SWIFT and sanctions
Table of contents
- 17 January 2016: Update: Iran Sanctions Agreement
- 21 December 2015: SWIFT advisory on fighting illegal financial activites
- 27 October 2015: Iran sanctions agreement update
- 14 July 2015: Iran sanctions agreement
- 7 October 2014: SWIFT advisory on fighting illegal financial activities
- 6 October 2014: SWIFT Sanctions Statement
- 18 September 2014: European Parliament Resolution
- 18 April 2012: SWIFT instructed to disconnect sanctioned Iranian banks following EU Council decision
What is SWIFT?
Founded in 1973, SWIFT is a global provider of secure financial messaging services. SWIFT was founded to replace the telex. It is a member-owned cooperative connecting more than 11,000 banks, financial institutions and corporations in more than 200 countries and territories.
SWIFT operates internationally with 26 offices located across the world, and is headquartered in Belgium. As a strategic international financial messaging service provider to the financial industry, SWIFT is overseen by the G-10 central banks.
How is SWIFT governed?
SWIFT is a cooperative company under Belgian law and is owned and controlled by its shareholders (financial institutions) representing approximately 3,500 firms from across the world. The shareholders elect a Board of 25 independent Directors, representing banks across the world, which governs the Company and oversees the management of the Company. The Executive Committee is a group of full-time employees headed by the Chief Executive Officer.
SWIFT is overseen by the G-10 central banks (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States, Switzerland, and Sweden), as well as the European Central Bank, with its lead overseer being the National Bank of Belgium.
In 2012, this framework was reviewed and the SWIFT Oversight Forum was established, in which the G-10 central banks are joined by other central banks from major economies: Reserve Bank of Australia, People's Bank of China, Hong Kong Monetary Authority, Reserve Bank of India, Bank of Korea, Bank of Russia, Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, Monetary Authority of Singapore, South African Reserve Bank and the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey. The SWIFT Oversight Forum provides a setting for the G-10 central banks to share information on SWIFT oversight activities with a wider group of central banks.
SWIFT is committed to open, constructive and regular dialogue with oversight authorities, as well as with individual jurisdictions. The oversight focuses primarily on ensuring that SWIFT has effective controls and processes (e.g. in terms of security and resilience) to avoid posing a risk to financial stability and to the soundness of financial infrastructures.
For more information on SWIFT oversight, please visit our oversight webpage.
What is the role of SWIFT in relation to financial sanctions that are imposed by regulators?
SWIFT does not monitor or control the messages that users send through its system. All decisions on the legitimacy of financial transactions under applicable regulations, such as sanctions regulations, rest with the financial institutions handling them, and their competent international and national authorities. As far as financial sanctions are concerned, the focus of SWIFT is to help its users in meeting their responsibilities to comply with national and international regulations.
What services does SWIFT offer that help financial institutions comply with sanctions and other financial crime laws?
In 2006-2007, we introduced changes to our payment message formats to allow financial institutions to comply with FATF SRVII (Special Recommendation VII on fighting terrorist financing - currently replaced by recommendation 16 of the revised FATF Recommendations 2012) by mentioning more detailed information about the payment ordering customer.
In 2010, we introduced changes to our cover payment messages to allow financial institutions to include underlying customer information in cover payment transactions.
SWIFT has a wide and growing range of financial crime compliance tools, including sanctions screening and sanctions testing services. Learn more about these products here.
Does SWIFT comply with all sanctions laws?
Yes. SWIFT complies fully with all applicable sanctions laws. Responsibility for ensuring that individual financial transactions comply with sanctions laws, however, rests with the financial institutions handling them, and their competent authorities. SWIFT is only a messaging service provider and has no involvement in or control over the underlying financial transactions that are mentioned by its financial institutional customers in their messages.
Does SWIFT expel banks?
SWIFT is neutral. The Company is set up and operated for the collective benefit of its Shareholders, for the study, creation, utilisation and operation of the means necessary for the telecommunication, transmission and routing of private, confidential and proprietary financial messages.
As a neutral utility with a global systemic character, SWIFT plays a pivotal role in supporting the global economy through its provision of secure financial messaging services. We always act in the interests of the entire member community and in keeping with our mission of supporting the resilience and integrity of the global financial system.
Any organisation may be considered for admission as a Shareholder of the Company (“Shareholder”) which, in the opinion of the Board of Directors, i) is involved in the same type of business as the other Shareholders, and ii) is involved in financial message transmission.
SWIFT Shareholders are also SWIFT Users. Any other organisation may be permitted to become a User (without being a Shareholder) to make use of the services of the Company, provided that it complies with the firm’s eligibility criteria.
SWIFT has defined a number of SWIFT User categories. The generic eligibility criteria for each User category are approved by the General Meeting of Shareholders and are complemented by applicable local rules and regulations from the nation of each applicant. Any organisation that wishes to apply to become a SWIFT User must comply, and ensure continued compliance, with these eligibility criteria, as well as their local applicable rules and regulations.
SWIFT has documented, neutral and risk based processes in place to validate SWIFT Users on an on-going basis.
As a cooperative, the company’s mission is to act and operate in the interest of its entire member community, reflecting the global membership of SWIFT. As a utility with a systemic global character, SWIFT has no authority to make sanctions decisions. Any decision to impose or to lift sanctions on countries or individual entities rests solely with the competent government bodies and legislators.
Whilst sanctions are imposed independently in different jurisdictions around the world, SWIFT cannot arbitrarily choose which jurisdiction’s sanction regime to follow. Being incorporated under Belgian law it must instead comply with related EU regulation, as confirmed by the Belgian government.
In March 2012, pursuant to international and multilateral action to intensify financial sanctions against Iran, SWIFT was exceptionally prohibited under EU Regulation 267/2012 from providing financial messaging services to EU-sanctioned Iranian banks. SWIFT is incorporated under Belgian law and had to comply with this regulation as confirmed by its home country government. SWIFT implemented the regulatory obligation by disconnecting the related EU-sanctioned Iranian banks. In January 2016 many of the affected banks were de-listed by the EU, and were subsequently reconnected to SWIFT.
The responsibility of SWIFT with regard to international financial sanctions has always been to help our Users in meeting their responsibilities to comply with national and international legislation, while supporting the resilience and integrity of the global financial system as a global and neutral service provider.
In exceptional circumstances, and where the interest of the stability and integrity of the wider global financial system are at risk, SWIFT may also need to restrict customers’ access to the network. In an isolated event in November 2018 SWIFT thus suspended certain Iranian banks’ access to the messaging system. This step, while regrettable, was taken in the interest of the stability and integrity of the wider global financial system, and based on an assessment of the economic situation.
Has SWIFT ever disconnected banks for sanctions purposes?
In March 2012, pursuant to international and multilateral action to intensify financial sanctions against Iran, EU Regulation 267/2012 was passed. The Regulation prohibits specialised financial messaging providers, such as SWIFT, from providing services to EU-sanctioned Iranian banks. SWIFT is incorporated under Belgian law and has to comply with this decision as confirmed by its home country government. SWIFT implemented the regulatory obligation by disconnecting the related EU-sanctioned banks.