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The SWIFT Challenge

As any politician will tell you, the first 100 days for a new leader are
crucial as your audience is receptive, forgiving and open to change; after
this though the judgments start to be made and the cracks begin to appear.

So what should Campos concentrate on in his first 100 days as the new CEO
of SWIFT? What are the challenges the organization faces and more
important what are the legacies of his predecessor that need to be changed?

Campos acknowledges that under Schrank, the "transformation made to SWIFT
during his 15 year tenure as CEO: (included) "a five-fold increase in
message traffic, an 80% reduction of prices, the opening up of the
securities market, bringing on over 100 market infrastructures, and a new
corporate to bank market segment. Under Lenny, the new IP-based platform,
SWIFTNet, was launched, and our company-wide resilience culture of "Failure
is Not an Option" was instilled."." Impressive, yes, it didn't exactly set
the world on fire. The Schrank tenure was a consolidating one; all main
elements of the core service protected and expanded, but the innovations
and strategies of the previous 20 years were not repeated. Chris Skinner
said in his article SWIFT 2010 - that SWIFT's strategy was to continue to
grow, in Europe by getting involved in SEPA, by expanding in the corporate
market, by carrying new securities messages and finally by expanding its'
presence in emerging market economies. All well and good, but where's the
innovation - where is the million dollar shot?

In the early 80's, John Morgan of Commonwealth Bank of Australia, told
SWIFT in a speech to the User Group Chairmen, that SWIFT must not grow
complacent in the leafy glades of La Hulpe, and it's no coincidence that
Campos used the same word, complacent, when his appointment as CEO was
announced; "but we (SWIFT) can't be complacent".

SWIFT is under pressure there is no doubt and this was very evident at
SIBOS in 2004, when Heidi Miller, Treasury & Securities Services Executive,
JP Morgan Chase & Co asked the question of SWIFT, "So what next? What have
you done for me lately? How does SWIFT justify its existence for the next
thirty years?" She acknowledged that SWIFT had made huge strides in the
past, had established standards, innovation and speeded up and made
efficient the whole payment process, but she was saying you can't rest on
your laurels, what are you doing for me now?

And it is a good question, the transport layer of SWIFT continues to
provide the bulk of revenues and is where Schrank placed his strategy for
future growth - but it is not enough. With developments in
telecommunication such as the Internet, mobile payments, Pay Pal and
industry innovations like SEPA is where SWIFT is at its most vulnerable.

As Miller said in her speech as recently as 2004, Morgan said in his in
1983 and as a lot of SWIFT watchers say today, SWIFT needs to take the
processing route in order to survive and prosper.

There are various areas where SWIFT could add value; they could provide
banking solutions to smaller banks and corporates. Expanding on their
excellent range of interface products they could look at the data which is
stored in these interfaces and develop reconciliation applications,
settlement systems and the like.

They could get involved in Interbank processing, like RTGS, Risk
Management, Banking Bureaus, and Settlement both internationally and
locally, and as Miller suggested, Corporate Actions. A lot of people felt
that instead of hiving off their FIX business they should have expanded
their presence in the market developing applications that automated the FIX

In a research project by Scorpio Partnership for Omgeo, it was revealed
that almost a third of private banks in the UK,US and Europe lack any
back-office automation and that they manually operate trade execution,
confirmation and affirmation. The potential market for applications built
around the FIX protocol aimed at smaller institutions is huge and SWIFT can
fill that gap as well as anyone.

The research highlighted that "The top back-office priority of private
banks is to find a standardized solution for fund transaction processing.
This is an area that is currently considered as archaic, manually intensive
and lengthy."

"Drivers for improvement in this area are that funds are a key part of
clients' investment portfolios, along with the wider variety of transaction
processes employed by fund providers. Research respondents claimed that
while there are proficient providers in certain markets, there is no
industry-wide solution."

As Miller said in 2004, "If all corporate action messaging, from start to
finish, were accomplished via SWIFT format, the process would be far
cleaner. I do understand that corporate actions can be very complex, so
end-to-end automation via SWIFT is no small challenge. Yet a solution is
sorely needed, and SWIFT is well placed to help by being a leader. We all
know this. It is intuitive. So why hasn't it happened?".

She then went on to throw the challenge down, "So the question for SWIFT is
this: How will you help us create the new applications and business
solutions to run over this wonderful new network? To leverage the awesome
power and ingenuity of the incredible community that you represent? How
will you help us get rid of all these legacy infrastructures? How can you
help our slow-moving industry move faster to take full advantage of all the
new possibilities? That's the challenge."

There are some who wish that SWIFT had grasped the challenge when GSTPA
first reared its' ugly head; there was an application ideally suited to
SWIFT, but that was allowed to die through lack of interest and leadership.

Tom Perna, senior executive vice president with the Bank of New York -- a
long-time GSTPA shareholder - was quoted as saying that from quite early
on, the utility had little chance of success.

"Once the project started, there were personality issues and a lot of
individual self-interest on a number of parties getting into politics. It
just became a flawed project that was doomed to fail. It is unfortunate
that the industry had to spend $100 million in hard cash."

It is clear that Campos has lots of opportunities and will have a great
deal of goodwill at his disposal; he needs to marry the two to provide
innovative solutions and not just tweak what is already there.

Miller, Morgan and Campos himself all said that SWIFT should not be
complacent, and many would agree. There is a need in the financial world
for an organization that is used to bringing innovation to the market, that
can gather and manage consensus, that can manage change and that has the
delivery track record.

Is Campos brave enough to rip up the old strategy and blaze a new one with
true entrepreneurial vigor? There's no doubt he is capable enough, but is
he brave enough?


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John Doyle
Blog group founder

John Doyle


The Payments Business

Member since

17 Dec 2001



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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

SWIFT Matters

A community that concentrates on SWIFT as an important business tool in the payments and standards world.

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