Brazilian banks offer free web access

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RIO DE JANEIRO/SAO PAULO--Brazilian banks are rushing to offercustomers free access to the Web, causing shock waves in the competitive Brazilian Internet industry.

The main goal for the banks, including Bradesco, Unibanco, Banco do Brasil, Itau, HSBC and Bilbao Vizcaya, is to lower branch overheads while attracting new customers.

Banco do Brasil's service initially offers five free hours of access a month. About 400,000 Banco do Brasil customers use the Internet for banking services. The Internet has helped the bank cut 2% off the banksoperating costs. "The Internet pattern is changing in Brazil. In othercountries, especially in Europe, free access is already common, and this trend helps banks to cut costs," says Renio Assis, Internet director at Banco do Brasil.

Meanwhile, 280,000 of Unibanco's three million customers use the Internet for financial operations. Unibanco is hoping 600,000 will eventually sign on to its unlimited-access service.

In contrast, Bradesco is limiting customers to 20 free hours a month because it wants clients to pay bills and use other online financial services rather than endlessly surf. "Users who spend a lot of time online aren't our target," says Odecio Gregio, director of computer products at the bank.

The banking industry's foray into Web services has incited protests from the Brazilian Association of Access Providers, representing several hundred of the country's Internet access providers that typically charge $20 a month for their services. The association is planning to lodge complaints with the anti-monopoly body CADE (Administration Council of Economic Defense) and ANATEL (National Telecom Agency).

Copyright January 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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