First of all, are there alternatives to Telegraphic Transfer Payments via the SWIFT¹ network?
The answer is yes, but it depends on what your priorities are. Each one has their own set of advantages and can be great alternatives. Most importantly, they are all borderless. With that being said, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of the alternatives to SWIFT payments and the future of the SWIFT Network.
What are the advantages of transacting through SWIFT?
Since its establishment in 1973, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) has been the standard for international payments. Today, over 11,000 banks and financial institutions use this messaging network to communicate. And in 2022, the SWIFT network recorded an average of 44.8 million messages per day.
It’s safe to say that the SWIFT network is still the big brother in global remittance even after half a century.
This is not surprising either, because the SWIFT network operates in over 200 countries and ensures all payments are authentic, unaltered, and legally binding. At its core, this network enables international payments to be accountable, accessible, and transparent.
What is driving businesses to look for alternatives?
In short, faster processing times.
Funds often need to be routed through several banks within the network and a complex process of verification before reaching its destination. Accordingly, a standard global payment takes an average of two to five days to complete.
Funds also are routed through intermediary banks, which adds to the cost.
5 best alternatives to SWIFT for global transfers
Today, businesses have the choice of using alternatives to the SWIFT network for their global transfers. As different businesses have different needs, there is no solution which is better than the other.
Let us look at each of them and find out what their unique value proposition is.
Sending money abroad using cryptocurrencies has become increasingly popular due to its cost-effectiveness and efficiency. This process involves using crypto wallets, neobanks, or crypto-integrated FinTech platforms to convert between fiat currencies and cryptocurrencies. More technically, this process is known as “on-ramp” and “off-ramp”.
This not only applies to popular decentralised currencies such as Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH) but also central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) issued by central banks. These currencies, which are built on blockchain technology, enable users to transact securely on a point-to-point basis across borders in real-time. Above that, the settlement is also near-instantaneous as it does not require any intermediaries.
On the contrary, here is the price to pay for crypto’s speed and transparency:
- Protection – Although blockchains provide a robust defence for crypto transactions, users are still vulnerable to various frauds as it remains an unregulated market. In practice, even the money lost due to a technical malfunction during a transaction may be hard to recoup. And some businesses are not willing to accept this trade-off.
- Usability – The crypto industry is still finding ways to achieve mass adoption. Keyword: still. Until then, most users must turn their cryptocurrencies into fiat currencies before spending any of them.
- Volatility – Cryptocurrencies are notorious for their fluctuant nature. One day, the coins in your wallet may be worth $1,000 USD, but the next, they might only be worth $800. This makes it tremendously hard for any businesses to transact in crypto.
A local transfer is a process of sending money to a recipient’s local bank account through a network of financial institutions. Local transfers are a more direct approach that gets the money transferred from account A to account B. Consequently, this shortens the processing and settlement period.
In addition, local payment routes do not incur the international payment fees that are typically charged on telegraphic transfers, hence reducing the cost of transactions overall.
An example of a local transfer is an Automated Clearing House (ACH) transfer, which allows bank-to-bank transfers through the Automated Clearing House Network.
SEPA, short for Single Europe Payments Area, is often referred to as the European SWIFT network, as the main difference between these networks is its geographical scope. SWIFT supports international transfers across the world while SEPA only supports transfers in the Eurozone. In comparison with SWIFT’s gargantuan network of over 200 countries, SEPA only has 36 member states.
To make a SEPA payment, users only need a Euro account and the International Bank Account Number (IBAN) of the recipient; no need for a Bank Identifier Code (BIC). This makes SEPA more convenient and hassle-free in comparison with SWIFT, which requires detailed information about the bank and beneficiary.
Having said that, SEPA payments face the issue of processing time (which can take up to three days) and a high transaction cost.
In 2015, China launched the Cross-Border Interbank Payments System (CIPS) to promote the use of renminbi for international trade settlement. This system provides clearing and settlement services that connect both onshore and offshore clearing markets and participating banks.
As of May 2023, CIPS has a total of 1441 members with 80 as Direct Participants and 1361 as Indirect Participants.
- Direct participants – Participants who have opened an account in the CIPS and communicate directly through the CIPS.
- Indirect participants – These are the participants who have indirect services provided by the CIPS through direct participants.
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the daily volume of CIPS averages about ¥385 billion yuan ($45.6 billion USD).
Here’s the difference that separates CIPS from other alternatives: CIPS wasn’t designed to replace SWIFT. Instead, it collaborates with SWIFT and uses SWIFT-compatible messages on high-value global renminbi transactions.
Russia’s System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SFPS) has been in development by its central bank since 2014. Similar to other messaging systems, members of this network can send and receive financial messages.
This system is built to create and process documents in UFEBS (Unified Formats of Electronic Banking Messages) and MT formats, which are comparable to SWIFT’s messaging formats.
Despite having existed for over eight years now, the network only consists of roughly 400 members. This is largely owed to the fact that the majority of international banks refused to join the SPFS due to political reasons such as fearing Western sanctions.
🔑Read more: What is the MT103 Document?
What are the impacts of choosing alternatives?
As we speak, the US dollar is still the dominant world reserve currency used in an estimated 88% of the world’s trade, according to a report from the Bank for International Settlements. But, if the alternatives such as CIPS and SPFS continue to expand, it poses a de-dollarisation threat and the US dollar may gradually lose its grip on the world economy.
China has the ambition to make its currency, the Yuan, the dominant world reserve currency, but t it still has a long way to go due to the tight foreign exchange controls over its value. Not just that, it also isn’t fully convertible to other global currencies.
Russia, on the other hand, has begun demanding energy payments in its local currency, Ruble. With this, the rise of an alternative currency for the industry may cause knock-on impacts on the dollar-denominated world trading system.
The future of SWIFT payments
Competition to set new global payment standards is certainly heating up. Amidst these developments, SWIFT continues to innovate and integrate new features such as the SWIFT gpi (Global Payments Innovation). This initiative combines the traditional SWIFT messaging and banking system with a new set of rules, including transparency of fees, end-to-end payment tracking, and confirmation of credit to the recipient’s account.
In time, these will contribute to faster transactions and greater transparency.
How Wallex can help you with global payments?
If you’re looking for a global payment service provider, check out our cross-border payment solution, which supports payments via both SWIFT² and Local transfers. We strive to deliver payments in the shortest possible time with real-time tracking and at market-beating costs. Please reach out to our bespoke customer support team here or sign up for an account here.
² Wallex enables customers to perform SWIFT transfers via our network of banking partners.
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