Total System Services Inc. has completed an agreement to process for Mexico's largest joint credit card operation.

The agreement, coming after a year of negotiation, is both the first joint venture and the "first true international customer" for Total System, according to M. Troy Woods, senior vice president.

Total System, based in Columbus, Ga., is the second-largest card-account processor in the United States and is also serving banks in Puerto Rico and Canada.

31% of Mexican Card Market

The Mexican organization, Promocion y Operacion, or Prosa, is owned by 13 Mexican banks and holds 31% of the country's credit card market, with more than three million Visa and MasterCard accounts. Under the agreement, a joint venture is being formed that will be 51% owned by the Mexican banks and 49% by Total System.

The deal gives Total System a presence inthe fast-growing Latin American credit card market and offers Prosa the technology to update its systems and remain competitive.

"They need help -- they have antiquated systems," Mr. Woods said. "We bring all that to the table, and they bring three million accounts to the table."

Competition Heightens

Prosa may require a technology edge as competition heats up among Mexican counterparts such as Bancomer and Banamex. Those two banks control most of the remaining two-thirds of the Mexican credit card market.

Bancomer and Banamex are relying on strategic alliances with major U.S. banks to build credit card and electronic banking businesses. Bancomer has an automated-teller-machine-sharing agreement with Citicorp, and Banamex has acquired the rights to Banc One Corp.'s Triumph card-processing software.

The race may be getting even tighter as cobranded giants like the AT&T Universal Card and Household Bank's General Motors card program look to expand internationally, Mr. Woods said.

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