In the only fringe session of this year's Sibos requiring pre-registration, representatives of the major standards for financial communication were bought together to discuss standards convergence and the UNIFI common platform for message development. Doubts and reservations remain, but there is some sign of disparate standards bodies becoming more closely aligned.
FIX, the standard electronic protocol for pre-trade communications and trade execution; TWIST, the standards group working on STP for corporate treasuries; and FpML, which is used for messaging in the derivatives sector, were represented along with Swift and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which runs the FedWire payments infrastructure.
Up for discussion was the International Standard ISO 20022 - UNIFI (previously called the second, XML edition of ISO 15022), and the wider topic of how committed standards organisations are to achieving convergence.
With the UNIFI standard, those driving it aim to provide the financial industry with a common platform for the development of messages in a standardised XML syntax using a modelling methodology and set of design rules.
The idea is to allow communities of users and organisations involved in financial message development to register their business requirements and define message sets according to an internationally agreed approach and to migrate to the use of common XML-based syntax.
The concept has been around for a few years, but a Registration Management Group and the Standards Management Groups are now being launched to support development of new ISO 20022 messages. Proponents say that if UNIFI is embraced it will greatly improve the interoperability of various message types and reduce the cost of messaging infrastructure.
“When we started this it was all pretty new,” says Frank Vandamme, technical advisor in the standards department at Swift. “People didn’t necessarily see the immediate benefits and it was difficult to see how it could be used. That’s why there has been a lack of interest and things have been moving slowly for the past few years. But now it is coming together.”
Scott Attwell, manager FIX trading and connectivity, American Century Investment and co-chair of the FIX Global technical committee, FIX Protocol , says: “Convergence of message syntax isn’t a good goal as it would involve throwing away things that work well today. Going for interoperability of messages is a better goal for now. High level convergence and standard development processes are a good idea.”
The different standards bodies agree that there is no need to retool their existing standards immediately, but for next-generation message types, a common approach to modelling and development could be useful. But will they embrace UNIFI immediately? Not necessarily.
For the standards bodies there is some hesitation to adopt the UNIFI platform until all their concerns have been addressed. Chief among these are the neutrality of Swift and the governance structure, which they admit has started coming together with the set up of the registration and standards management groups.
Tom Buschman, overall coordinator, TWIST and treasury development manager, Shell International, says: “There is some lack of trust that Swift message development is truly separate from the network. Although there have been lots of reassurance that most people believe, I think there needs to be more demonstration of the separation.”
Bryan Lynn, CTO, Global Electronic Markets, member of the FpML standards committee and Chair of the FpML pricing and risk working group, says: “The main issues aren’t technical, it’s just looking stuff up and getting people to agree. Within different standards bodies there are like minded people with similar goals. Big standards such as this require governance, good structure and management to keep the disparate parties involved. The committee has been formed, but the jury’s out on whether once the people, organisation and processes are in place we will succeed.”
Also of concern is whether the standards bodies can share open access to render to the common dictionary. TWIST’s Buschmann says: “I think there should be an open source model with a single repository maintained by an organisation like Swift, but with the modeling and rendering open. We need to widen the repositaries so there is no sense for standards organisations to use anything else.”
Despite some reservations among panel members there was consensus that in 12 months’ time we will be further down the road of standards interoperability, if not convergence, with governance structures in place, more collaboration and greater clarity in the alphabet soup of standards.