March 18, 2009

No one seems to be immune to the effects of the world economic crisis—not even global payments messaging network SWIFT (Brussels/New York). During their opening remarks at the annual SWIFT Operations Forum Americas (SOFA) in New York this week, Americas managing director David Pryce and chairman Yawar Shah told the approximately 340 attendees that even SWIFT must start to buckle down to deal with changes in financial industry at large.

Reflecting on the theme of "Shaping the Future" from the 2008 SOFA, Pryce said, "No one could have predicted what happened in September of last year. It's having an impact on all of us."

According to Pryce, at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, SWIFT starting seeing slight negative growth of -4 percent to -5 percent. "It's not surprising," he said, "and things are not yet getting better."

The challenge for SWIFT and the industry is the uncertainty, stated Shah, who is also COO of Citi (New York). "Cost cutting dramatically is key." But he also added, "Servicing and retaining customers becomes even more important."

SWIFT is starting to feel the pinch too, said Shah. Even though the organization experienced a good deal of growth over the past decade, going forward, it must do some cost cutting of its own if it is to keep up with the realities of the market.

Cost control is among SWIFT's key priorities for 2009, said Pryce. However, it won't be quite as dramatic as what many banks must do. "We're looking to take 10 percent out of our infrastructure cost (or 50 million euros) over the next couple of years," he explained. "We have a program in place now to do this."

At the same time, Pryce said SWIFT does not want to move away from the reliability and performance of its network. Therefore, it will also continue to find ways to strengthen the systems, such as implementing a distributed architecture, so it is in shape to go forward.

Other areas SWIFT will concentrate on this year include traffic development to entice corporates to use the network more, such as offering different fee structures; extending its reach to get more people connected to SWIFT; and more community engagement through industry events, business forums and conferences.

"At the big picture level, we're looking at how SWIFT can further enable STP (straight-through processing) and offer a platform for growth, even in these economic times," said Pryce.

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