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Beyond borders: Progressing towards the G20 targets for enhancing cross-border payments

Beyond borders: Progressing towards the G20 targets for enhancing cross-border payments

18 March 2024 | 7 min read

Fragmentation is a major obstacle to optimising payment flows across the globe. Addressing it head on is essential to meet the G20’s targets for enhancing cross-border payments, explains Harry Newman, Head of Banking and Payments Strategy, Swift.

The social and economic importance of global trade is undeniable. In four of the last five decades the value of global trade has doubled. Growing numbers of migrant workers need to send value home to their families. Growth in e-commerce is enabling smaller companies to engage in international business more easily. 

In our increasingly interconnected world, international payments have moved to centre stage.

Ensuring the smooth flow of value around the world to underpin these changes has never been more important. In 2020, the G20 set quantifiable targets to enhance cross-border payments, which the public and private sectors are rallying around. These focus on speed, transparency, choice and access, and cost for wholesale, retail and remittance segments. 

With the G20’s 2027 goal date fast approaching, continued industry collaboration is needed on a global scale. At the same time, however, fragmentation in various forms is also increasing, which can have serious knock-on effects for global economies if left unaddressed. 

Overcoming fragmentation through collaboration is key to driving progress towards the G20’s goals. This is also central to Swift’s mission to enable instant, frictionless, and interoperable international transactions, and we’re working hand-in-hand with the financial community to make it a reality.


Harry Newman
Today, 89% of transactions travelling from originating banks to beneficiary banks are already executed in under an hour on the Swift network.
Harry Newman Head of Banking and Payments Strategy, Swift

Speed: Cross-border payments executed in under an hour

Today, 89% of transactions travelling from originating banks to beneficiary banks are already executed in under an hour on the Swift network. 

While in-flight processing between originating and beneficiary banks has significantly accelerated, there’s still more work to be done at industry level to ensure that end customers can access these funds as quickly as possible. At present only 60% of wholesale payments reach end-customer accounts in under an hour. This is due to delays at the beneficiary leg caused by issues including payment controls (such as currency controls), batch processing and opening hours of market infrastructures. Local infrastructure and policy therefore have an important role to play in achieving the bar set by the G20.

A significant milestone on the road to faster payments is the industry’s migration to ISO 20022 by High-Value Payment Systems and across the Swift network for cross-border payments and reporting. Adoption of ISO 20022, which began in March 2023 and will run to November 2025, allows payment providers to exchange more information and in a more structured way. This is key to increasing straight-through processing, in particular when handling financial crime compliance. 

Knowing who is sending and receiving funds is essential for dealing with fraud, money laundering, terrorist financing and other forms of financial crime. The rich, structured data contained in ISO 20022 messages allows financial institutions to enhance screening processes and significantly reduce false positive alerts, a key source of friction in payment processing today.

Transparency: End-to-end tracking and visibility on costs

The introduction of Swift GPI revolutionised cross-border payment transparency by providing end-to-end visibility on transactions. Financial institutions now have access to clear, accurate, and real-time payment information, which they can pass on to their customers. 

For beneficiary banks, this drastically reduces exceptions and investigations as banks involved earlier in the process can view, in real time, the latest payment status – meaning they no longer have to contact the beneficiary bank. 

This isn’t just for high-value wholesale payments either. With Swift Go, financial institutions can enable their consumer and small-to-medium-sized business customers to send fast, secure, predictable and competitively priced cross-border transactions directly from their bank account. The full payment amount is always credited to the recipient and financial institutions can provide end-to-end tracking, as well as complete transparency on fee and foreign exchange rates, to customers via their digital banking portals.

Choice and access: Giving consumers options 

The G20 programme emphasises the importance of offering consumers more choice when making cross-border payments. 

There have always been many ways to move money cross-border. And the number of options continues to grow as customers expect more choice, not less. While this is driving innovation and growth in payments, at the same time it leads to fragmentation and complexity. That’s why we’re focused on providing an infrastructure that keeps transactions moving seamlessly between banks, fintechs and other networks with high levels of security and risk control. 

We’re collaborating with other payment networks to help financial institutions meet the diversifying needs of their customers. These collaborations save payment providers significant time and money that would usually be required when connecting to new networks on an individual basis and open up new streams of business – such as facilitating transactions that start in a bank account but finish in a digital wallet.

Cost: Affordable cross-border transactions 

Friction adds cost to the industry and slows payments down. Our aim is to reduce the impact this has on financial institutions and ultimately end customers by eliminating friction at each stage of the payment process. We’re doing this by improving data, interoperability and screening services.

We’ve collaborated with the industry to develop and implement tools to pre-validate payments before they’re sent and streamline exception management. Our solution – Payment Pre-validation – utilises recent transaction data on our entire network to verify the accuracy of message information before a payment is initiated, reducing errors and potential delays. When issues do occur, Case Management simplifies investigations, improving efficiency and reducing costs for financial institutions. 

The migration to ISO 20022 for payments and the centralised, end-to-end transaction orchestration provided through the Swift platform also enhances straight-through processing and drives down industry costs.


Harry Newman
By addressing fragmentation, our aim is to provide a path for these new innovations to scale if they are to play a role in creating an instant and frictionless future.
Harry Newman Head of Banking and Payments Strategy, Swift

Looking ahead: Embracing collaboration, innovation, and change

Together with the financial community, we’re not only working to help achieve the G20 targets. We’re also actively and collaboratively exploring the future of payments. 

With new forms of value constantly emerging – such as digital currencies, tokenised assets, and others – combined with the rise of potential new models to connect to instant payment systems, much of our work is focused on supporting international interoperability between these various domestic or network-based ‘digital islands.’ By addressing fragmentation, our aim is to provide a path for these new innovations to scale if they are to play a role in creating an instant and frictionless future.

We’re actively developing an interlinking solution for central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), experimenting with over 35 central and commercial banks so they can interoperate with one another and the existing financial ecosystem as CBDCs continue to gain momentum worldwide. With institutional investors increasingly considering investments in tokenised assets, we’re also testing how institutions can use their Swift connection to seamlessly interoperate with the multitude of blockchain networks emerging around the world. And we’re conducting collaborative experiments to connect electronic Bills of Lading platforms and accelerate digital trade. 

Whatever the future of cross-border payments holds, embracing collaboration, innovation, and change is key to driving progress forward and revolutionising the experience of every end customer – both big and small. 

No institution, organisation or country can do it alone. But by working together and combining our strengths, we can continue to shape a future where cross-border transactions are fast, transparent, accessible and affordable for all. So that global trade and flows of value can continue to underpin economic growth and bring benefits to people across all corners of the world.

This article first appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of The Banker.