Faces of Berkeley: UC Berkeley alumnus Victor Santos works to change the finance world

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When he was 12, Victor Santos’ family sold all of its property in Brazil before moving to the United States and settling down.

“When we arrived, I did not speak a word of English,” Santos said in an email.

Santos, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 2013, said in the email that he still struggles with distinguishing himself as either American or Brazilian. He added that he adopted his parents’ “optimism and work-ethic” — he worked his way through community college and transferred to UC Berkeley, where he found his passion for helping others by creating Airfox, a company that provides financial services for those without access to banking.

“During my time at UC Berkeley, I was surrounded by peers and mentors who were equally passionate about transforming our world and leading society towards a better future,” Santos said in his email.

According to Santos, his commitment to his company has been greatly bolstered by his ability to reside in the United States because of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. He is a DACA recipient, and he said in his email that he plans to continue his Airfox work from Brazil if his DACA status is rescinded, noting that “deportation is a real fear.”

DACA is a government-funded program that protects people who entered the United States illegally at young ages from deportation, and it allows them to receive work permits. The program has more than 800,000 recipients. It has been threatened by President Donald Trump’s administration, which has attempted to end the program.

“It’s extremely disheartening to deal with the DACA constraints. I have attended UC Berkeley, worked for Google, and founded two U.S. companies,” Santos said in an email. “I believe, like many others, that we are contributing to the American economy. If I were to return to Brazil, I would have a complete culture shock.”

Santos began Airfox with the flame of passion fanned by personal experience, having grown up poor in a country with visible class disparities. He noted in the email that he experienced the difficulties of accessing “capital” while spending his youth in Brazil.

The Airfox app seeks to benefit users without other financial resources or credit history by providing them with various financial services, such as the ability to make electronic payments and to electronically transfer money from the app.

“Airfox supports individuals who struggle to access the resources they need from institutional banks with impossible requirements,” Santos said in an email. “We provide access to the kinds of financial services that are paramount to individuals striving to advance in emerging economies.”

Santos hopes to get more than 200,000 people on the app by the end of 2018, and he plans to introduce microloans to those using the app in Brazil.

Many of Santos’ friends and associates lauded him as a hardworking and intelligent individual with a charming personality and a knack for business.

Justin Hoffman, one of Santos’ friends and former roommates, said in a statement that Santos is a gentleman outside of the office as well as inside of it. In his free time, Santos enjoys playing sports, writing, exercising and viewing memes.

“I see in Victor the qualities present in many of the most successful founders I’ve worked with,” said Airfox adviser Amy Spurling. “He is incredibly creative. He is a true visionary. … To sum up Victor, he has grit and drive, but remains an incredibly nice guy.”

Contact Jasmine Sheena at [email protected].