Currency trading was a big piece of the profits Goldman Sachs & Co. reported this week, but the demand for foreign exchange and the liquidity of the currency markets has been benefitting banks much smaller than the investment banking firm.

Improvements in technology for sourcing and settling trades have helped more regional players compete for business in recent years, making foreign exchange an increasingly important market for banks outside of Wall Street's inner circle. A key lesson emerging from the global financial crisis — keep your market risk hedged — may accelerate that trend, as even the tiniest of commercial banking customers dealing with imports or exports seek new currency strategies.

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