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ECONOMY | 14-02-2023 14:35

Billionaire-backed Ualá launches ‘star product’ in Mexico

Argentina’s Ualá, the fintech company backed by George Soros, Steve Cohen and Tencent Holdings, will begin offering credit cards in Mexico through its alliance with ABC Capital.

Argentina’s Ualá, the fintech company backed by George Soros, Steve Cohen and Tencent Holdings, will begin offering credit cards in Mexico through its alliance with ABC Capital.

The service will be launched starting Tuesday, according to Ualá’s Chief Executive Officer Pierpaolo Barbieri. Since the card is issued through the alliance with Mexican bank ABC, it will allow users to build a credit history that is recognised by the country’s credit bureau, something that’s not possible through cards issued by fintech firms that don’t have a banking licence, he said.

Ualá announced the purchase of ABC in November 2021. The acquisition is still pending regulatory approval. 

“What’s different about our credit card in a country where more than 80 million people don’t have access to financial services is that it will allow us to create a credit ladder,” said Barbieri in an interview from Mexico City, where he will be based in the coming weeks. “This is the last step in financial inclusion, the star product that everyone wants but not everyone can access.” 

According to the country’s most recent financial inclusion survey, only 33 percent of adults had access to formal credit in 2021. Ualá provides financial services based on a prepaid card managed through a mobile app in Mexico, Argentina and Colombia. The company will work to launch credit cards in other countries this year, Barbieri added. 

The Buenos Aires-based fintech is betting big in Mexico, where it launched operations in 2020 and last year announced plans to spend more than half of the US$150 million it will invest in the next 18 months. In 2022, the company launched mobile point-of-sales units, a service for clients to receive remittances and personal loans. 

A recent surprise increase in the key rate by Banxico, the country’s monetary authority, won’t impact the rate it offers to retail users, added Carlos Hernandez, CEO of ABC Capital.

Other key points from the interview:

– The company expects to break even in Argentina in the second half of this year, Barbieri said
– Ualá isn’t seeking any additional financing, especially not bank loans, which tend to have a higher interest rate
– The company has 150,000 users through its crypto trading subsidiary Uanex, which it launched in Argentina late last year
– The company only allows trading in cryptoassets it trusts, which are Bitcoin and Ethereum, Barbieri added
– Barbieri declined to comment on whether the company would launch operations in an additional country this year

by Carolina Millan, Bloomberg

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