In a new partnership, Equifax Inc. is planning to offer a service in Mexico that will help companies identify potential customers.

The Atlanta-based credit bureau announced a venture with Ciemex-WEFA, which is itself a partnership between Wharton Econometric Forecasting Associates of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., and Ciemex, a Mexico City-based firm that collects demographic data.

Last month the U.S. forecasting firm, which is known as the WEFA Group, took a substantial ownership position in Ciemex, with which it has been exchanging data for eight years.

The joint venture, not yet named, will offer marketing support based primarily on data collected from Mexican census reports.

The announcement follows the release of government issued rules last month, addressing how credit bureaus in Mexico may operate. (See related story on page 13.)

The rules reflect the Mexican financial community's fear that counterparts abroad, with sophisticated technology and marketing expertise, will sweep into the consumer market and steal their customers.

One rule in particular makes it difficult for companies in Mexico to engage in what is commonly known in the United States as prescreening, whereby lenders approve consumers before they have applied for credit by examining their credit records.

The Mexican rules require companies seeking credit reports to submit a consumer's signature, for example, on an application form. The signature shows that the consumer is aware that the company will pull his or her credit report.

While the Mexican joint venture cannot provide a list of consumers with good credit records, a marketer, however, could request information about a certain geographic area where consumers own their own homes, and have a higher income.

The joint venture will segment the Mexican population by zip codes. Under those categories a marketer could get information about the median age in an area, whether there is high or low employment, or the number of rooms in a typical house in the neighborhood.

John T. Rougeou, senior vice president of Equifax's credit reporting services, pointed out that the company's services "would help mailers get around the prescreening impediment" so that they are not sending out a "blank mailing."

William A. Mundell, president of the WEFA Group, maintains that the joint venture is not seeking to give "U.S. companies a greater advantage over Mexican companies." Rather, he said, "This levels the playing field for everyone."

The joint venture will also assist companies in their advertising decisions and whether to open a store or branch in a particular area.

Equifax and the WEFA Group maintain that no other company in Mexico is offering the service they will offer later this year.

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