‘There’s a lack of standardisation’: Digitising payments in Latin America

27 Aug 2019

Daniela Espinosa. Image: Kushki

Daniela Espinosa, co-founder of payments platform Kushki, talks about expanding her business, promoting gender diversity in fintech and managing her ‘crazy’ schedule.

Daniela Espinosa is regional COO of Latin American payment platform Kushki, which has offices in Ecuador, Colombia, Boston and Brooklyn.

She worked in Citibank for 12 years, becoming country risk manager, before taking on leadership roles at two large corporate holdings in Ecuador. In 2016, Espinosa entered the world of technology as one of the co-founders of Kushki and her new goal is to digitise payments across Latin America.

‘We are growing fast and so some days are chaotic. When things are extra crazy, it is important to prioritise the top priority tasks and distribute the others among the team’

Describe your role and what you do.

We are creating a company that will digitise payments in Latin America. This dream started almost four years ago and now we have expanded to five countries.

My primary role at Kushki is to help the founders in structuring the company, creating processes and hiring the team in different areas such as operations, finance and sales, as well as managing relationships with external partners – the most important of those being financial institutions and payment processors.

Lastly, part of my role is to work with a team to launch Kushki in new countries.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I start the week by mapping out the most important tasks that need to be completed and their due dates. We have three major meetings during the week with the different teams to determine and discuss operations needs, product development and the company-client funnel.

We are growing fast and so some days are chaotic. When things are extra crazy, it is important to prioritise the top priority tasks and distribute the others among the team.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

The biggest challenge in our industry is the lack of standardisation in what we call the payments pipeline. They are different in each country, which makes connecting all of them a challenge. We are creating a one-stop-shop by connecting different payment methods in each country, standardising them, changing the ecosystem, creating new products, and developing new functionalities for payment processors and banks in the region.

Another significant challenge in this industry is the chargebacks, which are higher in some countries than others. We are collaborating with the industry ecosystem in our approach and implementing technology, specifically artificial intelligence, risk scores and other new product developments to manage this issue.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

There are a lot of opportunities in our sector, including outdated payments technologies, disaggregated payment methods, disconnected payment methods, and monopolistic systems that have not permitted the creation of improved alternative products for the consumer.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I started my career almost 20 years in Citigroup as a risk analyst and spent 12 years there in different roles on the commercial and risk teams, finishing my time there as country risk manager. Later I worked for two major groups in Ecuador as CFO and VP of strategic planning, where I managed capital markets, mergers and acquisitions, debt management and worked with board members of different companies to define the group strategy.  

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I believe that making mistakes is the best way to learn. One major mistake I made was during my time at Citigroup. I was selling an interest rate swap to one of our major clients and leading the team in the transaction. We did not fix the LIBOR rate and it had a big financial impact on the bank.

The main lesson I have learned from making mistakes is that the most important thing to do is to deal with the issue as soon as possible and work with your team to create a plan of action to resolve it.

How do you get the best out of your team?

To get the best out of my team, I start by respecting and appreciating every person on it. I am always trying to share my experiences and give advice accordingly because I believe in leading by example. I also try to listen to and respect their views, and to learn from them because learning from my staff and being able to delegate is essential.

My office is always open to talk about anything at work: any new idea, any mistake or any personal problem. I believe that people work best if they are doing what motivates them, have a good work-life balance, and feel challenged, appreciated and respected.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

Diversity is a challenge throughout fintech, particularly amongst developers. We coordinate events with universities such as hackathons to promote women in the industry. I am also personally involved in the Tech Association of Ecuador to promote awareness and create events that will help close the gender diversity gap. Last year, I led an event called Women’s Pitch Night, which promoted technology-based companies created or led by women.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?

My first mentor was also my first boss in Citigroup and I really appreciate her. She is a very tough and knowledgeable woman who not only shared her knowledge with me but also taught me how to work. I was always asking her questions to understand how to analyse and manage risks and she was very patient, introducing me to critical thinking and guiding me to draw my own conclusions. I was always in her office, to the point where when I had another question I would jokingly number it, saying, “This is number 289!”

Now I like to mentor others and I try to mentor as much as my time permits without impacting my work and my personal activities. It is so important for each of us to share our knowledge and contribute to society.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I really like to read and am part of a book club with a group of friends, where we read books and get together to discuss them.

Eight years ago, I started to read a lot about personal growth, psychology and quantum physics. Some of my favourite books are: El Sari Rojo by Javier Moro, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

I get through it by planning. It’s also essential to be agile and understand the top priorities for the week and track them constantly using tools like Jira and Slack.

I take time to examine the challenges facing my team and whether we have all the tools and staff necessary to work on them and find creative solutions. For me to be successful, I need to understand each of the company’s processes, delegate ownership of them and try to automate them.

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