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Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication

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Title: Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication  
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Subject: International Bank Account Number, Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, Internationalization of the renminbi, Sibos (conference), Kosovo
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Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication

Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication
Type Cooperative
Industry Telecommunications
Founded 1973
Headquarters La Hulpe, Belgium
Products Financial Telecommunication
Employees >2000

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) provides a network that enables financial institutions worldwide to send and receive information about financial transactions in a secure, standardized and reliable environment. Swift also sells software and services to financial institutions, much of it for use on the SWIFTNet Network, and ISO 9362. Business Identifier Codes (BICs) are popularly known as "SWIFT codes".

The chairman of SWIFT is Yawar Shah,[1] originally from Pakistan,[2] and its CEO is Gottfried Leibbrandt, originally from the Netherlands.[3]

The majority of international interbank messages use the SWIFT network. As of September 2010, SWIFT linked more than 9,000 financial institutions in 209 countries and territories, who were exchanging an average of over 15 million messages[4] per day (compared to an average of 2.4 million daily messages in 1995).[5] SWIFT transports financial messages in a highly secure way but does not hold accounts for its members and does not perform any form of clearing or settlement.

SWIFT does not facilitate funds transfer; rather, it sends payment orders, which must be settled by correspondent accounts that the institutions have with each other. Each financial institution, to exchange banking transactions, must have a banking relationship by either being a bank or affiliating itself with one (or more) so as to enjoy those particular business features.

SWIFT hosts an annual conference every year called SIBOS which is specifically aimed at the financial services industry.

SWIFT is a cooperative society under Belgian law and it is owned by its member financial institutions. It has offices around the world. SWIFT headquarters, designed by Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura are in La Hulpe, Belgium, near Brussels.


SWIFT was founded in Brussels in 1973 under the leadership of its inaugural CEO Carl Reuterskiöld (1973–1983) and was supported by 239 banks in 15 countries. It started to establish common standards for financial transactions and a shared data processing system and worldwide communications network designed by Logica.[6] Fundamental operating procedures, rules for liability, etc., were established in 1975 and the first message was sent in 1977. SWIFT's first United States operating center was inaugurated by Governor John N. Dalton of Virginia in 1979.[7]


SWIFT has become the industry standard for syntax in financial messages. Messages formatted to SWIFT standards can be read by, and processed by, many well-known financial processing systems, whether or not the message traveled over the SWIFT network. SWIFT cooperates with international organizations for defining standards for message format and content. SWIFT is also ISO standards: [8]

  • ISO 9362: 1994 Banking—Banking telecommunication messages—Bank identifier codes
  • ISO 10383: 2003 Securities and related financial instruments—Codes for exchanges and market identification (MIC)
  • ISO 13616: 2003 IBAN Registry
  • ISO 15022: 1999 Securities—Scheme for messages (Data Field Dictionary) (replaces ISO 7775)
  • ISO 20022-1: 2004 and ISO 20022-2:2007 Financial services—UNIversal Financial Industry message scheme

In RFC 3615 urn:swift: was defined as Uniform Resource Names (URNs) for SWIFT FIN.[9]

Operations centers

The SWIFT secure messaging network is run from two redundant data centers, one in the United States and one in the Netherlands. These centers share information in near real-time. In case of a failure in one of the data centers, the other is able to handle the traffic of the complete network.

SWIFT opened a third data center in Switzerland, which started operating in 2009.[10] Since then, data from European SWIFT members are no longer mirrored to the U.S. data center. The distributed architecture partitions messaging into two messaging zones: European and Trans-Atlantic.[11] European zone messages are stored in the Netherlands and in a part of the Switzerland operating center; Trans-Atlantic zone messages are stored in the United States and in a part of the Switzerland operating center that is segregated from the European zone messages. Countries outside of Europe were by default allocated to the Trans-Atlantic zone but could choose to have their messages stored in the European zone.

SWIFTNet network

SWIFT moved to its current IP network infrastructure, known as SWIFTNet, from 2001 to 2005,[12] providing a total replacement of the previous X.25 infrastructure. The process involved the development of new protocols that facilitate efficient messaging, using existing and new message standards. The adopted technology chosen to develop the protocols was XML, where it now provides a wrapper around all messages legacy or contemporary. The communication protocols can be broken down into:


SWIFT provides a centralized store-and-forward mechanism, with some transaction management. For bank A to send a message to bank B with a copy or authorization with institution C, it formats the message according to standard and securely sends it to SWIFT. SWIFT guarantees its secure and reliable delivery to B after the appropriate action by C. SWIFT guarantees are based primarily on high redundancy of hardware, software, and people.

SWIFTNet Phase 2

During 2007 and 2008, the entire SWIFT Network migrated its infrastructure to a new protocol called SWIFTNet Phase 2. The main difference between Phase 2 and the former arrangement is that Phase 2 requires banks connecting to the network to use a Relationship Management Application (RMA) instead of the former Bilateral key exchange (BKE) system. According to SWIFT's public information database on the subject, RMA software should eventually prove more secure and easier to keep up-to-date; however, converting to the RMA system meant that thousands of banks around the world had to update their international payments systems to comply with the new standards. RMA completely replaced BKE on 1 January 2009.

Products and interfaces

SWIFT means several things in the financial world:

  1. a secure network for transmitting messages between financial institutions;
  2. a set of syntax standards for financial messages (for transmission over SWIFTNet or any other network)
  3. a set of connection software and services allowing financial institutions to transmit messages over SWIFT network.

Under 3 above, SWIFT provides turn-key solutions for members, consisting of linkage clients to facilitate connectivity to the SWIFT network and CBTs or 'computer based terminals' which members use to manage the delivery and receipt of their messages. Some of the more well-known interfaces and CBTs provided to their members are:

  • SWIFTNet Link (SNL) software which is installed on the SWIFT customer's site and opens a connection to SWIFTNet. Other applications can only communicate with SWIFTNet through the SNL.
  • Alliance Gateway (SAG) software with interfaces (e.g., RAHA = Remote Access Host Adapter), allowing other software products to use the SNL to connect to SWIFTNet
  • Alliance WebStation (SAB) desktop interface for SWIFT Alliance Gateway with several usage options:
  1. administrative access to the SAG
  2. direct connection SWIFTNet by the SAG, to administrate SWIFT Certificates
  3. so-called Browse connection to SWIFTNet (also by SAG) to use additional services, for example Target2
  • Alliance Access (SAA) is the main messaging software by SWIFT, which allows message creation only for FIN messages, but routing and monitoring for FIN and MX messages. The main interfaces are FTA (files transfer automated, not FTP) and MQSA, a WebSphere MQ interface.
  • The Alliance Workstation (SAW) is the desktop software for administration, monitoring and FIN message creation. Since Alliance Access is not yet capable of creating MX messages, Alliance Messenger (SAM) has to be used for this purpose.
  • Alliance Web Platform (SWP) as new thin-client desktop interface provided as an alternative to existing Alliance WebStation, Alliance Workstation (soon) and Alliance Messenger.
  • Alliance Integrator built on Oracle's Java Caps which enables customer's back office applications to connect to Alliance Access or Alliance Entry.
  • Alliance Lite2 is a secure and reliable, cloud-based way to connect to the SWIFT network which is a Lite version of Alliance Access specifically targeting customers with low volume of traffic.


There are four key areas that SWIFT services fall under in the financial marketplace: Securities, Treasury & Derivatives, Trade Services and Payments & Cash Management.


SWIFTRef, the global payments reference data utility, is SWIFT’s unique reference data service. SWIFTRef sources data direct from data originators, including central banks, code issuers and banks making it easy for issuers and originators to maintain data regularly and thoroughly. SWIFTRef constantly validates and cross-checks data across the different data sets.[13]


SWIFT offers a secure person-to-person messaging service, SWIFTNet Mail, which went live on 16 May 2007.[14] SWIFT clients can configure their existing email infrastructure to pass email messages through the highly secure and reliable SWIFTNet network instead of the open Internet. SWIFTNet Mail is intended for the secure transfer of sensitive business documents, such as invoices, contracts and signatories, and is designed to replace existing telex and courier services, as well as the transmission of security-sensitive data over the open Internet. Seven financial institutions, including HSBC, FirstRand Bank, Clear stream, DnB NOR, Nedbank, and Standard Bank of South Africa, as well as SWIFT piloted the service.[15]

United States of America government involvement in SWIFT matters

Terrorist Finance Tracking Program

A series of articles published on 23 June 2006, by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times revealed that the US Treasury Department and the USA Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other United States of America government agencies had a program to access the SWIFT transaction database after the 11 September attacks called the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program.[16]

After these articles, SWIFT quickly came under pressure for compromising the data privacy of its customers by letting foreign government (United States government) agencies access sensitive personal data. In September 2006, the Belgian government declared that the SWIFT dealings with USA government authorities were a breach of Belgian and European privacy laws.

In response, SWIFT is in the process of improving its architecture to satisfy member privacy concerns by implementing the new distributed architecture with a two-zone model for storing messages (see Operations centers).

Concurrent to this process, the European Union negotiated an agreement with the United States Government to permit the transfer of intra-EU SWIFT transaction information to the United States under certain circumstances. Due to concerns about its potential contents, the European Parliament adopted a position statement in September 2009, demanding to see the full text of the agreement, and requesting that it be fully compliant with EU privacy legislation, with appropriate oversight mechanisms in place to ensure that all data requests were handled appropriately.[17] An interim agreement was signed without European Parliamentary approval by the European Council on 30 November 2009,[18] the day before the Lisbon Treaty—which would have prohibited such an agreement from being signed under the terms of the Codecision procedure—formally came into effect. While the interim agreement was scheduled to come into effect on 1 January 2010, the text of the agreement was classified as "EU Restricted" until translations could be provided in all EU languages and published on 25 January 2010.

On 11 February 2010, the European Parliament decided to reject the interim agreement between the EU and the USA with 378 to 196 votes.[19][20] One week earlier, the parliament's civil liberties committee already rejected the deal, citing legal reservations.[21]

In March 2011, it was reported that two mechanisms of data protection had failed: EUROPOL released a report complaining that the USA's requests for information had been too vague (making it impossible to make judgments on validity)[22] and that the guaranteed right for European citizens to know whether their information had been accessed by USA authorities had not been put into practice.[22]

Iran sanctions

In January 2012, the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) implemented a campaign calling on SWIFT to end all relations with Iran's banking system, including the Central Bank of Iran. UANI asserted that Iran's membership in SWIFT violated U.S. and EU financial sanctions against Iran as well as SWIFT's own corporate rules.[23]

Consequently, in February 2012, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee unanimously approved sanctions against SWIFT aimed at pressuring the Belgian financial telecommunications network to terminate its ties with blacklisted Iranian banks. Expelling Iranian banks from SWIFT would potentially deny Iran access to billions of dollars in revenue and spending using SWIFT but not from using IVTS. Mark Wallace, president of UANI, praised the Senate Banking Committee.[24]

Initially SWIFT denied it was acting illegally,[24] but now says "it is working with U.S. and European governments to address their concerns that its financial services are being used by Iran to avoid sanctions and conduct illicit business."[25] Targeted banks would be — amongst others — Saderat Bank of Iran, Bank Mellat, Post Bank of Iran and Sepah Bank.[26] On 17 March 2012, following agreement two days earlier between all 27 member states of the Council of the European Union and the Council's subsequent ruling, SWIFT disconnected all Iranian banks from its international network that had been identified as institutions in breach of current EU sanctions and warned that even more Iranian financial institutions could be disconnected from the network.

US control over transactions within the European Union

On 26 February 2012 the Danish newspaper Berlingske reported that US authorities evidently have sufficient control over SWIFT to seize money being transferred between two EU countries (Denmark and Germany), since they have seized around US$26,000 which were being transferred from a Danish businessman to a German bank. The money was a payment for a batch of Cuban cigars previously imported to Germany by a German supplier. As justification for the seizure, the U.S. Treasury has stated that the Danish businessman had violated the United States embargo against Cuba.[27]

Monitoring of SWIFT transactions by the National Security Agency (NSA)

Der Spiegel reported in September 2013 that the NSA widely monitors banking transactions via SWIFT, as well as credit card transactions.[28] The NSA intercepted and retained data from the SWIFT network used by thousands of banks to securely send transaction information. SWIFT was named as a "target," according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden. The documents reveal that the NSA spied on SWIFT using a variety of methods, including reading "SWIFT printer traffic from numerous banks."[28]

Use in Sanctions

As mentioned above SWIFT has disconnected all Iranian banks from its international network as a sanction against Iran. Similarly, in August 2014 the U.K. planned to press the EU to block Russian use of SWIFT as a sanction due to alleged Russia's involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.[29] However, SWIFT refused to do so. In their official statement they said, "SWIFT regrets the pressure, as well as the surrounding media speculation, both of which risk undermining the systemic character of the services that SWIFT provides its customers around the world".[30] SWIFT also rejected calls to boycott Israeli banks from its network.[31]

The RT channel reported that "Russia intends to have its own international inter-bank system up and running by May 2015."[32]

See also


  1. ^ "SWIFT Board of directors". Retrieved 2014-02-23. 
  2. ^ "Yawar Shah - 1996 - 40 Under Forty - Crain's New York Business". Retrieved 2014-02-23. 
  3. ^ "SWIFT Management". Retrieved 2014-02-23. 
  4. ^ "SWIFT messages explained.". 
  5. ^ "Swift Company Information".  
  6. ^ "Logica history". 
  7. ^ "Carl Reuterskiöld". SWIFT. March 2006. Retrieved 7 September 2012. 
  8. ^ "ISO Maintenance agencies and registration authorities]". 
  9. ^ "RFC 3615 – A Uniform Resource Name (URN) Namespace for SWIFT Fin". 
  10. ^ "SWIFT: SIBOS issues".   p.12
  11. ^ "Distributed architecture".  
  12. ^ "SWIFT History".  
  13. ^ "SWIFTREF". 
  14. ^ "SWIFTNet Mail now available". 
  15. ^ "SWIFTNet Mail pilot phase underway". 
  16. ^ Brand, Constant (28 September 2005). "Belgian PM: Data Transfer Broke Rules". Washington Post. Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  17. ^ "European Parliament resolution of 17 September 2009 on the SWIFT Agreement".  
  18. ^ "European Parliament to vote on interim agreement at February session".  
  19. ^ Brand, Constant (11 February 2010), "Parliament rejects bank transfer data deal", European Voice 
  20. ^ "Euro MPs block bank data deal with US",  
  21. ^ "EU Parliament Body Rejects EU-US Data Sharing Deal", Wall Street Journal, 4 February 2010 
  22. ^ a b Schult, Christoph (16 March 2011). "Brussels Eyes a Halt to SWIFT Data Agreement". Der Spiegel. 
  23. ^ "Iran Praises Nuclear Talks With Team From U.N.". The New York Times. 31 January 2012. Retrieved 4 February 2012. 
  24. ^ a b Rick Gladstone (3 February 2012). "Senate Panel Approves Potentially Toughest Penalty Yet Against Iran’s Wallet". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 February 2012. 
  25. ^ Jay Solomon & Adam Entous (4 February 2012). "Banking Hub Adds to Pressure on Iran". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 4 February 2012. 
  26. ^ "Banking's SWIFT says ready to block Iran transactions". 17 February 2012. Retrieved 17 February 2012. 
  27. ^ Simon Bendtsen & Peter Suppli Benson (26 February 2012). "Dansk politimand fanget i amerikansk terrornet".  
  28. ^ a b Follow the Money': NSA Spies on International Payments"'". SPIEGEL ONLINE International. Der Speigel. 15 September 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2013. 
  29. ^ Robert Hutton and Ian Wishart (29 August 2014). "U.K. Wants EU to Block Russia From SWIFT Banking Network".  
  30. ^
  31. ^ International banking giant refuses to cut off Israel, despite boycott calls. Haaretz. 7 October 2014.
  32. ^ "Russia to launch alternative to SWIFT bank transaction system in spring 2015". RT. November 11, 2014

External links

  • Official website

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