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FORGET THE TRAFFIC. FORGET FINDING A PARKing space. Forget the long lines and all the other headaches of going to a bank in Mexico City. Banco IXE, Mexico's virtual bank, is well on its way to fulfilling its slogan as the "bank of convenience."

Since launching services three years ago, the bank boasts 30,000 clients and assets topping US$320 million. Banco IXE relies on a unique mix of the Internet, telephony and courier service to offer flexibility on how, when and where clients do their banking. On average, such convenience is attracting 40 new clients each day.

IXE singled out working professionals for its checking, savings and investment accounts because Mexico's household computer penetration is quite small. However, says Raul Triay, director of electronic banking and product development at IXE, most white-collar workers have access to computers and the Internet at their desks. Only about a tenth of account holders rely solely on Internet banking, but that segment is growing the fastest.

With rising popularity, competition in Internet banking services is heating up, with both Banamex, one of the nation's largest banks, and mid-sized Bital offering rival services. But, says Triay, "we have a very targeted market focus. We are not after every bank account. At most banks in Mexico, a person can open an account with a few hundred pesos. The minimum required deposit for banking with us is 20,000 pesos [US$2,000]."

The nascent network cost over $10 million to build. Starting from scratch had its advantages. "Many of the larger Mexican banks have thousands of branches, with different information technology systems," says Triay. "Creating an integrated Internet banking service for them is far more complex and costly." IXE's passes the savings derived from its electronic network to customers in the form of reduced fees for investing in money market funds-the bank's main product.

Internet banking is not without its dark moments. IXE has no control over how Internet users get to the bank, with connections sometimes being routed through Hong Kong and other far away places, slowing down transaction speed and irritating clients. Services for small and medium-sized firms are in the works, as well as broadening the bank's reach beyond the capital to the rest of the country and across national borders. The web site's design is undergoing changes to meet needs peculiar to Mexican businesses, like multiple authorizations on checks and transfers.

The virtual bank has also decided that it could use some bricks and mortar. "While the Internet has its advantages, practically speaking, an individual cannot receive money via the Internet," says Triay. "Hence, we needed a few branches." IXE has opened 14 offices in Mexico City, a rep office in Monterrey and plans to open two branches in Leon, a city northwest of the capital.

But, offices and bank tellers aside, the horizon for expansion is wholly online.
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Title Annotation:automated banking
Author:de la Sierra, Mimi Cauley
Publication:Latin Trade
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Jun 1, 1999
Previous Article:CONSUMER GALAXY.

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