It looks like everyone and their mother is trying to reinvent the Brazilian banking system. Earlier this year we wrote about Nubank’s $400 million Series G, last month there was the PicPay IPO filing and today, alt.bank, a Brazilian neobank, announced a $5.5 million Series A led by Union Square Ventures (USV).
It’s no secret that the Brazilian banking system has been poised for disruption, considering the sector’s little attention to customer service and exorbitant fee structure that’s left most Brazilians unbanked, and alt.bank is just the latest company trying to take home a piece of the pie.
Following Nubank’s strategy of launching a bank with colors that are very un-bank-like, signaling that they do things differently, alt.bank similarly launched its first financial product in 2019 — a fluorescent-yellow debit card which the locals have endearingly dubbed, “o amarelinho,” meaning, “the little yellow card.”
The company, founded by serial entrepreneur Brad Liebman, follows the founder’s $480 million exit of Simply Business, which was acquired by U.S. insurance giant Travelers in 2017.
Unlike many fintechs, alt.bank has a strong social mission and pays commissions for referrals that last for the customer’s lifetime.
“Most fintechs just help wealthy people get wealthier, so I thought let’s do something with a social mission,” Liebman told TechCrunch in an interview.
To drive home the mission, and really target the unbanked, Liebman and his team of 80 employees have designed an app that can be used by the illiterate. Instead of words, users can follow color-coded prompts to complete a transaction. The company also plans to launch credit products soon.
According to the company, close to a million people have downloaded the android app since launch, but Liebman declined to disclose how many active users the company actually has.
Today, the company’s core offerings include the debit card, a prepaid credit card, Pix (similar to Zelle), a savings account and even telemedicine visits via a partnership with Dr. Consulta, a network of healthcare clinics throughout the country. The prepaid credit card is key because online stores in Brazil don’t accept debit card purchases.
In addition to the perk of ongoing commissions, alt.bank has also partnered with three major drugstores, allowing their users to get 5-30% off any item at the stores, including medication.
While the company is based in São Paulo and São Carlos, Liebman and his family are currently based in London due to regulations around the pandemic.
The investment in alt.bank marks USV’s first investment in South America, solidifying a trend by other major U.S. investors such as Sequoia who only in the last several years have started looking to LatAm for deals.
“The bar was high for our first investment in South America,” said Union Square Ventures partner John Buttrick. “The combination of the alt.bank business model and world-class management team enticed us to expand our geographic focus to help build the leading digital bank targeting the 100 million Brazilians who are currently being neglected by traditional lenders,” he added in a statement.