On a Sunday afternoon at a busy intersection in central Brasília, a woman asks passing motorists for money. Her cardboard sign, written in marker in Portuguese, reads: “Need help. Hungry. I accept Pix.”
Pix, a system that allows fast money transfers over smartphones, has become ubiquitous in the 11 months since it was introduced by Brazil’s central bank. All that’s needed to send cash to someone is a simple key they’ve set up, such as an email address or phone number. Similar to the privately owned Zelle in the U.S., Pix works through multiple apps from banks and other digital wallet services. It’s already been used at least once by 110 million Brazilians and about $89 billion has moved through the network. Brazil now registers more instant transfers than the U.S.
The launch of Pix turned out to be well-timed. With businesses closed during the pandemic, the use of cash at points of sale decreased by 25% in 2020, according to a report from technology consultant FIS. About the same time informal work boomed, accounting for 80% of the jobs added in Latin America’s largest economy in the first three months of 2021. Pix made paying people digitally almost as easy as using paper money. “We expected considerable acceptance from individuals, and we knew companies would come later on,” says Carlos Eduardo Brandt, the chief of management and operations for Pix. “But in terms of magnitude, it surprised us.”
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