With an eye toward attracting the deposits of the unbanked, an 18-month-old community bank in Charlotte, N.C., is playing middleman to local Mexican-Americans who send money to their families back home.
American Community Bank is test marketing a service that will let Mexican-Americans wire money using a smart card at a terminal in an American Community office. The $90 million-asset bank will charge a fee for this service, but it said it is more interested in winning the business of local Hispanics, many of whom do not have bank accounts.
"We are in business to make money, so we will be collecting a fee, but that is not the real reason we are doing this," said Randy P. Helton, American Community's president and chief executive officer. "We see this as an opportunity to cross-sell banking products to these people."
Charlotte-based Telecomm USA developed the service, which will begin operations in May, said Wayne Cooper, a founder of the company.
Mr. Cooper, an honorary Mexican consul, said he approached American Community Bank after he saw a billboard advertising that its tellers speak Spanish. After testing the money-transfer service at the bank, Mr. Cooper said, he wants to expand it nationwide, using other banks as well as supermarkets.
American Community has been courting Charlotte's fast-growing Hispanic community since it was started. It opened a branch in a Wal-Mart in Monroe, N.C., in large part to attract some of the estimated $2.3 billion languishing in the wallets and pocketbooks of local Hispanic residents who lack bank accounts.
"We are trying to get Mexicans [and other Hispanics] to take their money out of their pockets," said Mr. Helton, a former First Union Corp. executive. "We think this is a first step, but we have to show them there is some value to putting their money in the bank."
The money-transfer service, dubbed "giro paisano," works this way: People with a smart card encoded with their personal information can wire money from American Community's Wal-Mart branch, which is open seven days a week. In Mexico, their families can pick up the money at one of the 1,800 offices of the government-owned telephone service, Telecommunicaciones de Mexico.
According to Mr. Cooper, customers typically send $300 to $350, but fees for the wire service and currency exchange can eat up as much as $70. Using TeleComm USA will cost up to 25% less than other services, he said.
Telecomm USA plans to split fees with Telecommunicaciones de Mexico and with American Community. The three parties are still working out a formula for the split, but American Community is to get the smallest share, said Mr. Helton.