How To Join SWIFT

Introduction

SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) was originally created in 1977 to provide a global network for the processing of financial messages. The network now spans over 200 countries and has over 11000 members including commercial banks and central banks.  Historically the network has been very bank centric, but now more and more non-banks are also accessing the system. Through the network, members transmit on average 35 million messages per day covering a range of financial instruments including payments. Its sheer size means that it is a key network for the processing of payment related messages. Furthermore, by establishing formatting standards for the creation of these messages, SWIFT enables a high level of automation for its members, thus reducing cost and maximising efficiency.  SWIFT is owned by its members and has a central board of 25 directors.

How does it work?

All SWIFT payment messages are characterised by a series of message fields which shows information such as amount, reference, remitter, beneficiary, bank of beneficiary etc. Each field must be formatted according to standards and validation rules laid down by SWIFT in order to achieve automated processing. Messages not formatted correctly can be rejected by the SWIFT network itself if a validation rule has been violated and the network will provide the sender with an error code.

All SWIFT payment messages are characterised by a series of message fields which showsinformation such as amount, reference, remitter, beneficiary, bank of beneficiary etc. Each field must be formatted according to standards and validation rules laid down by SWIFT in order to achieve automated processing. Messages not formatted correctly can be rejected by the SWIFT network itself if a validation rule has been violated and the network will provide the sender with an error code.
Message Type Function
MT101 A single payment where a non-banking remitter asks its bank to move funds from another bank where it holds an account
MT102 Multiple payments between banks  where the remitter or beneficiary is a non-bank
MT103 A single payment  between banks where the remitter or beneficiary is a non-bank
MT104 A direct debit message allowing one bank to debit the account of another non-banking party at a separate bank
MT202 Single payment where remitter and beneficiary is a bank
MT203 Multiple payments where the remitter or beneficiary is a bank
MT204 A direct debit message allowing one bank to debit the account of another banking entity at a separate bank
Payment providers normally access SWIFT via what is known as the SWIFT Alliance Access Gateway (SAG). This allows single or multiple internal platforms to connect via a single window into all SWIFT network services. The gateway is accessed by a browser known as the Alliance Web Platform SE and is supported on Windows, Linux and Unix. SWIFT can also provide its own service that can integrate the network into all the back office applications and systems for those who require same such as smaller players. There is also a version of the SAG for smaller members known as Alliance Lite 2 which is a cloud-based connectivity solution. Smaller members can also use other companies to handle their SWIFT connectivity known as “SWIFT Bureaux”.

Payment messages will typically be created by the payment providers in their back office systems and then delivered into the SAG for forwarding through the interface into the SWIFT network. There the instruction will be sent to another member either via a payment system or direct to the member (if there is an account relationship between the two members).

While SWIFT is not a payment system per se, its messages are used to drive the payments process. Many national payment systems use SWIFT as their messaging network and participants need to exchange these messages in order to affect the payments. Likewise, many banks use SWIFT to affect payments between themselves and their own customers.

New Developments

ISO20022

While SWIFT messages have become both highly automated and highly standardised over the years there have been limits as to the amount of data that they can carry and strict rules about how any information is formatted. This means that large amounts of information can be truncated leading to difficulties in identifying payments . In common with other bodies SWIFT plans to move to ISO20022  which is the new global open messaging standard that will enable far greater levels of data to be carried.

One of the challenges that the payments community faces is that ISO 20022 message fields can be interpreted in different ways by organisations and even local markets. Therefore SWIFT is seeking to create an ISO20022 harmonisation charter that will enable all members to agree the same formatting standards for all messages. This programme is due to be completed by SWIFT in November 2025.

SWIFT Global Payments Initiative

In 2017 SWIFT launched the Global Payment Initiative (GPI ) which is a Service Level Agreement (SLA) implemented by SWIFT that enables corporates and banks to effect cross border payments on a same day basis to a beneficiary (subject to operating hours). Many banks have now signed up to GPI and have therefore committed to their clients that they will observe the SLA. Although the SLA guarantees same day payments in practice 50% of payments are processed end to end in 30 minutes, 40% in under five minutes and almost 100% in 24 hours. SWIFT GPI is now being used by over 3700 banks in 1900 corridors with USD 77 trillion worth of transactions processed in 2019.

GPI also incorporates a tracking tool which sits on the Cloud allowing banks to track payments in real time via a graphic user interface or API, so they can provide updates on payments progress. Full remittance data is also guaranteed to reach the end beneficiary. Payment providers can either track payments on behalf of their customers or provide them with the tool to do it themselves.

As mentioned SWIFT is one of the key payment messaging networks and payment/e-money institutions may wish to consider the strategic merits of joining the system. Here at AuthoriPay we have extensive SWIFT expertise and are able to provide clients with all the information needed to make the right decision for them in this area.

How to join SWIFT

Joining the SWIFT network is not a decision that can be made in isolation. Applicants will need a very clear purpose in joining (e.g accessing a payment system or establishing a link with a payments provider) which means that joining SWIFT will almost certainly form part of a wider process. The following is a high level guide to the on-boarding process:

Applicants will need to create a SWIFT user account by completing a registration form setting out contact details for the company.

The next stage is to complete an on-boarding form which sets out the details of the company and the reasons for joining SWIFT. The applicant will then be contacted by a SWIFT relationship manager who will discuss issues such as how the applicant will connect to SWIFT and what messages will be required. Once this is decided a commercial quote is then sent out.

Once the commercial quote is accepted by the applicant, SWIFT will then validate all the company details and confirm that the applicant may formally apply to join the network.

The applicant will then have to provide a range of documents including certificate of incorporation, articles of association and financial statements. The applicant will also be asked to submit an order for the required SWIFT products and services.

SWIFT will then confirm if the application has been accepted at which point the applicant will be issued with a Bank Identification Code (BIC) which is the code that other parties will send messages to.

The applicant then will have to install the appropriate connectivity to the SWIFT network which it may do itself or request SWIFT to do.

The applicant is then ready to go live on the network and activation is done on a Saturday.

The whole process will take in the region of six months.

Full details of the SWIFT on-boarding process are available at https://www.swift.com/join-swift/swift-usership/how-join

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