Santander's venture capital fund eyes fresh Latin American investments

MEXICO CITY/MADRID, Sept 27 (Reuters) - A venture capital fund backed by Spanish bank Santander is eyeing fresh opportunities across Latin America, an executive said on Friday, days after it completed an investment in Mexican financial technology startup Klar.

Mexico and Brazil are the largest, most active and fastest-growing markets for so-called fintechs in Latin America. Local entrepreneurs have been developing technologies ranging from electronic payments to savings and loans.

Manuel Silva, a partner at Santander InnoVentures, said in an interview the fund was seeking more investments in countries where Santander already had a presence, but primarily in Brazil and Mexico.

“We continue to seek out companies,” Silva said. “We invest mostly in markets where the bank is present because those are the markets where we can add most value for the bank as well as for us as investors.”

Silva said other markets of interest included Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru.

InnoVentures did not disclose how much it invested in Klar, which offers digital alternatives to credit and debit cards. Klar said earlier this week that it secured $57.5 million in funding from different investors, including InnoVentures.

The move in Mexico is part of Santander’s efforts to increase its focus on emerging economies while cutting costs to counter squeezed margins in mature European markets.

Like other European banks, Spanish lenders are struggling to lift earnings as low interest rates squeeze financial markets. They are increasingly focusing on trimming costs and boosting efforts to sell services on digital platforms.

As part of digital transformation, Santander also said it would invest over 20 billion euros ($21.9 billion) in technology over the next four years.

Earlier in September, Santander said it would increase its ownership of its Mexican business to 91.65% from 74.96% after a stock exchange offer as it chases higher returns in Latin America.

Mexico’s government has been looking to both banks and financial tech firms as it aims to reduce cash in circulation to cut down on money laundering and corruption, and to draw more people into the formal economy.

The country’s banking regulator, CNBV, is evaluating the applications of 85 fintechs that have sought permission to operate in the country under the Mexican Fintech Law, which was issued in March 2018, and is considered a gold standard in the region. (Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher in Mexico City and Jesus Aguado in Madrid Editing by Matthew Lewis)