Ripple rudely gatecrashes Sibos party

Ripple rudely gatecrashes Sibos party

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, 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...

Comments: (3)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 28 September, 2016, 18:31Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

SWIFT has ruled the payments world for a while now. Much has been written and discussed on the length of time for a money transfer. Well, there was no alternative so far. In the true spirit of competition Ripple is welcome. SWIFT did have opportunities to change the money transfer model, however they missed the boat. I dare not make guesses to reason why. What SWIFT did not do, technology has done it. Ripple took the tide at the helm. SWIFT is too embedded in the past and not agile enough to innovate and disrupt the status quo. We all know it is not the big banks that can be disruptive, it is the fintechs that do. Ripple is the first mover and there will be many more.  



Graham Seel
Graham Seel - BankTech Consulting - Concord 29 September, 2016, 18:39Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Some sparring is inevitable. In reality Ripple's experiments, while promising, are not valid comparisons even for end-to-end payment times (which is far from the only challenge - see my recent FinExtra post Is Blockchain Really the Answer to Global Payments?) The majority of SWIFT payments occur within 24 hours - and a good proportion within an hour or even minutes. Delays are typically caused not by the infrastructure, but by banking calendar mismatches, and incomplete or invalid payment instructions. Ripple has not yet proposed a solution to these - delivery of a smart contract doesn't ensure the beneficiary has use of the funds.

However, collaboration is essential if payments infrastructure is to be transformed. SWIFT won't be successful on its own, at least not in a timely manner. There are contributions to learning being made by many players - Ripple for sure, as well as R3, Hyperledger, and Ethereum. That Ripple are at SIBOS is good, and a little repartee increases bankers' awareness. They just need to not take it too far, and SWIFT need to avoid being too defensive. 

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 30 September, 2016, 07:57Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Graham, Excellent analysis very balanced. Thank you.

The world of payments looking at the crystal ball, I see will be a collaborative effort predominantly by technology players  (listed in your comment) , who have the capability to bring in efficiency (time+security) at a lower cost that will benefit a bank's customer.