Zona Financiera Licenses Citibank
Eric Daniel, chief executive of Zona Financiera, the multilingual financial portal, announced a licensing deal with Citibank to provide the bank’s websites in Latin America with a common look and feel, similar presentation of financial products and connection to its legacy systems. Daniel, a former Citibanker, says the bank is paying Zona Financiera an undisclosed license fee and a commission on each transaction. Citi also gets a prominent listing on Zona Financiera’s website. Zona Financiera, which was founded in 1998, also supports Latin American websites for AIG, the US insurer, plus Mexico’s Banorte and Seguros Comercial de América. Its equity partners include Columbia Capital, Marsh & McLellan, T Rowe Price, and the Washington Post.

Venture Capital Fund Invests in BitTime.com
Softbank Latin America Ventures has made its fifth investment in a Latin American Internet company, acquiring 27% of BitTime.com, a provider of online loyalty programs. Consumers and corporate users shopping online with participants in BitTime programs can collect bartering points known as “trocas,” which can be exchanged for prizes and rewards. So far this year, Softbank has used part of its $150 million war chest to invest in Dineronet.com, a consumer-oriented financial management portal; LearningSoft, a producer of educational games; Connectmed, a health-care industry B2B service; and From2.com, an e-commerce logistics company. Both Softbank and BitTime.com are headquartered in Miami, Florida.

Decidir.com Secures Funding
Argentina’s Decidir.com, which provides online credit risk reports, identity verification and secure payment systems, received $15 million in second-round financing from a group of investors that includes GE Equity, HSBC-Tower Fund and SCP Private Equity Partners of the US. The company says it will use the funds to continue expanding in Latin America and develop new services. Decidir.com?s first-round investors, which included CIMA Investments, Citicorp Venture Capital Latin America, International Real Returns and Brazil’s CVC Opportunity, also contributed to the new financing. Decidir.com, established in 1998 as a website serving businesses in Argentina, has built up a staff of more than 200 employees in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Chile and the US. It recently acquired VAS&S (Value Added Software and Services), an Argentine provider of payment, procurement and digital certification services.

Tutopia Raises Private Equity
Tutopia.com, a free Internet service provider, raised $20 million in private equity funding from the UBS Capital Americas III fund, reducing the stake of its founding company, IFX Corp, to 47%. Tutopia says it will use the money to expand its services across Latin America. IFX is a Miami-based Internet company listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market. It was set up in 1985, and up until 1998 was mainly a commodities and futures business, when it shifted its focus to the Latin American Internet market and sold off all non-Internet related assets.

Banorte and Asista Link Up
Grupo Financiero Banorte, Mexico’s fifth-largest financial group, and Asista.com, a Miami-based B2B Internet company, have signed a strategic alliance to develop various online payment and e-commerce services using Asista’s pan-regional platform. Banorte and Asista are to begin developing electronic payment systems, which they expect will be ready toward the end of this year. Banorte will promote Asista to its clients and will purchase all indirect goods and services exclusively from Asista.com’s electronic marketplace. The two partners say they will split evenly any profits from the joint venture. The alliance should accelerate Banorte’s use of the Internet. In April, Asista launched a digital marketplace in Mexico, followed by Argentina and Brazil. JP Morgan Capital and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter provided initial funding for Asista.

Citibank Launches E-Commerce Services in Brazil
Prior to announcing its deal with Zona Financiera, Citibank inaugurated two new e-business services for Latin America, Citibank Procurement Connection and CitiCommerce. The two services, which were fully tested in the Brazilian market, form part of the bank’s overall business-to-business Internet strategy for the region (see best regional bank, “Banamex”). Citibank Procurement Connection links buyers and sellers all over the world through the Internet, and it can be used domestically or across international borders. CitiCommerce allows large sellers to automate their sales transactions, making it almost an extension of their internal systems. The service enables potential buyers to create purchase orders, consult information about invoices, check delivery status and make payments.

Insurer Goes Online
ACE International, the international insurance operations of ACE Limited, announced an alliance with FuturoSeguro to serve as the exclusive provider of accident and medical insurance products offered on the new FuturoSeguro.com website. The website is a pan-regional site that allows consumers to purchase insurance coverage and receive services immediately online. Initially, only ACE International products, including accident, travel and medical insurance products and services, will be available through Futuro Seguro.com

Corporations Donate Technology for Argentine Schools
Argentina has said it plans to spend $237 million to provide Internet access for all public schools. The program, which has received funding from the Inter-American Development Bank, is part of a government plan that includes an educational website and financing for new personal computers from state-owned Banco de la Nación. Companies including Sun Microsystems and Oracle have donated equipment and support for the website. Martín Varsavsky, chairman of Jazztel Plc, a Spanish telecom and data group, helped fund the website with an $11 million grant. Varsavsky’s family fled Argentina during the 1976-1983 military government.