A correspondent bank is a foreign bank that provides banking services on behalf of a local bank, in a foreign country. That allows local banks to offer foreign banking services to their customers, without opening branches in a foreign country.

The banking services correspondent banks provide include wire transfers, processing banking documents, performing due diligence before executing and conducting transactions.

  1. How Correspondent Banks Operate
  2. How Banks Settle a Foreign Transaction with Correspondent Banking
  3. Correspondent Banking Fees
  4. How a Banks Finds an Intermediary Bank
  5. Intermediary Bank – Frequently Asked Questions
  6. Correspondent Bank vs. Intermediary Bank
  7. International Payments

Correspondent Bank

How Correspondent Banks Operate

When two banks agree to establish a banking correspondence, they usually open a correspondent bank account from their ends. Local banks use these correspondent bank accounts, to settle international transactions with correspondent banks.

What are Nostro and Vostro Accounts?

A local bank refers to the bank account it opens for a correspondent bank as a Nostro account. That same account is referred to as a Vostro account, by the correspondent bank on whose behalf it was opened.

The number of correspondent bank accounts a local bank has, is determined by the number of correspondent banking relationships it has. In most cases, the higher the number of foreign transactions a bank handles, the more correspondent banking relationships it has.

How Banks Settle a Foreign Transaction with Correspondent Banking

A buyer with a bank account in the US may want to pay a supplier in China, who does not have a bank account in the US. The buyer will have to rely on their US bank to use its correspondent bank in China to complete the transaction.

First, the buyer authorizes a deposit to the supplier in China, by giving his bank the banking details of the supplier and the amount to be paid. The buyer’s US bank debits the buyer’s account, then contacts its correspondent bank in China, and authorizes them to credit the supplier’s bank account.

The bank in China verifies the details and credits the supplier’s bank account. The US bank credits the same amount to its Nostro account in the Chinese bank, and the bank in China can see the US bank has credited its US Vostro. Both banks deduct their transfer fees from the buyer’s funds.

Correspondent Banking Fees

In that regard, the buyer has to send the supplier enough funds to cover the transfer fees. Moreover, if the US bank does not have a correspondent banking relationship with the supplier’s bank, then it has to use an intermediary bank.

The intermediary bank must have a correspondent banking relationship with the supplier’s bank, and the buyer’s bank. Often, that can raise the fees needed to process the transaction.

How a Banks Finds an Intermediary Bank

When a bank does not have a correspondent banking relationship with a receiver’s bank, it uses the Society of Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) network, to find an intermediary bank.

The intermediary bank is simply a bank that has a correspondent banking relationship with the two banks that want to transact but is not correspondents.

A majority of international bank transfers happen through the SWIFT network. That saves banks from the costly process of setting up multiple correspondent bank accounts or opening branches worldwide.

Intermediary Bank – Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a correspondent bank and an intermediary bank?

Correspondent banks are often two banks that process each other’s transactions. In the early days of banking, most correspondent banks were within the same country. Today, most correspondent banks have their headquarters in different countries.

The two currencies the correspondent banks use are often domestic, but in some cases, they can be foreign currencies. In such cases, the banks have to convert their currencies to complete a transaction.

Intermediary banks send cash to complete a foreign transaction. They are used by banks that don’t have a local correspondent bank. Banks also use intermediary banks to route money through national banking systems.

Respondent banks often do so, if they don’t have a correspondent bank that is a member of such a banking system. Using an intermediary bank is often more costly, than using a correspondent bank.

Some correspondent banks do business with each other often. And because of that, they may have arrangements to lower transaction costs for their clients.

What are the risks of correspondent banking?

Correspondent banks can expose respondent banks to financial or criminal risks. This can happen if the correspondent bank does not follow a strict Know Your Client (KYC) policy.

That can lead to the respondent banks enabling criminal activities, which the correspondent bank’s clients are conducting. Fortunately, most governments today are enforcing a strict KYC policy for their banks.

The rise of international terrorism, and an increasing need to monitor tax evaders, have seen more governments introduce strict KYC guidelines. Therefore, few countries lack some form of KYC guidelines for their banks.

In that regard, authorities such as the US’s Federal Reserve, often have lists of countries, which US banks can use as guidelines. If the Federal Reserve blacklists a country, then a US bank cannot do any business with a bank in that country.

What is a correspondent bank fee?

A correspondent bank fee is money a correspondent bank charges a respondent bank’s clients. It deducts this fee from the sender’s amount. Therefore, a sender has to include such fees when sending money.

Why is correspondent banking high risk?

Correspondent banking is often high risk because the respondent banks have no direct control of the recipient’s bank account. Once the transaction is complete, it isn’t possible to reverse the money.

Fraudsters often withdraw the money as soon as it’s credited to their accounts. Some banks tend to hold the money for one business day, to lower such risks.

Correspondent Bank vs. Intermediary Bank

A Correspondent Bank and Intermediary Bank are used by a beneficiary bank to transfer funds and make transaction settlements. And a beneficiary bank is where the entity or person making the transaction has an account.

Moreover, the entity or person making the transaction will also have an account with the issuing bank. They can then request a funds transfer from the issuing bank to the account they have with the beneficiary bank.

Once they do, the issuing bank uses an intermediary or correspondent bank to complete the transfer, and settle the transaction. Overall, the difference between an intermediary and a correspondent bank isn’t distinct in all parts of the world.

Intermediary and Correspondent Banks Similarities and Differences

In some parts of the world, an intermediary bank is not distinguishable from a correspondent bank. In summary, here are some identifying features of Correspondent banks and intermediary banks.

  • Correspondent banks and intermediary banks are third-party banks that help the issuing and beneficiary banks to complete their international fund transfers and transactions.
  • During an international funds transfer or settlement of a financial transaction, an entity or person will issue instructions from the issuing bank, where they have an account. That bank uses their correspondent or intermediary bank to complete a funds transfer or financial transaction, with the beneficiary bank.
  • The main difference between a correspondent bank and an intermediary bank is the number of currencies they support. Correspondent banks can handle multiple currencies, apart from their domestic currency. Intermediary banks support their domestic currency only.
  • Correspondent banks and intermediary banks hold accounts with the banks on whose behalf they are processing the transactions. The beneficiary bank refers to its account held by the Correspondent banks and intermediary banks as the Nostro account. That’s “our account on your books.”
  • The beneficiary bank refers to the accounts it holds for its Correspondent bank and intermediary bank, as Vostro account. That’s “your account on our books.” The beneficiary bank will have a Vostro account for each of its Correspondent banks and intermediary banks.
  • A Nostro account is usually in foreign currency, while a Vostro account is usually in local currency.

Correspondence Banking Benefits

Concerning correspondent banking, correspondent banks hold accounts for each other, to keep track of debits and credits between themselves. And in that way, they create a pivotal role in the international banking industry.

Correspondent banking gives small banks and individual entities access to international financial markets. In return, most correspondent banks charge the beneficiary banks a fee in exchange for their services.

Those charges are then passed on to the customer, in the form of transfer fees. However, where the two banks have a balance of trade, they usually eliminate the fees and pass the benefits to the customers.

In that regard, they can attract more customers, who request regular international fund transfers or make regular international payments.

Correspondent Banking Through the Swift Network

Most international fund transfers are handled by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) network. Members of the SWIFT network can easily send funds across the world, by creating working relationships with a few members of the SWIFT network.

For instance, a SWIFT network bank may want to send funds to a country where it hasn’t established a correspondent banking relationship. To do that, it needs to search for any SWIFT bank that has a corresponding banking relationship with a bank in that country.

It will then send funds to that SWIFT network bank, which in turn will send them to its correspondent bank. All that the issuing banks need to do is to provide the SWIFT code of the beneficiary bank, as well as details of the recipient entity or person.

International Payments

We hope that you found this guide to be informative, and you now know why some international bank transfers cost more than others do.