Swift commits to co-operative, rethinks corporate access

Swift commits to co-operative, rethinks corporate access

Swift chairman Jaap Kamp says the industry-owned messaging network is not prepared to abandon its co-operative status, despite increasing competition and moves by other bank-backed networks such as MasterCard and Identrus to seek new sources of funding and broaden ownership.

At a press conference at the Bella Center in Copenhagen - where Swift is hosting its annual operations seminar - ABN Amro's Kamp categorically re-affirmed the Society's commitment to its co-operative roots.

Outlining up to eight possible strategic and commercial objectives for banking members to consider, he concluded: "There are many things we can change, but we should not change (Swift's status) as a co-operative."

The issue has come to the fore as the Belgium-based network and its banking shareholders complete the migration to the IP-based SwiftNet service and look at the commercial challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Swift has recently tapped the banking and vendor community for new recruits as it looks to beef up its commercial front end.

Kamp says Swift should start to behave "like a grown-up company" and look at the possibilities for vendor alliances, outsourcing and acquisitions. But he also believes that the market would be best served by "leaving control of Swift in the hands of banks".

It's a contentious issue, and one which has hampered Swift as it has sought to broaden its constituency and effectively meet the needs of non-core participants such as securities firms and corporates. The Society is also facing increasing pressure on margins from competing networks such as BT Radianz and free-to-air services like the Internet.

The pressure has recently ramped up in the wake of moves by banking utilities Identrus and MasterCard to reform governance structures and widen ownership.

In July, digital trust network Identrus completed $20 million in new VC-led funding, at a stroke diluting the influence of banking members and opening opportunities to deliver services direct to the corporate community.

And in August, MasterCard announced plans to hold an initial public offering (IPO) that would give investors a 49% equity stake and voting control of the firm.

At the opening plenary address at Sibos, Kamp addressed the issue head on: "I will not say that banks should relinquish control over Swift. But what I do say is this: We should review our membership and participant structure in anticipation of the entrance of the larger corporate customer."

The corporate access debate has long been a source of friction among Swift member banks. But with larger corporates ready and able to seek out alternative solutions that could sideline their banking relationships, Kamp believes the industry is ready to talk shop.

"I imagine that, initially, this will be a dialogue involving larger banks and larger global companies, but the spin-off of the resulting standards and connectivity models will undoubtedly reach smaller institutions and smaller corporates," he says.

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