Like the unwanted guest at a party who trashes the house and runs off with your girlfriend, Ripple is throwing its weight around at Swift's annual Sibos conference with a series of barbed tweets and acerbic commentary asking if the interbank co-operative's set-piece Global Payments Innovation initiative is all its cracked up to be.
The war drums could already be heard from the Ripple camp last week as Swift geared up for its annual Sibos jamboree in Geneva, when it announced that it had signed up several major banks to a steering group on the use of distributed financial technology for global payments.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Santander, UniCredit, Standard Chartered, Westpac, and Royal Bank of Canada have joined as founding members of the Global Payments Steering Group (GPSG), which aims to use Ripple's technology to slash the time and cost of settlement while enabling new types of high-volume, low-value global transactions.
Swift's response to the challenge comes in the form of a global payments innovation programme. Earlier this week, Swift boasted that it had successfully completed the first phase of the gpi pilot with 15 banks, clearing the way for the go-live of the service in early 2017. The programme, which is crafting a series of service level agreements intended to increase the speed, transparency and end-to-end tracking of cross-border payments, has so far attracted interest from 80 global banks.
With Sibos in full swing, Ripple has stepped up the pressure on Swift with a series of provocative tweets from the conference questioning the value of the gpi.
In a statement, Ripple notes that at its core, the current cross-border payments system relies on a serial process between correspondents that creates risk, cost and delays with error rates running at up to 12 percent.
"Swift’s GPII will continue to mandate its 140-character message for payment instructions; that much has not changed," the firm states. "Unfortunately, important data such as invoices are not permitted. The existing flaws caused by the serial process are not addressed. Swift has not actually innovated the core of this messaging system; GPII is an iteration of exactly what Swift provides today with a marginal increase in speed for availability of funds."
Ripple contrasts Swift's approach with its own bidirectional messaging, in which banks and all participants exchange and confirm rich, contextual payment information, in real-time before executing a transaction, increasing straight-through processing.
As for the speed of transfer, it highlights the experience of ATB Financial — a $43 billion-asset bank based in Edmonton, Canada — which sent $1,000 to Reisebank in Germany in only eight seconds, using the Ripple protocol, versus the two to six business days that settlement would typically take.
Standard Chartered, likewise, has just announced that it slashed two days off the time its typically takes to send a cross-border payment by using Ripple's enterprise blockchain platform, reducing the process to less than 10 seconds with full transparency of fees and FX
Ripple goes in for the kill: "Swift’s GPII does not address the antiquated infrastructure that makes real-time settlement a constant challenge. GPII does not change the underlying infrastructure at all, it merely makes a minor adjustment to its current settlement requirements."
It's all good knock-about stuff, but the reality on the ground is a little more nuanced. Swift and Ripple, we are told, have a generally cordial working relationship. It's easy to knock the gpi, but Swift is also a founder member of the cutting edge Linux Foundation Hyperledger Project, and has recently floated the idea of assuming a role in the development of business standards in the blockchain space.
“We’re investing a lot of time in DLT, working with all the actors,” says Christian Sarafidis, Swift chief marketing officer. “Engagement extends to Board level at Swift with an offsite held earlier this year in Silicon Valley to better understand the culture of experimentation prevalent in firms such as Uber and chain.com, in order to bring these insights back into the community and infuse this into our own research & development process. Our role is, in essence, to understand what distributed ledger technology can bring to the Swift ecosystem and ensure that it is fully integrated into our legacy operation.”
Postscript So much for the entente cordiale...