What is SWIFT gpi and why is it important?
The need for speed, traceability and transparency in cross-border payments expressed by corporates was one of the banking industry’s unfinished businesses. The widespread adoption of the SWIFT gpi service has transformed the cross-border payments experience.
The SWIFT bank-to-bank communication protocol, an acronym for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, is a messaging network that financial institutions use to transmit information and payment instructions globally. They do so using a secure and standardised system. Although there are alternative systems, such as the Russian SPFS or the Chinese CIPS, these are still in the minority.
Despite the popularity of the SWIFT protocol, the increasing globalisation and digitisation of international trade revealed some of the system’s shortcomings. Slowness, delays, errors, lack of transparency and high transfer fees were common customer complaints.
To address these shortcomings, SWIFT introduced the Global Payment Innovation (gpi) service in early 2017. Within the first year of its launch, 30% of international cross-border payments were sent via SWIFT gpi, and by 2020 this had risen to 70%.
Speed, traceability and transparency
It is a protocol that adds a tracking process through a unique reference code, similar to that applied when sending or receiving a parcel by courier. It, therefore, provides a real-time view of the transfer, from sending to receiving the funds. Initially, only banks have direct access to this information, but it can be passed on to customers on request.
The ability to share this additional information with customers not only improves the customer experience but, according to SWIFT, eliminates manual intervention and saves on resource costs by reducing customer enquiries. Even so, the costs, fees and deductions applied by intermediaries are known in detail to all parties.
On the other hand, the real-time payments system – half of SWIFT’s gpi payments are paid in less than 30 minutes and all in less than 24 hours – makes it less likely that banks will ‘hold’ customer money for hours or days until it is credited to the recipient’s account, and makes it easier for a large proportion of payments to be made on the same day.
This is the key to the success and potential evolution of this technology. The rapid adoption of SWIFT gpi by financial institutions should translate into a win-win situation, providing users with direct, real-time access to gpi information without requiring a call to the bank, thus empowering the customer.
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