Meet Jefa, a startup that is building a challenger bank specifically designed for women in Latin America. The company is building a product that focuses on solving the problems that women face when opening a bank account and managing it. It is participating in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt.
“There are 1.4 billion people in the world without a bank account. Out of those 1.4 billion, nearly 1.3 billion are women,” founder and CEO Emma Smith told me.
In many ways, bank accounts have been designed by men and for men. Even if you look at fintech startups, most of them have male founders. There is already a handful of challenger banks in Latin America, such as Nubank, Banco Inter, Banco Original and Ualá. But most challenger banks focus on mature markets, such as Europe and the U.S. Smith thinks that targeting women in emerging countries represents a huge market opportunity.
Jefa has carefully examined the reasons why women in Latin America often don’t have bank accounts or are unsatisfied with their bank accounts.
For instance, banks often ask you to hold a minimum balance even though women statistically earn less than men. Banks tell you to come to a branch to open an account even though many families only have one car and taking the bus can be a hassle. Banks have overly confusing products and don’t invest in marketing channels for women.
“It’s for all those reasons that we thought we need a fully digital solution that is branchless,” Smith said. “We have no minimum balance requirement; all you need is a government-issued ID and you can sign up in three or four minutes.”
When Jefa launches in a few months, opening an account will be free. You get an account and a card a few days later. The service has a built-in savings feature that lets you round up purchases and set goals.
There will be a reward program called “It pays to be a woman.” Based on your purchases, you’ll earn points on hygiene products, going to the gynecologist, etc.
At first, you’ll be able to convert those points to cash back. Later, you could imagine redeeming your points at places that matter to women.
Jefa users will be able to send and receive free peer-to-peer payments within the app. And when it comes to withdrawing and topping up your account, Jefa is building a network of merchants to securely manage cash.
The company is also working on a credit building platform that should work a bit like Chime’s equivalent feature.
Jefa will be launching first in Central America, starting with Costa Rica and Guatemala. There are already 50,000 people on the waiting list. The company knows that it’ll be important to build a community around its product. So you can expect a community forum so that you can discuss finance with other Jefa users.
Banks tend to have a bad reputation because they are soulless entities that don’t necessarily understand your needs. It can be frustrating when they keep telling you that you don’t meet the criteria. Creating a digital-first bank represents an opportunity for vertical banks. And Jefa is a good example of that.