FleetBoston Financial Corp. is adding an electronic commerce dimension to its focus on Latin America.
The $181 billion-asset banking company has announced that it will work with Miami-based ePagos to help small businesses in Argentina design transactional Web sites and accept online payments. FleetBoston will process transactions for the online merchant sites created and hosted by ePagos.
FleetBoston, which operates as BankBoston in Argentina and Brazil, "is getting into the heart of the e-commerce revolution here," said Sebastian Ohrwaschel, a BankBoston product manager.
Bank of Boston opened its first branch in Argentina in 1917, and today FleetBoston has 140 there.
ePagos has helped create and now hosts 8,000 merchant sites in Latin America, including 3,000 in Argentina. The company expects to be hosting 30,000 Latin American sites by this time next year.
Two months ago, after seeing the ePagos Web site, Mr. Ohrwaschel e-mailed Marco Zeledon, executive vice president of ePagos. The agreement has been in the works ever since, Mr. Ohrwaschel said.
BankBoston is "in the process of talking with other dot-coms for other alliances," he added.
The ePagos initiative will serve as a pipeline of new commercial accounts for BankBoston, Mr. Zeledon said. "BankBoston is saying, 'We are willing to take the risk'" of processing credit card transactions for businesses that may be viewed as unqualified to accept online credit card transactions, said Mr. Zeledon, who joined ePagos five months ago after six years at Visa.
EPagos offers 24 templates to help merchants create sites cost-effectively. "We offer them a way to create a site within our site," Mr. Zeledon said. "It is very expensive for small businesses to get their own site, put it online and do online transactions."
ePagos entered the Argentina market in May 2000. Merchants asking for online help range from clothing manufacturers to drug producers to computer equipment providers, Mr. Zeledon said.
"The country is a virgin in the sense of e-commerce," he said.
Most customer service is handled online, to ease the pressure on companies to support additional phone lines, which can be hard to come by. EPagos' only call center in Argentina has 10 representatives.
"Most of these places only have one phone line, which is the same line for the Internet," Mr. Zeledon said. "We would not need a phone center, because in Latin America it is difficult to get an extra line."