In 2013, Cristina Junqueira ’08 made one of the toughest decisions of her life at the time. She quit her stable job in banking to become an entrepreneur.
“I was well paid, and I was well evaluated … at the same time, I felt that I was failing miserably because I didn’t believe in anything anymore,” Junqueira says. “I was done making rich people richer.”
After five years working at the largest private sector bank in Brazil, Junqueira could not see a future for herself at the company, where there were no women in leadership. Just two months after quitting, Junqueira became one of three co-founders of the digital bank, Nubank — now the largest fintech company in Latin America.
“We started primarily from a place of outrage,” Junqueira says. “We couldn’t stand having to pay the highest interest rates in the world, some of the highest fees in the world and have some of the worst customer experiences in the world.”
Eight years in, the Brazilian-based Nubank currently serves 40 million people and has saved customers the equivalent of nearly $4 billion in fees — money that goes back into communities for needs like education, healthcare, food and childcare, Junqueira says.
“We were just very confident that [by] using technology and design, we could find a way to do banking differently and to show people that we didn’t have to settle for the horrible, abusive relationship that they had with these banks.”
Before founding Nubank, Junqueira came to Kellogg in 2007 looking to make a transition from a career in consulting to finance. After completing the One-Year MBA program in 2008, she landed a senior management role at 25 years old, overseeing 40 team members.
“Kellogg for sure helped open a lot of doors for me. It helped me land my job out of business school,” Junqueira says. “Having that foundation to learn the business, which I didn’t know, and to properly lead and manage that team as well was super important.”
While working for a traditional bank ended up not being a good fit with Junqueira’s values, she says the experience put her on a positive career trajectory where she could take on roles with increasing responsibility.
“It also gave me confidence that by the time I decided to quit my job that better things would come up, that I would be able to find things that are a better use of my time for the next decade of my life,” Junqueira says.
When she met one of her co-founders, David Vélez, Junqueira says her Kellogg education helped give him reassurance to bring her on board.
“That credential was important. It played a role,” she says. “He knew that hiring someone that had been to Kellogg was a little bit of an insurance policy — that that person had enough knowledge, enough social skills, enough collaboration skills and so on to be able to make this work.”
With lofty goals to revolutionize banking in Latin America, the team needed to make sacrifices to get Nubank up and running.
“I didn’t get a salary for a very long time, but I knew I had to do it,” she says. “I had such confidence in the path towards doing something different.”
The team ended up naming Nubank based on the Portuguese translation of “nu,” which means “naked,” aligning with their goal to strip down complexities to empower people to have more control over their finances. Junqueira says staying true to the company’s purpose — and finding employees who believe in the mission too — has been crucial over the years.
“For us to build something at this scale and to have this level of impact — to go against the type of competitors that we have … it was very hard to assemble the first team, but we needed exceptional people,” she says. “The mission is really challenging. The level of impact we want to have is really ambitious. We won’t be able to get close to that without an amazing team at a global scale.”
Nubank now has a global team of more than 4,000 employees. Just five years after its founding, the startup achieved unicorn status, reaching a valuation of more than $1 billion. Today, Nubank’s valuation is $30 billion.
“Our values are what we strive to live by no matter how big we get, how many people we hire, how many countries we expand to,” she says.
Junqueira says Nubank currently has 40% female representation among its staff, and 30% of employees identify as part of the LGBTQ community. The company has made a commitment to reach gender equity no later than 2025, hiring 3,300 women over the next four years. They are also committed to hiring more than 2,000 people of color over the next few years.
“We could not afford not having all the slots filled by people who could bring different perspectives that would make us better, that would add their point of view and bring up insights that weren’t brought up before,” she says.
Nubank not only supports personal banking needs, but it also offers account services for micro-entrepreneurs in Brazil — professionals with small businesses.
“We know that they are better off when they’re allowed to access better tools to better manage their finances on both ends — on the business end, as well as on the personal side,” she says.
When COVID-19 began to spread around the world, Nubank was already ahead of the curve as the pandemic forced many businesses to adapt digital solutions to prevent the spread of the virus. Junqueira says the digital ecosystem is here to stay.
“People are not all of a sudden going to say after the pandemic is over, ‘I think I’m going to go to a bank branch today and waste my whole day standing in a line,’” she says. “Evolving towards digital payments and contactless payments was a key piece for people to stay safe during the pandemic. Everything that is around that ecosystem also helped people’s lives during this period, and it’s not going back.”