Site Bets on LatAm's Dearth of Finance Information

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (03/24/2000) - Greg Keough knows how difficult it is to ship products across borders in Latin America because he once headed a Central American distribution company in El Salvador. From his years spent living and traveling in Latin America, he also knows that personal finance information is not as readily available in the region as it is in the U.S.

Thus, when he realized how big of an opportunity the Internet represented in Latin America, he came up with a concept that avoided the product delivery and fulfilment problems that plague the region and filled Latin America's financial information void. That's how, in 1997, he came up with the idea of a Web site devoted to providing personal finance information, products and services for Latin Americans, and Zona Financiera Inc. was born.

Today, with 500,000 unique visitors per month, the Web site, at http://www.zonafinanciera.com/, is viewed, along with competitor Patagon.com International Ltd., as one of the leading personal finance Web sites for Latin Americans, although it also targets U.S. Hispanics and operates in Spain.

The privately-held company has raised over US$10 million in financing and is working on another round right now, Keough said during a recent interview. The company, based in Fairfax, Virginia, counts among its investors The Washington Post, Columbia Capital, Marsh & McLennan Capital and Plaza Street Capital. He expects the company to turn a profit by 2002.

"Our business model is sound today, it was sound 10 years ago, and it will be sound 10 years from now," he said.

By providing financial information and products, Zona Financiera avoids the headaches that other e-commerce companies are having trying to ship physical products in Latin America.

"We sell data. So we have no problems with delivery and fulfilment. We don't have to deal with customs issues. We don't have that barrier," he said.

Keough describes Zona Financiera as a "financial supermarket" that offers its users financial products from a variety of hand-picked providers, including BankBoston, Banco Santander Central Hispano SA and American International Group Inc. (AIG), but that remains neutral.

The company, which focuses on banking, brokerage, real estate, cars and insurance, receives a commission each time a user purchases a product. It also partners to offer Zona Financiera services in other Web sites and portals, Keough said.

Zona Financiera is at +1-703-280-8090 and at http://www.zonafinanciera.com/.

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