Hanmi Financial (HAFC) has hired an investment bank to help it explore options that could include the sale of the Korean-American bank.

The Los Angeles company said in a press release late Wednesday that it had hired DelMorgan & Co. as its financial advisor. The company "has been engaged and intends to continue to engage in substantive discussions with certain strategic banks … regarding a possible business combination, merger-of-equals or sale transaction," the release said.

Hanmi noted that it has yet to sign an agreement with any of the unnamed banks and "there can be no assurance" that any agreement will be reached.

The $2.8 billion-asset company struck a deal in 2010 to sell a majority stake in itself to South Korea's Woori Finance Holdings, but the banks ended up terminating the agreement in mid-2011. Woori's investment unit ended up buying a much smaller 4.9% stake in Hanmi.

Last month, the Federal Reserve lifted a written agreement against Hanmi that had existed since November 2009. The company's state regulator had lifted its enforcement action earlier in the year.

It is unclear exactly which banks might be interested in buying Hanmi, which operates 27 branches in California and a loan-production office in Washington.

The company's stock rose 8.1% on Wednesday, even though the release came out after the markets had closed.

Hanmi's disclosure comes just weeks after BBCN (BBCN), the nation's biggest Korean-American bank, outlined plans to become a bigger player. Alvin Kang, BBCN's chief executive, told American Banker that the $5.3 billion-asset company wants "to create a sustainable structure that's scalable" enough to become a regional bank. "We have the people, and we understand what we need to do" to graduate to the middle tier, Kang said. "It's a matter of execution."

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