Ximena Aleman, an MBA graduate of Escuela de Postgrados en Negocios, Universidad ORT Uruguay, won the AMBA & BGA Excellence Award for MBA Entrepreneur of the Year 2022 for her company Prometeo Open Banking
Ximena is Co-Founder and Co-CEO at Prometeo, the largest open banking platform in Latin America, providing access to information and payments across 80 APIs from 35 financial institutions in 10 countries. In a little over two years, Prometeo has been able to gain the trust of major financial institutions, such as Santander and Citibank and has received the support of investors from Silicon Valley, Europe and Asia.
Over the past six years, Ximena has built three fintech startups and pioneered open banking adoption across the region. She has also used her voice to create awareness of the funding gap for female-led startups.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your career?
I majored in journalism for a couple of years and worked in the media industry, first as a journalist and then creating a digital platform for newspapers. That was my first entrepreneurial experience because I was building that inside another company.
I left that job and started my own company with my co-founders in the fintech space. It was our first startup seven years ago – a digital wallet.
For the past seven years of my life, I have been building fintech solutions across Latin America and for the past three years, I have been pioneering open banking adoption across the region.
You won Entrepreneur of the Year at the AMBA & BGA Excellence awards 2022, for your company Prometeo OpenBanking. Can you tell me more about it?
Open banking is an innovation trend disrupting the financial sector. Basically, all the banking information that a user has in the bank (inside the banking system and from regulatory perspective) belongs to the user.
The user can provide that information to other financial institutions, so that other financial institutions can, in turn, provide users with better financial products and services, and users can have a better financial experience.
This was born in the UK, and was designed to create more transparency and competition within the financial sector, which – around the globe – is a very conservative sector or industry.
What regulators were trying to create was a more open ecosystem within the banking sector. This trend has been quite disruptive in Europe, and of course in the UK, but especially in regions such as Latin America or Southeast Asia.
In Latin America, between 50% and 70% of the population is financially excluded, meaning they don’t have access to a bank account; 90% of the small and medium businesses don’t have access to credit, and 70% of transactions are still cash-based. There is an enormous opportunity for fintech solutions to leapfrog the financial sector to address these hugely unserved populations. There’s an enormous gap to be solved here in terms of financial products and services addressing the needs of the people in Latin America.
You are also passionate about having more women in leading roles of fintech. What do you think needs to happen for this to be achieved?
I am really passionate about this and I think that something that is striking about Latin America is that it’s one of the places that more women are jumping into the space and creating solutions; three times more than perhaps in places such as Europe or the US.
I’m more than committed to encouraging more women to coming into the fintech space. I think that all the financial tools that we use right now were built by men. I think that there’s an enormous opportunity for women to understand what products and services haven’t been built yet and can attend the particular needs of other women,
I think that there’s an enormous opportunity for diverse teams to approach the financial sector and fill the gaps where there still aren’t any solutions.
I am really curious about what the financial future will look like once we have in place tools that have been developed from a more open and diverse perspective.
Why did you choose to complete an MBA programme?
I majored in journalism and although I loved it, I wanted to be on the other side – I wanted to be building something and not just witnessing it. I loved hearing the fantastic stories of amazing entrepreneurs or businesspeople who were building great things, and that became really inspiring for me.
It was hard for me to figure out how to transition from my position, as a journalist to becoming a businesswoman. It was not an easy path for me from a theoretical point of view – I didn’t know how to approach that transition. I left my job as a journalist and went to work for a publishing house that wanted to create a digital spin-off; I was in charge of building that spin-off.
It was a great step towards what I wanted to do, and once I was there, I started to play with different tools and methodologies of the start-up world. Once I got to understand all of these methodologies, I found them really interesting. I thought perhaps there were more tools that I didn’t know about but that could help me when I was trying to build something from scratch.
I went to my university, which was ORT Uruguay – I just wanted to see what its offer was, in terms of postgraduate studies. I found out that ORT offered a master’s programme for managing tech companies and I really loved that. Later, that became an MBA with a specialisation in tech, and in global businesses, and that was the MBA that I took.
It was super useful in terms of the tools it gave me, as well as the ability to deep dive into the different areas of the business that I was trying to build. There was always great feedback from professors and other students in the MBA. Whatever assignment I had to do, I always related it back to Prometeo, and that turned out to be really helpful.
Studying the MBA was a great step in my professional development.
What advice would you give someone thinking about completing their MBA?
I always give this advice, especially to women, but I think that it applies to anyone. I think that we are pretty much used to investing in things, like cars or houses or properties or savings, but I’ve always tried to invest in myself.
For example, I paid for my own English lessons, I paid for my own university degree and then the MBA. I think for me, that has been always a great investment. I can take all the responsibility for it, making it and then how it performs.
It’s something that I always recommend: don’t hesitate to invest in yourself because I think that you are your best tool.
What was your most important learning from doing your MBA?
From a professional perspective, it turned out to be how tech-enabled businesses have a different set of rules to other kinds of businesses.
One of the teachers gave me the following advice in a seminar: ‘You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you’re able to negotiate’. For me, it was really impactful because sometimes you get frustrated by what you’re receiving, but it’s just that you are not being able to negotiate something better.
When I started on the MBA, I was pretty young and didn’t have that much professional experience. I always felt that I lacked that experience, but over the course of the years, I realised that that was perhaps how I was approaching it, not exactly what the reality was. It was just how I felt and towards my colleagues and not what it was.
What is next for you on your career journey?
Who knows? I’m really proud about what we have built in Prometeo.
I think that we are building a product that will play a major part in the financial future of the region. My founders and I are so proud of what we have built so far; we want to see it grow and make it as big as possible.
We really believe that the infrastructure we are creating in Latin America will play a fundamental role in the new financial sector – for example, in the new dynamics we are seeing, and in the new behaviours that users are showing, and will display in the future.
I think that everything will be related somehow – with tech devices and tech enablers – and so fintech infrastructure is a great tech enabler, and a pretty necessary one. I think that the future in that sense, looks quite promising.
We are pretty well aware that other regions besides Latin America lack the same financial infrastructure that we are providing. For us, it’s about how impactful we can be in Latin America but also how impactful we can be in other regions and around the globe. We want to see Prometeo scale to other regions.
Besides the product and the growth of our company, we are really proud of the team that we have built. I always stress that being an entrepreneur is a journey of self-discovery, but at the same time, it’s a path towards meaning and creating new meanings around different things. For us at Prometeo, it’s about creating new meanings around work: What dynamics do we create? How we can relate to one another in the workplace? What’s the value of work? How do we instil meaning into that, and how can we create more value? I think that Latin America is going through a redefining process of different institutions, and I think the workplace is one of them. It’s really important for us to create our own sense of what work is, and how it can become a rewarding and happy experience.
We always also stress that that we want Prometeo to becomes a synonym for excellence in tech, so that in the future, anyone coming from Prometeo and looking to be hired by another company has a great background. I think it’s really important for Latin America to have its own labels for excellence. Startups from Latam can also become a synonym for excellence; they are really capable and have great people working for them. We want to build the same reputation at Prometeo, and that’s something that’s becoming our focus.