Brazilian online lender Inter has work cut out in US expansion

Sao Paulo — SoftBank-backed Brazilian online lender Inter & Co is hoping to replicate its home market success in the US, where it is targeting visitors from Latin America’s largest country in two of Florida’s biggest cities, the firm’s CEO Joao Vitor Menin said.

Inter has quickly become one of the top fintech players in Brazil’s booming online banking scene, gaining 32-million clients drawn by a wide menu of products such as credit cards, mortgages and investments through its smartphone app.

But Inter must overcome the hurdles of building its presence from the ground up in the US, where fintechs have struggled to make inroads against established banks.

Inter launched its US operations with a headquarters in Miami in 2021 and in May expanded its physical presence with a “lounge” for clients in Orlando, also a hotspot for Brazilian migrants and tourists.

“Orlando is the most Brazilian city outside Brazil,” Menin said on Tuesday, saying Inter would first target Brazilians travelling to or living in the US, then expanding to other American clients who want to hold a US dollar account, or what Inter calls a global account.

Earlier this year, Inter bought the naming rights to Orlando’s soccer stadium, where a number of Brazilians, including Marta — considered the best female footballer of all time — play.

Inter has 3.1-million clients for its global accounts, most based in Brazil, with “a little more” than 250,000 in the US, Menin said.

“When we think about this global account concept, we should be in the US, because it’s all about the US economy,” he said.

Menin said the US market represented “an opportunity, not a challenge” for the company, and said the quality of an Inter account would set it apart from competitors. Clients happy with their experience will then share it via word of mouth, Menin said.

“The US expansion is a very asset-light operation,” Menin said. “We’re spending most of our time, most of our cash, most of our team on developing the right product,” he added, referring to the global account and the Inter smartphone application.

Inter, in which Japanese technology investor SoftBank Group has a nearly 15% stake, has previously targeted 60-million total clients by the end of 2027.

If the growth rate holds up, about 6-million clients would likely also hold global accounts, Menin estimated, adding that the firm had weighed adding the option to trade in European markets and currencies in the future.

The company has also targeted a 30% return on equity and a 30% efficiency ratio by 2027. Those goals are now “way more feasible” than when first laid out in 2023, Menin said, after profits surged over the past year.

In the first quarter, Inter’s net profit leapt more than eight-fold from the previous year on cost-cutting measures, sending its shares to a record high in May.

The second quarter will “most likely also be very good”, Menin said.


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