Featured Profiles

Revolutionizing Digital Banking In Brazil

Cristina Junqueira is the Co-Founder and Vice President of Branding and Business Development at Nubank. Prior to this, she worked at Itaú Unibanco for several years, dealing with Products and Marketing for the bank’s consumer loan and credit card businesses. Cristina was nominated as one of the most powerful women in Brazil by Forbes Magazine in 2016 and 2017, and in 2016 she also received an award from Claudia, the most important female-focused award in Latin America, in the Business category.

 

Cristina Junqueira was born in Riberão Preto in Brazil and moved to Rio de Janeiro with her family when she was merely an infant. She received a traditional education in the region before moving to São Paulo to study Engineering at the city’s most prestigious university, USP. After graduating, she started her career as an associate consultant at the Boston Consulting Group while simultaneously completing her master’ in economic and financial modelling.

Due to her undeniable potential, in 2007, Junqueira was selected for the one-year Accelerated Programme at the distinguished Kellogg School of Management. After the course, she returned to Brazil, still just 24, she was immediately hired by the president of Unibanco, then the most prominent private banking group in Brazil. She was picked to head the SME credit sector with a team of 20 — all older than she was.

The following year, Unibanco merged with Brazil’s second-largest private bank, Itaú, to form a financial giant. Junqueira’s continued rising through the ranks, and in 2012, she was appointed as the portfolio manager for Itaúcard but left dejected when her proposals for commission-free credit cards and direct communication to ease the client journey were ignored entirely.

While contemplating her next step, she met David Vélez, who was working for the American venture capital company Sequoia Capital at the time. They were both frustrated by Brazil’s incompetent, over-charging banking system. He didn’t know the industry, but Junqueira did — and she shared his evaluation. “I worked for the largest incumbent bank in Brazil for five years, and I was done making rich people richer. I was trying to make many changes to improve consumers’ lives, failing miserably. And at some point, I was like, ‘you know what? I’m done.”

To change the narrative, she partnered with Vélez and decided to pioneer digital banking in the region. Her banking expertise was complemented by his experience in the world of venture capital and the technical know-how of their third co-founder Edward Wible. 

They chose the name Nubank for two noteworthy reasons: firstly, because ‘nu’ in Portuguese means’ nude’, and they wanted to be a transparent organization, and it also sounds like ‘new.’ 

However, in the early days of Nubank, Junqueira found herself doing everything from designing the company’s website to leasing a small office in Sao Paulo. “If somebody called our customer service line, it would ring on my cellphone,” she says. However, it was even more challenging for Junqueira as she was pregnant with her first child.

But, she managed to pull it off and is proud of the digital bank they have established today. She is most pleased with how Nubank has developed into a tool for women. “Many of the structural choices we’ve made regarding gender equality and inclusion are reflective of the fact that I have been here from the beginning,” she says. “Looking back at my corporate career, I remember how tough it was to work in those predominantly male environments and do things like wear suits just to fit in,” she recollected. “At Nubank, I was determined to create a working environment without all the stupid barriers detrimental to women’s career development.”

Nubank is the world’s largest digital banking startup, with over 48.1 million customers. In 2020, it became the world’s first and only organization with a Female Founder to reach a valuation above $10 billion. Junqueira modestly attributed this win to the size of the Brazilian domestic market and the fact that there were 60 million unbanked adults at the time. Inclusivity is vital to Nubank, and the co-founders are justifiably proud that of the bank’s 2,900 employees, over 40 per cent are women and 30 per cent identify as LGBTQ+.

Nubank’s policies address gender equality, including getting more women into its technology teams with initiatives like ‘Yes, She Codes!’, a recruitment process targeted explicitly at female software developers. The company also uses blind recruitment to minimize gender biases. It has a mentoring scheme specifically for female leaders. It involves discussion groups to tackle unconscious bias and a program that allows new mothers to stay connected while they take maternity leave. All this translates into a more inclusive work culture. Women comprise 43% of the digital bank’s 2,000 employees, including 30% of all senior roles, compared to 8% in the sector.

By the time her second daughter, Bella, was born at the beginning of this year, Nubank was in the process of launching its first product outside Brazil: a no-fee credit card in Mexico.

The modest mother-of-two has no nanny, despite her workload. Citing Wonder Woman and Margaret Thatcher as her inspirations, Junqueira is clear, “I want my daughters to grow up in a world where they can dream of being whomever they want to be — and you can’t dream of what you can’t see.”