Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Mac Margolis

Brazil’s Central Bank Just Revolutionized Instant Payments

Its new digital app turns free money transfers into a public good.

There’s a free app for that. 

There’s a free app for that. 

Photographer: Mauro Pimentel/AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this year, my kitchen sink sprang a leak. With Brazil bracing for coronavirus, how to find a repairman willing to risk Rio de Janeiro’s pathogen-friendly public transit for a one-off job in a stranger’s home? Lucky for me, Antonio was game. A freelance plumber, Antonio is part of Latin America’s vast shadow economy, where today’s gig is tonight’s meal. Unfortunately, most Brazilian handymen prefer cash, just the sort of high-touch tender I had foresworn in times of Covid-19.

We settled on a bank transfer, and a few pecks at my phone app and a hefty transfer fee later, I’d whisked the money from my account to his. Or so I thought. Two days, four phone calls and several worried text messages from Antonio later, the funds finally landed.