked access to financial services. Sixteen years ago, only around 35% of adults in Colombia had financial products. Financial institutions faced challenges in delivering products and services to certain regions and those areas lacked bank branches and ATMs. Even the state financial apparatus had difficulties reaching every region. We perceived a way to bring many financial services to these unserved people using a network of small agents and stores as bank agents. Of course, this required technology, and we were born out of this endeavor. We developed a platform that allowed the payment of a bill to, say, a utility company. People could do this conveniently close to their homes. Around 2012, a large benefit program called Familias en Accion was made available by the state banking system. It was aimed at women who are the heads of their families and today reaches 3-4 million women nationwide, especially in underbanked regions. We were the drivers bringing these benefits to the population. People could finally receive cash at the sales point. Puntored has registered a considerable solutions impact. We are much more at the base of the pyramid.
Right now, we serve around 11 million Colombians monthly who pay and do other financial transactions at points of sale. We help around 100 institutions, such as the government, insurance companies, banks, and digital wallets to access the underbanked population. We process around 300 million transactions each year. In 2022, we processed around USD4 billion in small transactions of USD5-10. The other segment that enjoys numerous benefits from Puntored is independent store owners. They see us as an important ally for growing their business. Many of these mom-and-pop shops had never used technology or computerized payment or management systems in their stores before. Being underbanked, they first had to incorporate technology somehow, learning how to move money and become bank agents. They are now even more important in their respective communities. Because in a small town in a region of the Amazon, mom-and-pop shops become the bank agent, bringing many services to the community. It gives them a reputation and an extra income because of the small commissions charged for each transaction. On average, a merchant with Puntored has a monthly income of around USD100-300 for being the bank agent of the town or region. The families that own the stores generate employment for their families. And meanwhile, we generate the momentum that helps the community in different ways. We have around 100,000 outlets, of which 28,000 are independent small merchants that work with Puntored.
The most important realization recently, especially during the pandemic, was that there were two large trends emerging. First, seeing the success we had in introducing financial services, many people would open a bank account. Today, Colombia tops the region for bankarization, with almost 90% of adults having a financial product. It is a combination of the effort of the banking agent system built by Puntored, helping the banks, combined with the search for mobile wallets in the market. It is an important combination because people will download the app and have mobile wallets but need to interact with merchants or do cash-in and cash-out payments with them. That is where Puntored has a strong standing. In that sense, when we started seeing the digitalization of many of these products, we fully grasped Puntored’s connection with the financial ecosystem.