When Shakespeare wrote Richard III in around 1591, he meant something different when he wrote these famous lines, but “True hope is SWIFT” is the essence of this Guide. Corporates have struggled for many years to connect to their banks in an efficient, consistent way. Telexes, faxes, electronic banking systems - each have represented a step forward, but each brings limitations. Few corporates today are fortunate enough to have a single channel for communicating with all of their banking partners; fewer still can send files in the same format to each bank. Each system has its own functionality, its own security requirements and user setup and receives and transmits files or messages in a particular format, often differing across country or region.
The ability for corporates to communicate to their banks through SWIFTNet (see Section 1 below) is in many respects a giant leap forward, but to date, it has left only a light impression on corporate treasurers’ consciousness. There is a definite increase in the number of corporates seeking to connect to their banks through SWIFTNet, but this growth has been steady rather than meteoric. Markus Straussfeld, Director, Cash Management Sales, HypoVereinsbank (Member of UniCreditGroup) explains,
“The largest corporates were the first to move to SWIFT with the highest value or highest volume of payments. Now, smaller companies see the advantages, providing a solution to a problem they have had for some time, namely finding a single application to connect to all their banks.”
As a common channel, SWIFTNet (the SWIFT network) should create a level playing field for all banks, and indeed all corporates which communicate through it. In theory, banks should all be able to offer comparable services, and standardised information through SWIFTNet. So too should corporates be able to access the same information from any connected bank. While there is still progress which needs to be made, there are significant advances being made by pioneering banks and their corporate customers, as the case studies in this Guide illustrate.
In the next section, we give a summary of SWIFTNet and an explanation of some of the terminology. Secondly, we discuss standardisation in more detail, particularly XML standard ISO 200222, and finally, we look at some of the challenges which still remain.