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Payment Innovation in LATAM: Key Trends & Challenges Overview

Boaz Gam

Boaz Gam


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Article content
  1. Which Countries in the Region Need to be Watched Closely?
  2. 3 Main Trends in Latin America’s Payments
  3. Obstacles on LATAM’s Path to Payment Innovation

What Is the Trajectory of LATAM’s Payment Innovation?

Contrary to popular belief, many industry experts agree that Latin America’s financial landscape offers greater potential for innovation than the seemingly more developed payment scene of the United States.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, the region’s diverse population, with a significant portion of unbanked or underbanked individuals, presents a fertile ground for forward-looking fintech solutions. Let’s explore the current state of payments in Latin America and explore the trends that are likely to shape this sector’s future trajectory.

Which Countries in the Region Need to be Watched Closely?

Given the fact that Latin America is such a diverse region, it comes as no surprise that not all countries have the same pace of development in the payment space.

For instance, Argentina has been scrutinized over currency instability for many years now. This situation has also been further worsened by President Javier Milei’s proposal to close the Central Bank, which is the main endorser of Transferencias 3.0, an open payment system that enables transactions via QR codes.

On the other hand, Chile has seen a post-pandemic surge in venture capital, particularly in fintech and e-commerce, driven by its early adoption of instant payment systems.

Such a contrast between neighboring jurisdictions often makes it hard for businesses and PSPs to assess the viability of operating within the LATAM - keep reading to equip yourself with insights to empower your decision-making.

3 Main Trends in Latin America’s Payments

What Is the Trajectory of LATAM’s Payment Innovation?

Regional differences aside, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many areas of improvement in LATAM’s overall financial landscape. For one, it has prompted businesses and FIs across the continent to address gaps in the traditional banking sector and reduce local reliance on cash.

These shifts have resulted in the emergence of multiple trends, which are set to revolutionize how payments are made within the region, including:

1. The Rise of Instant Transactions

While cash remains one of the dominant payment methods in Latin America, outpacing global usage rates, the region also leads in instant account-to-account payments. In fact, the bulk of investment into successful A2A ventures on the continent has been flowing from local central banks, with Pix setting the standard in terms of implementation and public adoption.

In contrast, Mexico’s CoDi system, which uses QR codes for instant money transfers, has not received as warm a welcome due to less proactive promotion from the country’s central bank. This highlights the peculiarities of LATAM’s traditional payment landscape and sets an example for other countries in the region trying to scale their A2A money transfer systems.

2. Increased Digital Wallet Adoption

What’s more, users across Latin America have been rapidly adopting digital wallet solutions, driven by their convenience and accessibility. As a result, services like Mercado Pago, PayPal, and RappiPay have gained significant traction in the region over the past few years.

Notably, local digital wallet providers tend to offer capabilities beyond payments and P2P money transfers. In addition to standard functions, they actively capitalize on value-added features like cashback rewards, bill payments, and integration with other financial services.

3. Active Blockchain Integration

Despite regulatory challenges, Latin America has emerged as a hotbed for blockchain innovation. In fact, countries like Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, and Colombia ranked among the top 20 global adopters of this technology in 2022, and this trend does not seem to be going anywhere!

On the contrary, each year, more and more businesses on the continent show increasing interest in digital assets as a means of financial inclusion and remittance facilitation. As a result, both startups and established companies are implementing blockchain technology in various use cases, including cross-border payments, micropayments, and DeFi applications.

Besides, some of the governments in the area, such as those of Brazil, Uruguay, and Colombia, are also tapping into this technology’s potential by exploring the integration of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs).

Obstacles on LATAM’s Path to Payment Innovation

In spite of the active payment innovation ongoing in Latin America, the region is still facing a number of challenges that are slowing down the pace of progress, namely:

  • Underdeveloped financial infrastructure. Over 90 million people lack access to formal banking systems, with Brazil alone accounting for a third of this number.
  • Lagging investments. The lack of financial support for artificial intelligence initiatives hinders innovation and customer experiences in payments.
  • Inconsistent data privacy standards. The absence of standardized data handling procedures across the region creates complexities for financial institutions and businesses alike.
  • Data localization policies. These regulations halt progress toward open banking and interoperability while adding costs and compromising security.

While these obstacles are currently preventing the local payments landscape from developing at full speed, they also reflect the untapped opportunities in the local market.

Thus, it is safe to say that with strategic investments in financial infrastructure and technology, along with efforts to harmonize data privacy standards and address data localization policies, Latin America can unlock even greater opportunities for payment innovation.

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