Can This New App Help Latinos Send Money to Their Families Abroad?

TECHBy 2023-12-19T12:45:39-05:00December 19th, 2023|
  • Courtesy of Alza.

For many Latino migrants living in the United States, the only thing harder than making a livable wage is figuring out how to send some of it back to their families. Until recently, Latinos sending money abroad have been dependent on short-term banking solutions like money orders and check cashing, which sometimes comes with an unreasonably high price tag.

Alza is a new app that allows users to open a bank account and make overseas transfers across Latin America. To learn more about how the app functions, LATINA spoke with its creator, Arturo Villanueva, on the app and what inspired him to develop a technology that will help millions of Latinos across the country.

After graduating from both Harvard University and the University of Oxford, Villanueva went on to work at The World Bank in Brazil and Mexico City for two years. From there, he transitioned into the tech industry by accepting a position at Stripe, a popular app that gives small business owners and vendors the ability to run transactions directly through their app and accept credit cards with a mobile card reader. It was there in Villanueva’s mind that the seeds, which would eventually grow into Alza, were first planted.

Arturo Villanueva, courtesy of Alza.

“I was working on this global payout project where Stripe could make payments to over 150 countries worldwide,” Villanueva explained. “I think it was at the time when I realized you can really use financial infrastructure and, when crafted thoughtfully, you can really bring about a solution that affects change.”

Villanueva was born in Mexico before moving to the US at six years old, and he explained how his family faced some of the problems that Alza intends to solve. “I married those two, the personal experience and then, really, crafting financial infrastructure at Stripe,” he said.

Villanueva said he’s thrilled about the reaction so far, roughly two months after the app was live and operational on the App Store and Google Play. The app was available for download a few months before its official launch in September but was exclusive to beta members over the summer. “The reception has been really wonderful,” he said.

“Our initial users are starting to really make full use of the app,” he continued. “They’re starting to use their Alza account for their direct deposit. For some users, it’s their first bank account. For many, it’s their first bank account since they’ve come to the US.” Alza makes signing up and opening an account as easy as possible for Latin American migrants wanting to send money back to their families. Not only that, the accounts are FDIC-insured, with cards issued by MasterCard and the ability to use the account with full functionality.

In addition to the traditional verification methods, like a social security number, Alza accepts 40 different IDs from across Latin America, as well as passports, consular cards, national ID cards and even driver’s licenses. “I think that’s what really sets us apart,” Villanueva said. “Once you have your bank account, you have your cross-border remittances attached.” Previously, Villanueva has referred to Alza as a company that takes an agnostic approach to immigration status. Because of that, Alza is also responsible for making sure everything is above board and in line with existing regulations at all times.

Alza homescreen, courtesy of Alza.

Villanueva stressed that maintaining financial regulations is one of Alza’s top priorities. In addition to the verification process necessary to open an account with Alza, “the company’s framework is dictated by FinCEN Chapter X, requirements under Dodd-Frank, Reg E, Reg P and OFAC regulations,” he said. Because Alza is entering some uncharted territory in the world of online banking, Villanueva is extremely careful with the services that Alza offers and how they are rolled out to users.

Looking to Alza’s future, Villanueva wants users to help determine where the app can go from here. “We think about this a lot and, ultimately, we will add the features that our user base is looking for and we will add the features that our users really care about,” he said, adding, “user feedback is your product roadmap.” Villanueva also said the team is always discussing ways to tailor the product to what users need. “We have discussed at length the different product iterations that Alza could take,” he said. For right now, however, Villanueva wants to ensure that current users are comfortable using the app and that the app itself is meeting and exceeding the users’ standards.

Josef Rodriguez is a writer, filmmaker, and film critic living in New York City.