to Target U.S. Hispanics

LOS ANGELES (03/17/2000) - is planning to launch its online banking operations in the U.S. later this year, once the regulatory authorities approve the buy-in of Metro Savings Bank by its parent company, BI Financial Inc.

A clear difference between and other virtual banking services in the U.S. is that its operations are directed exclusively to the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking communities of the United States.

The new e-bank will use the federal infrastructure and operating permit held by Metro Savings Bank, an Orlando, Florida-based company with only one branch office.

Since October of last year, has operated a service known as Comunidad financiera para latinos (which translates as Hispanic Financial Community), whose main objective is to spread the use of the U.S. financial system among the Hispanic community, said Santiago Piqué, the company's chief financial officer.

"Besides the educational objective, we believe this is a mechanism to improve the level of confidence that users have in our service, which is offered in our language, in English and in Portuguese. We believe we understand the Hispanic culture because we are Hispanic," said Piqué, a Cuban. plans to develop a "personal virtual banker," which will be the main personal contact for users of its services, said Piqué. "The idea is to assign a financial professional to every customer in order to establish a personal and trusting relationship, which we Hispanics usually demand," he added. The contact will be established via e-mail, fax, telephone or postal mail.

In Comunidad financiera para latinos, users have access to information about several types of financial transactions that range from the opening of savings or checking accounts to obtaining mortgages.

A chat service offers users a forum for exchanging their experience with other users or querying financial experts, as well as the Safe Deposit Registry, or virtual safe box, in which users can archive relevant data from their personal documents. Bank customers can also obtain free e-mail service.

Once starts operations, users can perform these bank transactions online. Several agreements will take place with banking and financial institutions in the U.S. in order to enable the offering of services like ATM or credit card networks, said Piqué, ex-CFO of American Express, Mexico.

The service will also include joint family savings plans, teenage savings plans, and, through agreements with mortgaging firms, a mortgaging service that will include assistance for nonresident immigrants in the U.S. will have all its services available on a 24-hour by 7-day basis. Currently, an IT team is working on the creation of software for customer privacy protection, said Piqué.

"We will not focus our service to Latin America because we believe that we have a large enough potential consumer base in this country (the U.S.), with proportionally larger purchasing power and with larger access and use of the Internet," Piqué concluded.

The CFO mentioned that the company is considering the possibility of performing transactions in the U.S. for customers located in any Latin American country.

Miami-based may be found at

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