Citigroup Inc. is trying to encourage its corporate customers in Latin America to make more use of the Internet.
About 70% of Citibank's more than 5,000 Latin American corporate customers do cash management online. By creating digital marketplaces and online payment services, Citi hopes to spur corporate use of the Internet for other transactions as well.
"In Latin America, we don't see many marketplaces up and running or a big number of transactions," said Lilian Picciotti, Citibank's e-solutions head for Latin America. "We are offering the infrastructure to stimulate them."
Three products make up the cornerstone of the bank's strategy. Citibank Procurement Connection, which links buyers and sellers, and CitiCommerce, which automates payment- and invoice-related tasks, were both introduced in August. CitiConnect, in testing since March 2000, lets users collect payments from consumers over the Internet and is to get its wide-scale introduction Jan. 29.
Ms. Picciotti said it is too soon for Citi to measure results of these initiatives but that she is confident they will do well.
"We're trading a number of transactions," she said. "It will move fast and we're guaranteed good results."
Compared with other regions, she said, "We're growing our Internet usage here at a rate of 4-to-1."
It is estimated that 38 million Latin Americans will be Internet users by yearend.
"Compared to the United States, that's nothing, but compared to the numbers we had before, it's a lot," said Ms. Picciotti, who works in Buenos Aires and joined Citibank last year after spending 30 years at International Business Machines Corp. in Brazil.
Internet use in Latin America is growing fastest in Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina. "The reality is the Internet is becoming part of daily operations for our customers," Ms. Picciotti said. "We are moving ahead in a strong way."
Citibank Procurement Connection, the product of an alliance between Citigroup and the software maker Commerce One, can link buyers and sellers domestically or internationally. Citibank Brazil, the first company to implement the system, estimated in a preliminary evaluation that the bank's procurement costs would come down by 10% to 20%, and its purchasing processes would become more efficient. Citibank Mexico followed in October and Citibank Argentina in December.
This month Citibank Procurement Connection became fully operational at several Brazilian companies including Orbitall, Gimba, Compaq, Lexmark, Forma, Lucent, Giroflex, Equipa, and Office Net, and at three companies in Mexico whose names Ms. Picciotti said she could not disclose.
In another electronic procurement effort, Citibank Latin America is working with Marrakech Ltd., an Irish software company that offers an Internet trading platform for commercial transactions between buyers, suppliers, banks, and other intermediaries. Marrakech is operating its Global Commerce Network in Mexico and Argentina.
CitiCommerce aims to streamline companies' supply-chain networks by letting buyers create purchase orders, consult invoices, check the status of deliveries, and make payments.
Aventis CropScience, an agricultural chemicals firm and the first company in Brazil to test CitiCommerce, estimated that the service has helped its sales force reduce by 30% the time it spends on low priority activities. Now the sales force has more time to concentrate on service, sales promotion, and client acquisition.
Molinos Rio de la Plata, a consumer goods distributor and the first company in Argentina to use CitiCommerce, estimated that the product has freed up 30% of the time used by its sales personnel on administrative tasks. Molinos has nearly 700 products and yearly billing of about $800 million. Two other companies, one in Mexico and another in Colombia, have signed contracts with Citibank to implement CitiCommerce.