KeyCorp's Northwest division said it recently formed an alliance with ChinaWire Corp., a company that handles money transfers to consumers and businesses in China.
"We see this as a tremendous opportunity, as the world shrinks and we become more global," said Jim Washam, KeyCorp's president of the Seattle- Bellevue district.
The privately held ChinaWire, based in Fairfield, N.J., can offer distribution to 30,000 sites in China because of its exclusive relationship with the Chinese postal system. The company will make individual transfers of up to $10,000.
"We want to be the Federal Express of money in China," said Gilles Stucker, chief executive and founder of ChinaWire.
"For someone that has a plant in China, he will be able to know that the money will get there for sure - and quickly."
Mr. Stucker once worked for Goldman Sachs. He said he has done a lot of business in Asia over the years.
His company is negotiating with four or five other U.S. banks, he noted. ChinaWire plans to make several announcements of new relationships in coming weeks, he said.
One likely partner is San Francisco-based BankAmerica Corp., which was one of the first banks to do business in China. The bank opened a representative office in Beijing in 1980. It now has two branches and two representative offices in the country, and another office in Hong Kong, a spokesman said. He would not say whether BankAmerica was talking with ChinaWire.
Mr. Washam said after ChinaWire approached KeyCorp about a year ago, the bank researched the potential demand for such a service and found that at least 300 companies in Washington State do 25% or more of their business with China. He estimated that about 8% to 10% of the state's population is Asian-American. The service, which is being installed in six branches, can be used by noncustomers as well.
KeyCorp also heard numerous anecdotes from customers who said it can sometimes take up to four or five months to transfer money into the country. ChinaWire promises delivery within one day to the country's major cities and no more than three days in more remote locations.
The service depends on proprietary software developed by ChinaWire that provides simultaneous records in both English and Chinese.
KeyCorp, based in Cleveland, has $65.4 billion in total assets. Its $7.8 billion-asset Northwest division is headquartered in Seattle.