One Year Ago: Spanish Banks Partner To Launch Internet Bank

Originally published on January 5, 2000 and brought to you today as a time capsule.

Two of Spain’s largest commercial banks have disclosed plans to launch Unoe Bank SA, the country’s first independent Internet bank.

Banco Bilbao Vizcaya SA and Argentaria Caja Postal & Banco Hipotecario SA, which are now in the process of merging into Spain’s second-largest financial group, announced that they are planning to make Unoe Bank the largest financial supermarket in Southern Europe and Latin America.

The move comes just one day after the UK’s Lloyds TSB Group Plc announced plans to test market a pan-European Internet bank that is slated for launch sometime this year.

The British bank hopes to woo about one million customers from outside the UK to its new online bank, and would be Lloyds TSB’s first move into Europe. A series of other European acquisitions would likely follow.

Online Alternative

Like their British counterparts, Spanish banks have been focusing their resources on a defensive strategy that is largely aimed at keeping customers from jumping to online banks. However, this new venture would offer their Spanish-speaking customers throughout the world an online alternative.

The new Internet bank will be launched in partnership with Terra Networks SA, a new Internet unit of Telefonica SA and the largest Internet service provider in Latin America. Under the terms of the agreement, Terra will acquire a 20 percent stake in Unoe Bank, with the option to raise the stake to 35 percent.

The acquisition will be made through a 2.5 billion peseta ($15.4 million US$) capital increase at Unoe Bank. In return, the new banking unit — known as Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria — will ante up 81 billion pesetas ($501 million US$) for a three percent stake in Terra.

Great Expectations

Operating under the name Uno-e, the new Internet bank will be launched in Spain in mid-February. The bank then plans to expand into Portugal and Italy before moving into Mexico. Brazil and other Latin American countries will be targeted for September.

Uno-e will then enter the Spanish-speaking market in the U.S. and will aim to end the year by going public. Bank officials added that, by 2002, Uno-e plans to show a profit and have a customer base of more than a million customers by the end of the following year.

Who Will Win?

Some industry observers believe that Spain’s foray into the online banking arena underscores the depth of the international rivalry for banking customers that will spread worldwide over the next decade.

Since many of the financial players are just beginning to formulate their Internet strategies, the consensus among analysts is that it is much too early to pick potential winners and losers.

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