Interoperable standards between banks, fund managers and their intermediaries could take decades to emerge, according to European clearing and settlement body Clearstream.
The funds distribution process is typically viewed as being one of the least automated in the financial industry with faxes still widely used in the transaction process.
According to Tilman Fechter, executive director, Investment Fund Services, Clearstream, while the adoption of automation is increasing, the lack of a recognised and universal messaging standard for communication between banks and fund managers is hampering efforts.
"More and more senior people agree that fax is not the answer but the argument is what the standard will be - Swift? FIX? Proprietary protocols?"
Fechter says that, despite the efforts of Swift to promote its ISO-based standards, the fact that many banks and investment managers are on different versions creates an interoperability problem.
Many banks have only just migrated onto the ISO 15022 standard while fund managers connecting to Swift for the first time are going straight onto the newer 20022 version.
Swift will eventually become the dominant standard, says Fechter, and all counterparties may eventually be using the same version but it will be a long-term project that will take at least 20 years in all likelihood.
For its part, Clearstream, which is owned by Deutsche Börse, is offering investment management clients in Luxembourg, Ireland, Belgium and Switzerland the opportunity to communicate with its banking counterparts through its Central Facility for Funds product which will be extended to the UK market as of October this year.
"Swift strongly relies on people like us to support two counterparties using Swift but on different standards," says Fechter who adds that the situation is not the fault of the messaging standards body but just a reflection of the way the market is structured.
"Swift is doing the right thing and there is nothing I can see that it could be doing better. It is just the state of the industry and you cannot force standards."