MasterCard International sees the conclusion of the World Cup soccer tournament, which it sponsored, as a sort of new beginning.

Within a month or so, the New York-based association plans to launch several educational initiatives to reach Hispanic consumers, who presumably were avid followers of the month-long competition that ended Sunday.

"MasterCard's sponsorship represents our support of the Hispanic community," said Brian Schwartz, MasterCard's director of new market development, "and we have used [the World Cup] it to launch our commitment to this market."

Research Began in 1992

MasterCard's interest in the relatively untapped Latino segment is a result of qualitative research the association has done since 1992.

While it is widely known that the Hispanic population is one of the fastest-growing - 10% of the U.S. population and projected to reach 14% by 2010 - how the nationalities within the Hispanic market differ in consumer behavior is less well known.

Hispanics seem in general to value credit cards for such things as emergencies, personal identification, and as a means to build a credit record.

A Cash-Oriented Group

Since there is no abundance of consumer-based financial products offered in Latin America, Hispanic consumers are accustomed to a cash society.

Also, language and, particularly, financial services terminology can be a barrier between U.S. marketers and some Spanish-speaking prospects.

MasterCard's research focused on the three largest Hispanic groups in the United States, those of Mexican, Pucrto Rican, and Cuban descent. They live primarily in Florida, Texas, New York, and California.

Mexican-Americans account for 65% of the total Hispanic population and are the least sophisticated in terms of understanding credit products, the research found.

'Controlled and Calculating'

"This group traditionally falls lower on the economic spectrum," said Mr. Schwartz, "and their understanding of credit is lower than that of the Cubans in Florida," who arc the most astute financially, hc said.

Consumers of Mexican origin who own a credit card tend to view the product as a means to afford something important, like a trip back to their native COUntry.

"They are still very controlled and calculating about their spending," said Mr. Schwartz, "making one purchase and waiting for the bill to come in."

Another characteristic of Mexican consumers, he said, is that they are attracted to products with well-known brand names, because such goods are representative of mainstream America.

Price-Sensitive Subgroups

People from Puerto Rican and Cuban backgrounds perceive credit cards as a convenient alternative payment method. They shop around for cards with an eye on competitive pricing, and they are not afraid to use cards frequently to buy a variety of items, MasterCard found.

MasterCard plans to reach Hispanic consumers with its education efforts through broadcast media, since 84% of advertising to this market, versus 55% of the total advertising market, employs television or radio.

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