With plans to launch initially in Mexico before expanding to Colombia and Central America, fintech startup Jefa is out to do what even the most innovative challenger banks have so far failed to do: bring better financial opportunities to women in Latin America.
Company CEO and founder Emma Sanchez Andrade Smith highlights the fact that nearly 1.3 million of the world’s 1.4 million underbanked people are women. Add to this the problem that the majority of new, digitally-oriented financial institutions are focused on mature markets in Europe and the United States rather than in emerging markets. Combined, these two facts represent a major challenge for women in developing markets – and a potential opportunity for creative fintech entrepreneurs.
Jefa announced earlier this week that it has secured $2 million in seed funding to bring financial empowerment women in Latin America and the Caribbean. More than a dozen investors participated in the round, including The Venture Collective, DST Global, Foundation Capital, Amador Holdings, The Fund, FINCA Ventures, Rarebreed VC, Siesta Ventures, Springbank Collective, Bridge Partners, Hustle Fund, Foundation Capital, Latitud, J20, and Magma Partners. A number of angel investors such as Daniel Bilbao, JP Duque, Ricardo Schaefer, Jean-Paul Orillac, and Allan Arguello were also involved in the financing.
Founded in 2020, and an alum of TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield, Jefa has 115,000 women on its waitlist and the backing of Visa, with whom the firm forged a seven-year strategic partnership. The alliance will enable Jefa to launch a Visa card for the Mexican market, where more than half of the country’s women are unbanked.
“Visa believes in empowering women – from entrepreneurs to home-makers,” Visa Latin America and the Caribbean Senior Director of Fintech Partnerships Sonia Michaca said. “Financial and digital inclusion transform economies. Women, who control the lion-share of everyday household spending, should be at the core of this transformation, yet women are vastly underserved by traditional banks.”
Visa sees the partnership also as a way to help respond to growing demand for contactless payment options. A recent study led by the company underscored rising interest for contactless payments from women in Latin America, with 44% of female consumers in Brazil reporting more frequent use of contactless payments and 58% saying they would not shop at a store that did not offer them. With Jefa, women need only a government-issued ID to open a free, “no minimum balance required” account and access built-in savings apps as well as other “women-tailored features.”
“Jefa is a solution for women that empowers them with the tools they need to create a better livelihood,” Smith said. “At Jefa, we take a multifaceted approach that addresses the numerous barriers women face to entering the global economy. This includes using gender-disaggregated data to inform our product, designing distribution channels to reach women in place they trust, and providing services that are tailored to their distinct financial behavior.”
A graduate of Duke University and The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Smith previously co-founded Eversend, Africa’s first neobank, in 2018. She was also the director of Togo-based Microfinance des Jeunes de Farende where she launched and ran the first microcredit organization for youth in West Africa.
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