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What is a 'Correspondent Bank'

A correspondent bank is a financial institution that provides services on behalf of another, equal or unequal, financial institution. It can facilitate wire transfers, conduct business transactions, accept deposits and gather documents on behalf of another financial institution. Correspondent banks are most likely to be used by domestic banks to service transactions that either originate or are completed in foreign countries, acting as a domestic bank's agent abroad.

BREAKING DOWN 'Correspondent Bank'

Generally speaking, the reasons domestic banks employ correspondent banks include limited access to foreign financial markets and the inability to service client accounts without opening branches abroad. Correspondent banks can act as intermediaries between banks in different countries or as an agent to process local transactions for clients when they are traveling abroad. At the local level, correspondent banks can accept deposits, process documentation and serve as transfer agents for funds. The capability to execute these services relieves domestic banks of the need to establish a physical presence in foreign countries.

Nostro and Vostro Accounts

The accounts held between correspondent banks and the banks to which they are providing services are referred to as nostro and vostro accounts. An account held by one bank for another is referred to by the holding bank as a nostro account. The same account is referred as a vostro account by the counterparty bank. Generally speaking, both banks in a correspondent relationship hold accounts for one another for the purpose of tracking debits and credits between the parties.

Transferring Money Using a Correspondent Bank

International wire transfers often occur between banks that do not have an established financial relationship. When agreements are not in place between the bank sending a wire and the one receiving it, a correspondent bank must act as an intermediary. For example, a bank in San Francisco that has received instructions to wire funds to a bank in Japan cannot wire funds directly without a working relationship with the receiving bank.

Most international wire transfers are executed through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) network. Knowing there is not a working relationship with the destination bank, the originating bank can search the SWIFT network for a correspondent bank that has arrangements with both banks.

Upon finding a correspondent bank having arrangements with both sides of the transfer, the originating bank sends the transferred funds to its nostro account held at the correspondent bank. The correspondent bank deducts its transfer fee, usually $25 to $75, and transfers the funds to the receiving bank in Japan. In transactions such as this, the correspondent bank adds value in two ways. It alleviates the need for the domestic bank to establish a physical presence abroad and saves the work of setting up direct arrangements with other financial institutions around the world.

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