Chilean Pedro Pineda (40 years old) is part of a generation of entrepreneurs that in recent years has revolutionized traditional businesses through technology. But the CEO of one of Latin America's most promising tech investment firms, Fintual, is feeling somewhat paranoid. He fears that an artificial intelligence (AI) actor will enter his business and erase them from the map, he confesses to EL PAÍS in an interview this week at his operations center in Chile, located in the municipality of Providencia, near the epicenter of the demonstrations of the social outbreak of 2019.
In 2016, he founded Fintual together with his partners Agustín Feuerhake, Omar Larré and Andrés Marinkovic. It was the first 100% digital mutual fund manager to invest in ETFs (publicly traded investment instruments that track stock indices around the world). The simplicity of the mechanism and the use of technology allowed them to charge commissions much lower than those of the market: between 0.49% and 1.19% per year. And its originality caught the attention of the young public, eager to find savings and investment alternatives tailored to their needs, because the existing industry seemed distant and difficult to understand. The name of your funds depending on the level of risk? Risky Norris, Moderate Pitt, Very Conservative Streep or Conservative Clooney.
Today, the average age of those who bet on Fintual is 34 years and they already have 85,000 customers in Chile. In Mexico, where the company landed in 2021, they already number 7,000 and grow at double-digit monthly rates. "Our goal is to reach 20,000 by the end of the year," explains Pineda, who is betting that, in the medium term – two and a half to three years – the North American country will be its main market.
He receives EL PAÍS in an old house, with a glass dome where Start-up Chile, the entrepreneurship accelerator of the state agency Corfo and Telefónica, was previously located. Several plants remodeled so that its little more than 100 workers feel at ease. The place has a music room, gym, several lounges, a space to play chess with armchairs of an intense blue that contrast with the white of the walls and a sector to eat (with a coffee maker and biscuits that everyone can take out and eat).
He wears jeans, a worn green sweatshirt and sneakers. He does not like to give interviews and is very jealous of his privacy, but in this conversation – exceptionally – he shares his vision of business and life, deeply marked by his family: his wife and his two young children, less than three years old.
Three races in seven years
He is visiting Chile. Nine months ago he moved to Mexico City, where Fintual has his office on the eighth floor of a modern building in the Anzures neighborhood.
Pineda has Chilean nationality, but was born in Mexico. His father was president of the student center of the Catholic University of Valparaíso when the coup d'état was perpetrated in 1973 in Chile. He was of the left and had to go into exile in Belgium, where he studied a doctorate in Sociology, although his thesis was carried out in a small town in the State of Veracruz, in Mexico, where he studied the peasant life of the area. There Pedro was born, who at the age of three returned to Chile with his family, who settled in the southern city of Puerto Montt. When he graduated from high school he settled in the Chilean capital and enrolled in Astronomy at the University of Chile. The curiosity to learn new things and his passion for understanding earthquakes led him to study Geophysics in parallel and then, in addition, Industrial Civil Engineering. He carried out all three races in seven years.
He worked in some companies such as Oracle and Cencosud, but he wanted to be an entrepreneur. This is how he started his path as an entrepreneur, always linked to technology, until he met his current partners and decided to launch into the world of investments. They succeeded. In 2018, YCombinator – one of the world's leading tech startup accelerators, founded by Silicon Valley guru Paul Graham – chose them to participate in its program. They began to open doors and focused on growing their business. They were constituted as General Fund Administrator (AGF) regulated by the Commission for the Financial Market in Chile (CMF) and began to look at other markets. In November 2021, Fintual closed an investment round of 39 million dollars, which was led by Sequoia Capital, one of the largest venture capital firms in the world (the same one that had previously invested in companies such as Apple, Google, AirBnB, Zoom, among other big companies in the world of technology). Pedro Pineda couldn't believe it. From then on, the company entered the exclusive club of the most sought-after digital ventures in Latin America and landed in Mexico.
Today, Fintual manages 700 million dollars between the two operations and their plans are ambitious: they want, in a decade, to reach sales between 100 to 150 million dollars and open to the stock market in the United States. "Mexico is big enough to do it," Pedro says. Then, he says, they plan to look at other markets. Spain is on their radar. "I get the feeling that since it is a developed country, there is less hunger and there are fewer entrepreneurs, everything is more or less fine," he says. And he explains: "It's not that we are more capos than the [smarter] Spaniards, but we have more needs."
To achieve their goals, Pineda knows they have to keep up with technology. "I'm paranoid that someone with artificial intelligence will come along and take us off the map. I don't want what happened to Kodak to happen to us," he says, referring to the international photographic equipment company. He adds: "Artificial intelligence is a huge opportunity. It's been six months since ChatGPT came out and no one understands much. If there's going to be an investment firm with artificial intelligence, I want to be me."
For that, in its Mexican headquarters they opened an artificial intelligence department where they are studying how to incorporate this technology in customer service, but also in the management of investments. And they wrote a paper that they seek to publish in a scientific journal on this subject.
An optimist in the face of AI
Pineda is not afraid of artificial intelligence. And he talks about the debate opened by some gurus of this technology – including Sam Altman, the founder of OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT, whom the founder of Fintual knows – about the threat of misused AI. The Chilean believes that there are more opportunities that can be opened for the planet: "Perhaps we will work less and have more time to raise our children and teach them to be better people, who contribute in their countries. My view is more optimistic and I think it will be beneficial."
Although today he is in the world of entrepreneurship, Pedro recognizes himself as a scientist. He has had approaches to the world of science and has evaluated together with Francisco Brieva – former president of the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research, which today is the National Agency for Research and Development – to create a research center in some subject where Chile has some technological advantage. But he says it's still too early.
"The truth is, I don't have a single weight. They told me 'let's do it', but maybe I got too far ahead. My wife is a scientist, so we would love that, to give science money for some development," he says, thinking about the future. But he picked up the gauntlet of the Chilean Minister of Science, Aysén Etcheverry, who called on the private world to collaborate on scientific issues. Therefore, on this trip to Chile he scheduled a meeting with her to propose some ideas: "Artificial intelligence is changing the world drastically and Chile is not there. I think there's a huge opportunity."
If anything, Pineda's short-term plans are more specific. He is already clear that he will live in Mexico until December of this year. Although he is happy with his life in Mexico City and confesses that he would stay longer, on January 2, 2024 he returns to Chile. It's part of an agreement he reached with his wife for her to return to her job. They will be in Santiago for at least a year and a half for her to finish paying for her doctorate and, then, one of her options is to move to Puerto Natales, in the heart of Chilean Patagonia, where Fintual has one of its offices.
"I don't like Santiago so that my children grow up. I want them to go to the school on the corner and I don't want to spend an hour in a traffic jam to go to an elite establishment. I also don't want to live in a boring neighborhood," he says, referring to the areas where Santiago's wealthy class lives.
Before leaving for Mexico, Pineda lived in the Bellas Artes neighborhood, at the very epicenter of the social explosion demonstrations of 2019. He remembers walking to work and "eating tear gas from time to time," but he didn't feel the country was ending and appreciates how the process was conducted democratically. "I lived in Puerto Montt in the 90s, where although there was segregation, it was not so much," says one of the stars of Latin American technological entrepreneurship who, however, has simple dreams, such as returning to live in the peaceful and cold Chilean south.