Over the next two years and beyond, SWIFT will deliver on an exciting strategic roadmap for and with its global community of 11,000 institutions, expanding SWIFT’s capabilities beyond financial messaging to provide a platform for comprehensive transaction management services. This new approach will support and accelerate innovation, paving the way for financial institutions — independently, or in collaboration with fintechs — to create new value-added services to support their business growth.
Olivier Lens, head of sub-Saharan Africa for SWIFT sat down with Bernard Carless, SWIFT Board Member and Head of Settlement & SWIFT for FirstRand Group Treasury to discuss how SWIFT’s new strategy will fundamentally transform payments and securities processing.
Setting the scene, Lens noted that the new strategy is aimed at building on SWIFT’s existing strengths with the goal of further supporting and enabling the financial services industry to remain competitive in an ever-evolving landscape. He added that by maintaining a shared, complete and definitive representation of each business transaction at the centre and orchestrating the flows, the platform will address many of the remaining pain points in cross-border payments and unlock huge opportunities for the community.
Lens highlighted the importance of end-to-end data integrity, and how this will allow SWIFT to serve the community better; and spoke to the possibilities of technologies like APIs and advanced cloud solutions to facilitate access to the platform. He also highlighted how backward compatibility would allow the industry to migrate to the use of this new platform at their own pace. Lens also emphasised the importance of mutualisation and its importance in driving costs down across the industry.
Lastly, Lens touched on the need for collaboration. “We realise that the market is evolving very fast. We need to innovate in a responsible way, and we will not be able to do that on our own. We are looking to third parties to offer services through the platform in order to further enrich what SWIFT is doing, become even more relevant, and facilitate business for financial institutions.”
Bernard Carless, SWIFT Board Member and Head of Settlement & SWIFT for FirstRand Group Treasury, noted that, he believes this strategy is an evolution. “It’s an evolution from sequential messaging to a more holistic transactional focus. So, while the sequencing will remain, the data will now become available to all parties in the transaction at any time.”
Carless highlighted that SWIFT’s infrastructure has taken the form of a platform for many years and has been at the heart of the global financial system for decades. “I see this continuing,” he said. “With greater enhancements, added functionality and the mutualised services at the centre. The platform will provide the mechanism to further enhance the increasing needs of SWIFT’s customers.” “However, what will be different is providing even greater efficiencies and reduced costs for the market – allowing the market to deliver increased value for their customers,” he added, noting that he sees a renewed interest and excitement around SWIFT within the industry, not only among those who work directly with SWIFT at financial institutions, but also amongst individuals and within the talent pool.
Lens emphasised the importance of the SWIFT strategy being aligned to that of financial institutions. “It is clear to me from my interactions both internally and across the continent that there is overwhelming support for SWIFT’s new strategy. There is great excitement at this early stage, across all customer segments,” said Carless, noting that feedback has been positive and encouraging from African players. “The components of the platform and the strategy clearly resonate with SWIFT customers and their needs.”
Talking about the benefits of the new strategy for African financial institutions specifically, Carless highlighted the evolutionary roadmap that has been set for the strategy. “It is not mandatory, fixed or a big bang approach. The freedom to move at their own speed is definitely welcomed,” he said. He noted, however, that African financial institutions have a need for a full understanding of the complexities and costs of the strategy – as these are critical issues for Africa.
He noted that there will certainly be a need for SWIFT to support and guide small and medium institutions across Africa. Lens highlighted that the platform is certainly aimed at reducing complexities and costs, by offering such services as translation from an ISO 20022 and other mutualised services.
Carless noted that partnership has become a necessity in order to remain competitive in today’s digitally driven world. “Successful companies have realised that they can’t develop everything on their own. This is going to be no different for SWIFT,” he said, noting that partners can assist in a number of ways. “For SWIFT, I think partners can help extend the breadth of SWIFT services for its customers and also provide access for a much wider customer base.” Carless further highlighted that it is critical to partner responsibly. “It is critical that we don’t compromise on SWIFT’s proven and respected governance, security and resilience, or undermine the trust that SWIFT has built up for many years,” he said.