Saturday, February 2, 2013

SWIFT: A Preferred Method of International Currency Transfer

SWIFT Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It would be great if financial institutions around the globe could communicate with each other and all trade using the same currency. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to ever happen. Enter SWIFT. SWIFT stands for The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. It's a network that enables financial institutions to send and receive information about transactions in a secure and reliable environment.

The SWIFT secure messaging network runs from two redundant data centers. One of those data centers is located within the U.S. The other is in the Netherlands. Each center shares information in near-real-time. If one of the centers fails, the other is able to pick up the slack, handing the traffic for the entire network.


The SWIFT system didn't always exist. In fact, it's relatively new in the financial industry. Started in 1973, it was supported by 239 banks in 15 different countries. The major benefit of the organization at that time was that it established common standards for financial transactions and it also shared data processing systems as well as a worldwide communications network.

In 1977, the first message was sent. Just one year later, 10 million messages had been sent. Then, in 1979, the North American operating center opened up. The next year, Hong Kong and Singapore were connected to the system. From there, it grew steadily through the '80s, enhancing stability and security - the system also started turning a profit in 1982.

By 1991, the organization had been noticed by the Smithsonian and received the Computerworld Smithsonian Information technology Award for its standardized financial telecommunication work. Without SWIFT, worldwide financial transactions would be virtually impossible at scale since private networks would be unable to communicate with each other.

Swift Network Organization
In 2003, the system turned 30 and had a lot to show for it. Yearly traffic reached 2 billion FIN messages - nearly double the volume since 1999. In 2010, SWIFT acquired Sunguard's AMH business (Arkelis), thus extending its portfolio of high-end messaging services. In 2011, it's most innovative advancement ever happened. It launched SWIFTRemit - the first global platform for person-to-person payments.

Why It's Good

Financial institutions, by and large, love the SWIFT system. For them, it means a couple of things:

Security - Financial institutions can transmit data in an environment that is guaranteed to be secure, uniform, and reliable. Transactions between financial institutions would otherwise be inherently risky since data transfers on a public network are not secure enough for the kind of data that most financial institutions transfer.

Syntax Standards - Financial institutions need a "central hub" where they can communicate with each other. SWIFT provides that. Since it standardizes communication between all member institutions, it doesn't matter what internal, proprietary, system a company uses.

Integration - SWIFT provides real turn-key solutions for member institutions. These solutions provide members with "Computer-Based Terminals" so that each member can manage delivery and receipt of messages.


Financial firms that make use of SWIFT systems often feel very secure using the system. However, after September 11, 2001, the U.S. government was allowed access to SWIFT's system. SWIFT has been criticized for allowing the government access to sensitive data. While the government has only ever accessed data in an attempt to track terrorist activity, some critics believe any access at all compromises the integrity and security of the system.

Dennis Tarver is a business finance consultant. His articles mainly appear on personal finance and business sites around the web. For more information about foreign currency payments, visit the link.

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