Anyone who has attended a Sibos conference or similar payments meeting will have heard the buzz about ISO 20022 for years. The idea is that this will unite the global banking industry with a new standard for all payments messages. What is ISO 20022?
ISO 20022 is best described as the future of financial messaging, and it is used not just in Swift but across the industry. It is already the most widely used financial message globally, with adoption accelerating rapidly.
The messages it replaces are often more than 40 years old, and the common structure and dictionary make it the “lingua franca” of payments.
Given that Swift is the largest global cross-border payment network, it is no surprise that it has mandated all 11,000 member banks migrate to the ISO 20022–based MX format by 2025. Having said that, I’ve renamed ISO 20022 to be ISO 20023 as it’s taken so long to implement. More than this, many banks aren’t even ready for it.
So it interested me to see some new research by Celent into this area, especially as it’s written by a good old friend Gareth Lodge. Here’s the executive summary:
THE INDUSTRY THOUGHT BANKS ARE STRUGGLING
THE SURVEY HIGHLIGHTS THE SCALE OF THE CHALLENGE LEFT
There are Benefits to ALL Banks Have Struggled to Migrate
Despite the long timeline, banks have struggled to migrate for many reasons. It’s not just that it’s technically challenging: not every bank sees the need to migrate or sees the benefit to their bank.
Our survey showed that globally just 72% of banks will be ready by the November 2025 deadline. In North America, this fell to just 56%. If this latter percentage is extrapolated across the industry, that would mean nearly 5,000 banks would miss the deadline.
It may be an even worse situation. Approximately 100 banks account for the more than 70% of volumes. Should any of these key banks miss the deadline, the impact will be far greater. Payments are a two-sided business and require both sides to be ready.
Even Those Who Will Be Ready, Might Not Be
It’s not just about being ready in time but how the banks have approached the migration. And here lies a major issue. Just 36% of banks globally said that they had taken the opportunity “to look as comprehensively as possible, and future proof as much as possible.”
The reasons for not being ready in time are varied, with technology or budget constraints being the most cited. But globally 13% chose this approach because they either couldn’t provide the benefit to their clients or simply didn’t see the benefit at all.
Corporates Are Even More Pessimistic
The survey asked corporates about their perception of their banks readiness, as well as how well their bank had kept them informed. Most corporates are multibanked, with the average in our survey being 10 banking relationships, with 5% having more than 30. Given their relationships, corporates may be best placed to judge readiness.
Banks stated a global average suggesting 72% industry readiness. While larger corporates are more positive, at 68%, globally they are less positive than banks. Indeed, only 3% believe the industry will be 100% ready. But optimism tails off with the size of the corporate. The average of those corporates below $15 bn in revenues is just 59%.
BANKS DON’T MAKE PAYMENTS FOR FUN
MOST PAYMENTS ARE FOR BANK CLIENTS, AND THEY CARE ABOUT THE MIGRATION
There are Benefits to ALL Corporates Need to Migrate As Well
Corporates need to migrate as well—they need to be able to both create and receive the additional data. Yet 15% of corporates globally with revenues above $15 bn say their main bank has still to tell them the migration is even happening! And 19% of North American corporates report that their bank has told them about the migration but that they don’t need to do anything at all.
Despite this, many corporates have been getting ready. Collectively, Celent estimates that banks and corporates globally will have spent over $2 trillion. But with many banks and corporates doing the bare minimum, it is likely that this number will continue to rise, as they retrospectively address the issues that this creates.
There are Many Benefits
Despite what some banks feel, corporates believe that everyone, including their bank, would benefit. Indeed, Corporates were broadly positive throughout and far more so than the banks in their region. Seven percent of North American corporates reported they believed it was mainly corporates that would benefit.
If banks don’t see the benefit, even in the long term, it is little wonder they have taken the approaches they have and that they have low levels of engagement with their clients.
There is a warning to banks, though. Globally, 10% of corporates are already making contingency plans as they are unsure if their banks will be ready, and some are going further and would swap banks if their bank wasn’t ready.
Banks may lose customers as a result. The flip side is that readiness could be a competitive differentiator for banks.
READY OR NOT, HERE IT COMES: THE CALL TO ACTION
Bring Everyone Along
This builds on the previous point that corporates need to be able to send and receive the full ISO 20022 message. But that requires all the solution providers that the corporate works with—from ERP vendors to Treasury Management Solutions—to change their technology too. In our survey, only one corporate reported that they first heard about the migration from someone who isn’t from a bank.
Given that many other financial messages, such as e-invoicing, are moving to ISO 20022 as well, getting the whole ecosystem on board multiplies the benefits for all.
Get to the Finish Line As Quickly As Possible
There are three parts to this. First, banks need to be ready. Without the banks, corporates can’t get the benefits. Second, engage the corporates. While corporate migration is not mandatory like in SEPA, the benefits only accrue if everyone is on board. Third, start identifying and addressing the gaps. Those banks who have taken anything but the fullest approach will need to undertake remedial work just to get the benefits from the Swift migration. Without doing so, it will be impossible to get the benefits from ISO 20022 more broadly, such as a single customer view.
Actively Pursue the Benefits
Understandably, the focus has been on getting to the finish line. But it’s important that banks and corporates don’t lose sight of the benefits of adopting ISO 20022. If they do, they will lose the compass that should be guiding them. Simply put, if you don’t seek the benefits, it’s unlikely you’ll find them all, if at all. There is a very real danger that the industry will have spent a huge amount of money just to get the bare minimum of improvements.
DETAILS ABOUT THIS RESEARCH:
ISO 20022 is rapidly becoming the financial messaging standard, with projects in many countries and in many payment rails. One of the most significant is the migration of the Swift MT standard to MX.
It’s a challenging project to say the least, with deadlines looming. So how has the industry approached the migration, how ready will they be, and what do they perceive the benefits to be? To address these questions, and many more, Celent conducted a significant program of primary research. The Celent ISO 20022 Readiness Survey ran from August to September 2022 and captured the perspectives and insights from not just senior executives at 211 banks across the globe but also their clients. In addition to the bank survey, we also polled 211 corporates in the same countries.
The research ran in two waves:
- Banks – We surveyed senior executives at 211 banks in 22 countries. These institutions ranged from at least $50 bn in assets to over $500 bn in assets.
- Corporates – In this part of the research, we surveyed senior executives at 211 corporates with greater than $100 million in revenue who currently used Swift.
Respondents were asked a range of questions, including:
- How much had they spent in preparing for the migration?
- How had they approached the migration and why?
- What were the challenges they had faced, and what might have helped?
Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...