Eric Daniels, who last week left a comfortable post as chairman and chief executive officer of Citigroup unit Travelers Life and Annuity, to head Internet start-up ZonaFinanciera.com, said his new company's plan to tap the Latin American market was too compelling to ignore.
"It's never an easy decision to leave a place you've been a part of for a long time, but I really believe this company is going to succeed," Mr. Daniels said. ZonaFinanciera.com is a personal finance marketplace for Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking consumers in Latin America. Mr. Daniels was named its chief executive officer this month.
"This is a wonderful opportunity because customers in Latin America want consolidation of the distribution channels and ZonaFinanciera.com can create the consolidation," Mr. Daniels said. "We offer information on banking, brokerage, property and casualty insurance, and real estate products for the Spanish-speaking consumer."
George Kokulis has succeeded Mr. Daniels as CEO of Travelers Life and Annuity, which is based in Hartford, Conn. He was most recently an executive vice president.
Web users in Brazil and Argentina have already caught on to using the Internet for financial services information, according to Mr. Daniels, and other Latin American countries are starting to get on the Internet bandwagon.
"Right now there are eight million Internet users in Latin America. We believe there will be 24 million by 2003," Mr. Daniels said. "And we have 8% of the Latin American Internet users today visiting our site at least once in a month."
Spanish-speaking U.S. residents are also logging on to the Web site. In fact, about 25% of its users are from the United States, though the company has not aggressively marketed itself here.
"Right now, we're focusing on growing in Latin America, but obviously we have to target the large numbers of Spanish-speaking U.S. residents as well," Mr. Daniels said. He added that the company advertised last year on transit systems in major U.S. cities. "We'd be wrong if we failed to market in Texas, California, Florida, and New York."
ZonaFinanciera.com, based in Fairfax, Va., sells products from 40 institutions, including FleetBoston Financial, Banco Itau in Brazil, and Seguros Comerciales de America, the largest insurance company in Mexico.
"We'd like to add several more key players. We're still in the process of stocking the supermarket," Mr. Daniels said. "That's why we're currently only closing deals by the thousands and not the hundreds of thousands right now. Still we're pleased to be at 40 institutions right now."
He added that sales have been evenly distributed among banking, insurance, and brokerage channels.