SWIFT Banking System

12 Apr 2022

How International Money Transfers Work

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, otherwise known as SWIFT, is a global network that facilitates financial transactions between banks. To ensure the security and safety of these delicate records, it has been agreed upon by most prominent nations today - so you can rest assured that your money will be safe when sent through any institution connected with them.

The SWIFT global financial system has 11,000 institutions that send 33 million transactions per day through the SWIFT network. The speed at which these businesses interact makes it easier for people all over the world to work together and reach across borders without hassle or delay.

With SWIFT's payment network, individuals and businesses can accept and send money internationally via wire, electronic funds, or credit card payments. Money can be transferred even if the customer uses a different bank than the payee. A network is a place for secure financial messaging. In a sense, it's nothing more than a messenger between banks. 

How do Payments Work Through SWIFT?

The creation of SWIFT allows for a way for banks to communicate faster and more securely among themselves. International payments are made more accessible when they use this system, which channels the message enclosing payment instructions from issuing bank to remitting or receiving counter-parties via messenger service.

Engaging in a SWIFT transfer consists of a collection of accounts that banks have opened with each other to conduct business through a transfer system. These underlying networks of Nostro and Vostro accounts; mean "on loan" from one bank to another, so long as both parties agree, you can use our money and your own.

The bank's Nostro and Vostro accounts are mirror ledgers of each other. They both refer to the set maintained by your institution for holding money or opening it up as recorded on paper ledger sheets, respectively.

When there is a commercial relationship between the accounts, the SWIFT transfers are direct and immediate. If the banks do not have this type of relationship, the SWIFT network must determine the best means to pass the message on. In this case, requiring a third-party (intermediary bank).

The SWIFT transaction can proceed once they find a correspondent bank with a commercial relationship between the two financial institutions. By needing an intermediary bank, additional fees will be incurred from third-party services. The more banks involved in the transaction, the more it will cost you to send, taking longer to send the payment.

Who Uses SWIFT for Payments?

SWIFT was originally created to facilitate communication between banks and the Treasury Department. Its functionality allows it to grow into other services such as:

  • Banks
  • Corporations
  • Treasury Market
  • Foreign Exchanges
  • Money Brokers
  • And much more

What's the Cost Associated with SWIFT?

The SWIFT cooperative society is owned by its members, and they pay a one-time fee plus annual charges, which vary depending on their member class.

The messaging system charges users for the type and length of messages they send. These fees will vary depending on how much your bank sends through this service. Still, in general, you'll pay more if it's an international money transfer or something similar that needs quick access by other banks rather than just being able to store them temporarily until needed.

SWIFT offers extra services like business intelligence, professional apps, global payments innovations, and compliance for an additional charge.

The SWIFT Payment System

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, or SWIFT for short, is a system that allows banks across the globe to send messages and communicate securely. In addition, it provides an easy way of making cross-border payments with its nearly 11 thousand member banks located in 200 countries worldwide.

TELEX was a system before SWIFT that lacked the sophistication and security to send wire transfers during exponential technological progress. The free message format didn't have one unified set of codes like SWIFT, which led senders into confusion about what they were 

Describing their transactions and execution by dedicated receivers who had interpreting tasks on top of other more complicated problems made TELEX an equally slow process but much harder than using traditional methods because there were no clear guidelines or descriptions available at first glance.

Innovation was needed, which led to the creation of SWIFT.

They were founded in Brussels in 1973 to establish common processes and standards for financial transactions. Banks needed a universal and consistent way to transfer money internationally. That's where SWIFT comes in. Six international central banks formed a cooperative society to operate the global network securely and timely.

Where SWIFT is Today

SWIFT provides messaging services to 10,000 financial institutions in 212 countries worldwide and helps facilitate global business.

Since the inception of this revolutionary platform, it has been used for more than just financial transactions and instructions. Nowadays, you can send any reference data needed to complete an action - from making purchases at your favorite store to paying bills. The transactions include:

  • Trade 
  • Security
  • Treasury
  • System

Most SWIFT messages are still payment-based, 47% are for security transactions, and the remaining traffic is for trade, treasury, and system transactions.

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MBA ChitChat
The way it is designed, SWIFT can be used as an economic H-bomb.
Alex Rose
Great read! The SWIFT system is built on solid foundations, but I think the recent exclusion of Russia from the network (as warranted as that may be) demonstrates a flaw in the centralised design of the SWIFT system. Surely the lightning network which removes the need for intermediaries in cross border payments should become the way of the future? Do you agree?
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