Lifetime of Achievement: Cristina Junqueira

We chart the rise of Latam’s female fintech leader Cristina Junqueira, from showing promise in education to leading one of the world’s largest neobanks

Cristina Junqueira is the Co-founder of what is arguably the world’s largest neobank today, Nubank. 

Nubank’s rise has been staggering since its founding in 2023, and it has propelled Junqueira to the pinnacle of fintech as the most successful female fintech leader in South America. 

If you were to ask Junqueira in 2013 – after quitting her job at Brazilian banking giant Itaú – where she hoped the Nubank experiment would get her in just 10 short years, its standing today probably sits above her wildest expectations. 

Five years spent at Itaú gave Junqueira a deep understanding of the Brazilian banking system, from which came ideas on how to do things better.

And, after being approached by David Vélez, CEO of Nubank in Colombia, to join him as a Co-Founder in the Nubank project, Junquiera’s Nubank Brazil organisation is now vying with Itaú to become South America’s leading banking institution.

Junqueira: Latam’s female fintech leader

Born in Riberão Preto, Brazil’s former coffee capital, Junqueira relocated to Rio de Janeiro with her family as a baby.

A noted high achiever throughout her primary and high school years, she later moved to São Paulo to study in higher education.

A student of industrial engineering at the Universidade de São Paulo, Junqueira’s first steps into working came at Boston Consulting Group, where she took a position as an associate consultant while completing a Master's degree in economic and financial modelling.

Then in 2007, she enrolled at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management in Chicago, where she graduated with an MBA.

After completing her education, Junqueira returned to Brazil and assumed the role of sector head for small and medium-sized businesses at Unibanco, the largest private banking institution in the nation. 

Subsequently, she was offered the position of portfolio manager following the merger of Unibanco with Itaú, the second-largest private banking firm in Brazil– creating a behemoth in the Brazilian banking scene. 

Shifting from stalwart to challenger 

Five years into her time at Itaú, Junqueira had new ideas for how to take the bank’s product offerings forward in the market. 

This included a proposal for commission-free credit cards and direct communication for clients, in her bid to boost Itaú’s customer service offerings. 

However, when her requests appeared to fall on deaf ears, Junqueira became concerned that Itaú, alongside other incumbents, was too dismissive of financial inclusion issues. 

It was then she made the brave decision to quit her senior position as a product manager and strike it out on her own. 

Not too long after leaving Itaú, though, Junqueira then met David Vélez, who was then working for the venture capital giant Sequoia Capital.

It was in Vélez that Junqueira found a kindred spirit, and another member of Latam’s financial ecosystem dissatisfied with a culture of inertia and a lack of consideration for consumers’ needs. 

In their conversations together, the concept of a new banking model in Latam started to take place. Junqueira and Vélez then partnered with a third co-founder Edward Wible – and the fundraising for their new venture began. 

A Nubank is born

The three founders opted to name their innovative digital banking venture Nubank, symbolising their aspiration to develop something entirely fresh. In Portuguese, 'nu' translates to 'nude,' echoing their commitment to transparency in Nubank's offerings.

Fast-forward to the end of 2023 and Nubank has over 90 million customers across Latam in its operations in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. 

Consolidating its position as one of the fastest-growing financial organisations in the world, Nubank remains among the largest digital financial startups in the world. 

Most recently valued at US$23bn, Nubank continues its charge to take significant market share in Latam and battle Itaú for a leading position. 

Junqueira the Mother 

During the years in which Junqueira has helped scale Nubank, she has been going through an entirely different challenge – motherhood. Indeed, at the time of Nubank’s launch, Junqueira was heavily pregnant with her first child, but still managed to sign deals from her hospital bed within hours of delivery!

Now a mother of two, Junqueira continues to lead Nubank’s Brazilian operations with aplomb, expertly juggling her duties at Nubank with being a mother. 

Speaking to McKinsey & Co, Junqueira says: “I want my daughters to grow up in a world where they can dream of being whoever they want to be—and you can’t dream of what you can’t see.”

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