June 13, 2007 / 3:54 PM / 11 years ago

UPDATE 1-Chase sets free Mexico money transfers in NY area

(Adds interview, byline)

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK, June 13 (Reuters) - JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM.N) said on Wednesday it will let checking account customers in the New York City area wire money to Mexico for free, hoping to win business from one of the region’s fastest-growing ethnic groups.

The third-largest U.S. bank said its Rapid Cash program lets customers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut make three free transfers, for up to $1,500 each, per month to accounts at Banorte (GFNORTEO.MX). The Mexican bank, the country’s fifth-largest, operates more than 1,000 branches and 2,800 automated teller machines in Mexico.

“One of the specific needs of this community is to send money back home to relatives,” said Rebeca Vargas, Chase’s head of multicultural marketing, in an interview. “The intention is to bank this segment of the market, and as they progress in their financial situations, we’ll be able to offer loans, credit cards and other services.” People may use Mexican matricula consular cards as a form of identification to open accounts. A wire transfer to Mexico previously cost $30, Vargas said.

U.S. banks including Citigroup Inc. (C.N), Bank of America Corp. (BAC.N), Wachovia Corp. WB.N and Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC.N) have rolled out low-cost transfer programs to add business from Hispanic Americans, who this decade overtook blacks as the largest U.S. minority group.

JPMorgan Chase said it introduced Rapid Cash last year in Texas, and that adding the New York area, its largest market, completes a nationwide rollout.

The bank’s New York area presence grew last October when it took over some 338 branches from Bank of New York Co. (BK.N). It operates more than 800 branches and 2,300 ATMs in the area, and has some 3,071 branches and 8,560 ATMs nationwide.

Mexicans living abroad, mostly in the United States, last year sent a record $23 billion home, 15 percent more than a year earlier, Mexico’s central bank said in January.

About 244,000 Mexicans lived in New York City in 2005, 53 percent more than in 2000, data available at New York City’s Web site show.

Vargas said JPMorgan Chase plans to launch other products designed for Hispanics. Citigroup, for example, has offered a bi-national credit card, while Wachovia developed a remittance card that can be mailed to family or friends in Latin America.

((Reporting by Jonathan Stempel, editing by Steve Orlofsky; Reuters Messaging: jon.stempel.reuters.com@reuters.net, 646 223 6317)) Keywords: JPMORGANCHASE MEXICO/TRANSFERS

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