SWIFT was founded in the 1970s, based on the ambitious and innovative vision of creating a global financial messaging service, and a common language for international financial messaging
Serving our community for over 40 years
In 1973, 239 banks from 15 countries got together to solve a common problem: how to communicate about cross-border payments. The banks formed a cooperative utility, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, headquartered in Belgium. SWIFT went live with its messaging services in 1977, replacing the Telex technology that was then in widespread use, and rapidly became the reliable, trusted global partner for institutions all around the world. The main components of the original services included a messaging platform, a computer system to validate and route messages, and a set of message standards. The standards were developed to allow for a common understanding of the data across linguistic and systems boundaries and to permit the seamless, automated transmission, receipt and processing of communications exchanged between users.
Having disrupted the manual processes that were the norm of the past, SWIFT is now a global financial infrastructure that spans every continent, 200+ countries and territories, and services more than 11,000 institutions around the world. Our services are as relevant today as they were ground-breaking back at the time of their inception, but we do not stand still: we are about continuity and change. We still enable our users across the world to safely and securely communicate, but we invest continually in the platform that supports our messaging services and work persistently to improve the adoption of industry standards. At the same time we innovate to create value and to deliver efficiencies; we introduce new products and services to remedy common problems; and we watch relentlessly for external developments that can impact our community.
SWIFT was set up by and for its users to support international finance and commerce. By the time SWIFT went live in 1977, 518 institutions from 22 countries were connected to SWIFT’s messaging services. From the very start, SWIFT has engaged closely with our users and listened to their needs, and our user community remains at the heart of SWIFT’s strategy and activities. From inception, we prioritised confidentiality, efficiency, security and reliability, and since the very beginning, our operating centres have ensured the highest systems availability, redundancy and back-up capabilities. The success of SWIFT exceeded all expectations. Less than 12 months after operations began, SWIFT had processed a total of 10 million messages.
Establishing the SWIFT community
The 80s were characterised by rapid expansion of users, traffic and countries on SWIFT. In 1980 Hong Kong and Singapore started live operations, and by 1983 more than 1,000 users from 52 countries were using our services; SWIFT processed 46.9 million messages that year.
The connection of the first central banks in 1983 reinforced SWIFT's position as the common link between all parties in the financial industry. In 1987 we extended our messaging services and user base, when we entered the securities market. In parallel SWIFT launched a range of complementary services to supplement our core messaging offer, and in 1988 SWIFT set up a dedicated customer support team to better assist and respond to our users.
During the 80s SWIFT strengthened its coordinating role by organising various forums to address standards, business and operational issues. Together with our Sibos conference, these fora became the foundation of our community engagement.
Driving technological change
In 1991 SWIFT received the Computerworld Smithsonian Information Technology Award in recognition for its role in standardised financial telecommunication. In 1992 SWIFT’s Interbank File Transfer went live, and by 1996 SWIFT was carrying over 3 million messages in a single day. By the end of the decade, SWIFT had reached new record FIN availability rates at 99.98% and gained recognition for its outstanding reliability. With the dawn of the Internet and the subsequent rapid technological change, SWIFT further strengthened its focus on security to ensure maximum certainty and reliability for our users.
With the launch of our UNIX interface systems and straight-through processing capabilities in 1993, SWIFT continued to improve efficiencies in our community’s back office operations. By the end of the 90s SWIFT had reduced prices for its users, improved automation levels in the financial industry and was well prepared for the euro introduction and Y2K.
Leading on innovation
The SWIFT community continued growing to connect more than 9,000 users from more than 200 countries and territories. By 2009 SWIFT carried 3.76 billion messages per year and had truly established itself as the global backbone of the financial industry. SWIFT continued launching innovative products, increased security and further reduced prices. Through economies of scale SWIFT was able to offer our users much more for a lot less.
SWIFT introduced SWIFTNet, developed new online services and connectivity solutions, launched Innotribe, and, in our role as a standards authority, led the financial industry’s migration to ISO 15022 and the deployment of ISO 20022.
SWIFT entered into regional integration projects such as SEPA and TARGET2 in Europe, and opened offices in Brazil, Mumbai, Dubai and Johannesburg.
Cyber security started playing an ever increasing role for SWIFT as we launched our Distributed Architecture programme, and introduced the secure Public Key Infrastructure for SWIFTNet.
More relevant than ever before
SWIFT remains a truly global cooperative. Forty years on, the SWIFT community is stronger than ever before. Our global and neutral character is reflected in our increasingly international governance and oversight, including the SWIFT Oversight Forum.
New offices continue to expand our global presence, bringing us closer to our users and underpinning our ambitious growth strategy. In 2014 SWIFT launched our first ever truly local joint venture (SWIFT India), delivering the benefits of our renowned financial messaging services for domestic traffic of our Indian user community.
More than ever before SWIFT is creating value. SWIFT continues to lead in innovation, entering the real-time payments market with Australia’s New Payments Platform and pursuing new digital opportunities. We continue to reduce the cost of business for our users – for instance by reducing FIN messaging prices by 50% between 2010 and 2015.
Meanwhile, we consistently exceed 99.99% availability for our FIN and SWIFTNet services.
We continue to listen to our users and address challenges affecting our community. To support the growing compliance challenge faced by institutions across the world, we launched a suite of financial crime compliance tools, the KYC Registry and acquired Omnicision, a leader in financial crime prevention.
In 2014 our new operating centre in Switzerland added another level of resilience, thereby completing the Distributed Architecture programme; and following its launch in 2011 FIN Renewal remains well underway – a further testament to our relentless pursuit of even stronger security and new functionalities. Our record availability levels are a direct result, and proof, of our security commitment.
Our SWIFT2020 strategy underscores our longstanding commitment to maintain a strong focus on our core, building our financial crime compliance portfolio, and expanding our Market Infrastructures offerings.
SWIFT will continue to innovate and will never stand still. We do what we do best – we serve our community.