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Standards Forum Dubai

A few weeks ago it seemed like we had an eternity to prepare for Sibos.  Now we've got less than a week to go, and like many others I'm scrambling to get ready. I'll be spending a lot of time at the Standards Forum as usual, and this year I will be blogging right here on directly from Dubai during the week. No pressure then.

On Tuesday at 4pm I'll be participating in a panel session with the impossibly long title of "Let's get practical: Implementation techniques: The good, the bad and the ugly".  It's right before the 10th birthday party so if you go please keep the Q&A to a minimum!   

To get you in the mood I'm including a short piece that I wrote a few weeks ago, entitled "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose".  Conferences, and discussions about standards very often seem like déjà vu. We tend to have the same conversations over and over again.  This time though it's going to be different!  Honest guv.  But don't take my word for it, come to Dubai and see for yourself.

Here's the aforementioned blog.  Enjoy, and I hope to see you at Sibos next week.


Two bankers are sitting in a bar, and one says to the other; “boy, I really wish we could decommission some of these old systems”.  The other banker gives a slightly blank, puzzled look, and says “d-what?”  Decommission is a word that has slipped out of common use and it has been erased from our vocabularies.  He whips out his (electronic) dictionary; “decompress… decompose… a-ha, here we go; de·com·mis·sion (d k -m sh n). de·com·mis·sioned, de·com·mis·sion·ing, de· com·mis·sions. To withdraw from active service”.  He pauses for a second, thinking about the other bankers’ original statement, and finally he says “Blimey, that would come in really handy!”

OK, serious now. While this dialog may seem ridiculously contrived, I’m willing to bet that it resonates loudly with just about everyone in our industry. We just do not seem to have it in us to turn things off.  Ever.  We are basically just a bunch of techno-hoarders.  You never know, maybe I’ll need this LU6.21 manual some day.  Banks are wedded to their ancient mainframes. I remember as long ago as the ‘80s my college professors loved to crack jokes about Cobol, but it’s still with us today.

What about messaging standards?  Surely we can do better.  There are plenty of examples to suggest otherwise.  SWIFT’s brave decision to forge ahead with the implementation of ISO15022 messages for securities in 2002 was met with lots of moans and groans, but when push came to shove we rolled up our sleeves and just got on with it.  However, it turns out that some banks agreed to continue using the old messages “off network”, apparently too afraid to lose business to the bank next door.

Here was a case where SWIFT tried to do the right thing, yet some decided to subvert the process and undermine the progress by finding workarounds and back-doors.  More than 10 years later this situation remains the same.  While I am as practical as the next dude, there is a part of me that finds all this somewhat shocking.  I shudder to think where we would be now if SWIFT had not turned the old messages off back then.

Fast forward to today. Here we are having exactly the same conversations about ISO 20022.  “What about co-existence?”  “Why won’t SWIFT set a date?” Bla-bla-bla.  All this negative energy is a massive brake on progress.  It’s just exhausting. 

Despite our inability as an industry to shut things down we are, however, conditioned into believing that every new technology should trigger the demise of an existing one. 

Why should this always be the case?  We have to realize that there will always be some who cannot be persuaded, as the 15022 example above demonstrates.  No amount of preaching will convince them to convert.  We also have to realize that because the world of financial services is so incredibly complex it is simply not reasonable to expect that one messaging standard can support every business process for every instrument in every bank in every country. We need to stop thinking about standards in such black and white terms. Co-existence is not a dirty word, it is a fact of every day life for all banks. ISO 20022 was explicitly designed with this in mind. It is more a binding technology than a replacement technology.  It will help us all play nicely in the standards sandbox.

Can we re-purpose some of that negative energy and focus on developing better technologies that will allow such co-existence? 

There comes a time when there are enough of us pulling in the same direction that we just have to go for it.  For ISO 20022, now is that time.

Meanwhile, back at the bar, the bankers turn around to find a strange man in a hooded cloak standing next to them. The stranger, who has clearly been listening to the conversation, looks them firmly in the eye and says “You need to go back to the office and re-think your messaging infrastructure”.

So, free your mind. Come to the Standards Forum in Dubai. Then go back to the office and re-think your messaging infrastructure.




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