Swift bids to save correspondent banks from extinction

Swift bids to save correspondent banks from extinction

With the role of the middle man in financial services increasingly under threat from a host of new startups and technologies, international banking co-operative Swift has stepped in with a range of service level agreements intended to differentiate and improve the customer experience in correspondent banking by increasing the speed, transparency and predictability of cross-border payments.

Designed in collaboration with the industry, the initiative will initially focus on a business-to-business payments service supported by participating banks in early 2016. Under the programme, corporate users will be exposed to same day use of funds, transparency and predictability of fees, end-to-end payments tracking and richer payments information.

It will operate on the basis of ‘business rules’ captured in multilateral service level agreements (SLAs) between participating banks and will be open to all Swift member banks.

The initiative comes as correspondent banks the world over see their traditional roles eroded by a multitude of new real-time money transfer services and innovative technologies. Blockchain proponents like Ripple make no bones about their intentions to cut out the middle man in the creation of a frictionless payments network based around distributed ledger technology for both intra-bank and interbank transactions.

Gottfried Leibbrandt, CEO, Swift says: "Correspondent banking serves the industry with millions of secure cross-border payments day in, day out; with this initiative we are building on those strengths, enabling banks to provide distinctive cross-border payments services and providing real benefits to end customers. This is a critical step in cross-border payments innovation."

Following the pilot focused on cross-border payments for corporates, Swift says it will work together with the industry to define additional service level agreements that will cater for other client groups, "further reducing the costs and frictions arising from compliance, liquidity and processing efficiency considerations involved in cross-border payments".

Swift has been stung into action by the emerging threat to its franchise posed by blockchain startups and collaborative initiatives such as the interoperable standards-setting effort under development by the R3 blockchain consortium.

Just today, Russia's Sberbank announced its intention to join the R3 coalition, which has already recruited 30 global banks to the fold:


Last week, Swift signalled a shift in strategy for its innovation unit Innotribe, narrowing its startup focus to emerging economies in order to re-engage with the industry as a force for driving collaboration around new utility-based services for member banks.

Wim Raymaekers, head of banking markets, Swift, adds: “We will continue to develop new and enhanced services, utilising Swift’s Innotribe initiative to further engage the fintech community and explore the application of innovations such as real time payment status tracking, the use of peer-to-peer messaging and blockchain technology.”

Comments: (5)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 11 December, 2015, 09:32Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Are Swift running scared of new technologies? And if so do they really think paper 'agreements' can compete? It seems like a very weak response. Swift were born when there was no real alternative. Now there are many technologies to replace what Swift do in a cheaper and more efficient fashion. Perhaps a lesson can be learned here and Swift could collaborate more with the vendor communty as a whole, instead of trying to compete with them and cherry pick their partners. After all, they are still a co-operative and it is their primary duty to serve their membership. Seeing the rise of disruptive forces such as blockchain technology, I think they should have engaged, and are now helping the market divide instead. That seems hardly in the interest o their customers. The future will be interesting.

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 11 December, 2015, 10:26Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

SWIFT needn't bother. For all the hype around BTC, Blockchain, Ripple etc., I haven't come across a single nonbank / "rebittance" service for B2B cross-border payments (other than PayPal, whose CX sucks). TransferWise, Xoom and many other services I explored only do B2C. The one service that promised to support B2B - AlignCommerce - advertises Fiat-BTC-Fiat cross-border transfers with all the benefits of transparency etc. But, when I actually reached out to the startup, I was told that the company still handled the US$-INR corridor via bank-based wire transfers through the good old correspondent bank network. Besides, it posed onerous documentation requirements unlike a wire transfer directly via a bank. It also seems to hold the money in its own account before allowing the receiver to withdraw it to their own bank account. This sounded like PayPal, so I went back to bank-based wire transfers, with all their attendant issues around non-transparency of charges, etc.

Victoria Spall
Victoria Spall - Browser Media - Colchester 11 December, 2015, 12:19Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

@Ketharaman Swaminathan

Have you tried speaking to Saxo Payments? They provide same day B2B cross-border payments via their Banking Circle offering. 

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 11 December, 2015, 16:39Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

@VictoriaSpall: TY. I hadn't but I visited its website after your tip off. I bounced off as soon as I read the first line on its Merchant page: "Merchants can join the Saxo Payments Banking Circle as Merchant Members through your card acquirers...". This is one more company that hasn't "got" the secret sauce of successful PSPs like SQUARE: Why would I need Saxo or anyone else if I already had an acquirer account? Hiding Your Secret Sauce. But thanks anyway.

David Godfrey
David Godfrey - ACI Worldwide - Watford 11 December, 2015, 17:11Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

SWIFT bids to save itself from extinction would surely be a better title! Tick tock...

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