Growing LatAm Marketplaces Face Mass Payouts Hurdles

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In many ways, Latin America has been a pioneering region for online marketplaces. MercadoLibre, founded in Argentina since 1999, was one of the first marketplaces in world to scale and is today among the top e-commerce sites in Latin America. Following in its footsteps, marketplace Linio launched in Mexico in 2012 and tripled in size in five years.

But beyond conventional e-commerce, LatAm is experiencing strong growth in service-oriented marketplaces in emerging verticals like transportation (Uber), hospitality (Airbnb), and education (Udemy), among others. And rapid growth of these companies is changing how Latin Americans live, consume, and pay. For instance:

  • In 2016 Uber operated in 65 cities in Latin America and completed 45 million rides—10X more than just a year earlier
  • Brazil is the #3 market in the world for Uber—and Mexico City is Uber’s busiest city in the globe
  • 15% of Airbnb’s worldwide total of hosts are in Latin America—300,000 out of a total of 2 million
  • 2,000 Latin American instructors are teaching on Udemy, a startup marketplace for online learning

And these are just a few of the bigger names. Any number of other local entrepreneurs have started similar companies—think “Uber” for dog walking, babysitting, food delivery. Technology is enabling more and more vendors to sell their products and services, creating a challenge—but also huge opportunity—for payment companies.

Twice the Transactions

Payment service providers run into a major issue with all of these mushrooming marketplaces: volume. Two transactions are needed for each purchase: payment collection from the buyer and a payout to the seller. And these transactions do not take place symmetrically—while payment processors collect funds from buyers at the time of purchase, sellers are paid later in a consolidated fashion, most often weekly. For payment companies serving clients like Uber, with 50,000 drivers Mexico City alone, the task is daunting. As such, the impressive growth of marketplaces worldwide and in the region has brought about an entirely new payments product: mass payouts, in which payment processors pay out funds to sellers for the sale of their goods and services.

Need a deeper dive?

3 “Bs” That Are Barring the Way

While mass payouts or mass disbursement in Latin America is certainly needed to handle all of these marketplace transactions, whether it’s a ride from Uber or a smartphone sold on MercadoLibre, it faces some key challenges.

#1 Bandwidth

First, there’s a distinct lack of supply compared to the sheer volume of demand. Most e-commerce gateways and payment service providers do not have the proper capabilities to handle mass payouts and merchants may not be aware of the solutions available in the market. dLocal, a leading payment service provider for Latin America, provides mass disbursements to some of the world’s largest tech companies, but so far they have kept a low profile. Visa and MasterCard both have mass payout services but have failed to properly market these products and take advantage of the growing opportunity in the region.

#2 Banking:

Despite some strides, in many Latin American countries, smartphone penetration still exceeds bank account penetration:


Given that these online marketplaces most commonly pay vendors via a weekly bank transfer, aspiring Uber drivers with no bank account cannot get paid. While most drivers who own their own car likely are banked, Uber operates a secondary model, particularly in Mexico. With this model, fleet owners manage a group of vehicles and drivers—and these drivers are more like traditional employees. In these cases, it’s a lot more likely that the drivers working for the fleet owner are from a lower socioeconomic category…and are also more likely to not have a bank account. So paying these vendors can be a huge headache. And in local marketplaces with much lower barriers to entry—like dog walking—a high percentage of these sellers are unbanked with no efficient way to get paid. This threatens the very existence of local startups who depend on not only on recruiting customers but also on recruiting sellers.

#3 Borders

Since many of these marketplaces operate across borders, payment service providers (PSPs) serving international marketplaces also have to manage and settle several international currencies, make international bank transfers, face currency risk, and grapple with endless regulation. For many Uber and Airbnb transactions in Latin America, the customer is an international traveler transacting in dollars, while the driver and host want to receive funds in their local currency. To the extent that cross-border payouts become more accessible to marketplaces, Linio and MercadoLibre are themselves turning into cross-border companies, enabling their sellers to sell goods abroad.

Bridging the Banking Barrier with Prepaid Cards

Some payment companies are trying to address these challenges. Most notable is Payoneer, who has pinned its success on helping small and mid-sized companies succeed in e-commerce. Their solution is an e-wallet connected to a prepaid card where sellers receive their funds, essentially operating as a mini bank account.

With this approach, unbanked sellers in Latin America can join the formal banking infrastructure, which creates a world of new opportunities for banks and others who want to sell them services.

This solution may also help to solve the decade-long conundrum around prepaid in Latin America, which by all definitions have failed to scale, even among the unbanked who have no other electronic payment method. That is perhaps because the prepaid card has always been conceived of as a way to pay rather than get paid; to pay, cash is always an acceptable alternative and therefore a prepaid card is superfluous. However, if a seller’s boss or online marketplace insists on a prepaid card as the only way they will disburse funds, interested sellers will be eager to adopt them.

Border Crossings

Beyond working around challenges with Latin America’s unbanked, Payoneer—which specializes in cross-border payments—is also helping marketplaces operate internationally. In March 2016 Linio announced it selected Payoneer as its vendor to handle cross-border payouts, enabling provide sellers on its site access to the full addressable e-commerce market in Latin America of roughly $60 billion. As Payoneer and others expand this model in Latin America, intra-regional cross-border e-commerce, which today is tiny, will become a more and more exciting channel for sellers to explore.

Next Steps and Takeaways

While Payoneer is succeeding on the payout side, it does not handle payment collection. This is lamentable, since most merchants would prefer to work with just one payments processor. The problem is that very few companies handle both sides of the business. dLocal is one with capacity for high volume and expertise on both sides. MercadoPago, the payment company owned by MercadoLibre, conducts both within its MercadoLibre ecosystem. PayPal dabbles on both sides but works with local merchants in Brazil and Mexico only. The opportunity will surely attract more the space.

In addition, some other key takeaways emerge from this issue:

  • Marketplaces needs to prioritize the seller side of their business and find efficient, low-cost ways to manage disbursement via an experienced payment partner.
  • Payment companies—including PSPs, card networks, and others—should watch this market for emerging marketplace verticals to understand where growth will come from in the short term and tackle those opportunities.
  • While dLocal, Payoneer and the few others providing disbursement on a large scale are facing limited competition thus far, this will change as the opportunity becomes more visible.
And finally, the more services a PSP can provide, including payment collection and processing, remittances, payouts, fraud management, etc., the more sticky the relationship with the merchant becomes. This is perhaps the best defense against encroaching competition.

Contact Americas Market Intelligence (AMI) for a deeper research dive into the LatAm payments industry to analyze the market, garner intelligence on competitive and parse out the current and future opportunities to grow.
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Lindsay Lehr

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