Valiu is our first investment under FinX and an amazing example of how emerging fintech solutions that leverage crypto DNA can bring about positive impact for vulnerable populations–in this case, for Venezeulan migrants, refugees and those who remain in the country watching their savings slip away through rampant inflation and currency volatility.
From our initial investment in Valiu’s pre-seed round in September 2019 we admired the team’s vision for how its tech stack would evolve in the face of new competitors and emerging cryptocurrencies & exchanges. Since then they have confirmed our perspective that they will be agile enough to adopt new technology on the backend whenever it makes its core products cheaper, faster or more secure for users. By merging crypto with a pathological focus on HCD, Valiu has been able to avoid many of the hurdles that plague other remittance startups that seek to serve individuals with limited digital and financial literacy.
The pandemic lockdowns and mass unemployment drastically impacted Valiu’s user base, thus greatly enhancing the need and impact of the company’s core remittance service. Valiu’s user base and volumes have grown dramatically since the onset of COVID, and have confirmed in our eyes the tremendous impact that digital financial services have to build resilience. The team, tech and traction compelled us to follow-on in their latest round.
Here are the details…
In Venezuela, economic and social collapse have spurred a regional humanitarian crisis and mass migration. More than 5.4 million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years — many of them fleeing to Colombia. As conditions worsen, remittances have become a critical lifeline for a growing number of citizens still inside the country, who depend on the money to buy essentials. In 2019, an estimated $4 billion was sent back to Venezuela — a record sum that’s projected to increase as the exodus continues. But there are a number of challenges associated with sending remittances. The cost is high and it takes time: The average rate for sending $50 cash is up to 15% globally and 40% to Venezuela, and it can take more than two days to arrive. In a hyperinflationary economy where money loses value daily, two days is too long. There are also limited channels, most of which are insecure. Very few migrants have a local bank account, so most Venezuelans must send remittances via the black market, through which delivery to the intended recipient is not guaranteed. Moreover, in the eyes of formal financial systems, migrants don’t exist. This means they don’t have a credit history in their new country of residence, and often don’t have the documentation (e.g., a country ID or passport) needed to access the financial services that could transform their lives.
Meanwhile, several countries in the region have suffered through hyperinflation like Venezuela and Argentina, and depreciation like Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. Individuals have increasingly sought USD or other safe havens for their savings, but in general access is limited or nonexistent. For Venezuelans experiencing 1.8 million percent inflation and prices doubling almost every 15 days, not having access to a stable currency has resulted in almost 60% of households not being able to buy enough food and life savings to vanish.
Valiu: A New Kind of Digital Financial Institution
Valiu is building a digital financial institution that is designed from the ground up around the needs of migrants, refugees, and people facing hyperinflation.
“Seeing my family’s savings and life’s work quickly go to zero while growing up in Venezuela made me want to dedicate my reputation, money and time to make cryptocurrencies successful so that anyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status can access transparent, safe, fast and minimal cost financial services, and so no one has to see their life’s savings go to waste. As a team, we’ve built Valiu because we want to enable financial prosperity for anyone, anywhere.” — Simon Chamorro, Founder and CEO of Valiu
Valiu started its journey with a digital remittance product that allows consumers to send money from Colombia to Venezuela quickly (< 30 minutes and 10x faster than alternatives), cheaply (<4% fee) and safely (100% success rate). Leveraging a unique crypto backend to drastically reduce costs and its agent network of 30,000+ for cash on-ramps, Valiu earned the trust of a broad base of users.
The entire model, app and customer experience are designed specifically for Venezuelan migrants. Unlike many other fintech startups in the crypto space, Valiu leverages its agent network that allows users without a bank account and with limited financial literacy to send remittances in cash. The results speak for themselves — nearly 20x growth in total payment volume and monthly active users.
Given the rampant fraud and theft that confront Valiu’s users surrounding remittances, earning trust is a major challenge. The success of the remittance product is a critical inflection point for Valiu, as our perspective is that the aspiring digital financial platform needs to excel at a single core product / pain point before expanding its offerings.
Broadening its Product Basket (& Deepening Its Impact)
Since our initial investment, Valiu has been contemplating how to launch a savings product that would appeal to its users. In early-2020, the team created a synthetic US dollar (USDv — Valiu Dollar). This crypto dollar is pegged to the USD, allowing for users to secure their savings from local currency fluctuation. This fulfills another critical pain point for Latin Americans at large, as most currencies have faced rampant devaluation and struggle to secure their savings. Those with a high level of financial / digital literacy and foreign bank accounts, have solutions to access US dollars. However, the majority of Latin American individuals and businesses are forced to utilize the black market to access USD or go without.
Valiu’s updated app gives users easy access to USDv through all of the existing on-ramps (agent network, debit card, credit card). Moreover, it allows people to maintain dollar-denominated balances and send money cross-border for free.
This is the first step for Valiu’s expansion into a wide range of dollar-denominated financial services for all of Latin America built on top of crypto, including savings, payments, investing, and credit.
Since our pre-seed investment, the company has validated product-market fit for its remittance product (COPVES) and has achieved strong initial traction in its new synthetic dollar (Valiu Dollar — USDv) savings. The former is helping make remittances more productive and impactful, while the latter is helping people to better cope with inflation and store their savings with greater stability.
The crisis in Venezuela cannot be understated, and is only being deepened by COVID. Valiu’s financial products are more impactful and necessary than ever. It’s estimated that a 1% rise in remittances can reduce extreme poverty by as much as 16%. With $4 billion in remittances flowing to Venezuela and counting, we see a lot of potential in a model that can lower costs and move senders away from using insecure black market channels.
Mercy Corps Ventures’ investment reflects the significant need for more secure, affordable cross-border remittances — money that helps families buy groceries and seniors buy medicine. It also reflects our belief in the potential for crypto-based digital payments to effectively facilitate these transactions, and while creating a pathway towards the adoption of other transformative financial services. By leveraging innovative solutions like Valiu, we can effectively support thousands of people on the move with a suite of digital financial services, increasing growth and reducing poverty for people living amidst the world’s most fragile crises.
Valiu is pioneering inclusive fintech through their innovative design that integrates digital wallets and stablecoin technologies. Alongside our investment, we are excited to explore designing pilots to increase market penetration, user retention and measure the impact of Valiu’s products and services on cross-border remittance costs, savings rates, and improvements in financial inclusion. In doing so, we hope to build the evidence base on how fintech solutions like Valiu can improve the economics along an array of difficult financial inclusion challenges that weigh on the people that can least afford it.