We went live with this about four years ago. We do have data centres now in India. We have about 27 clients now. We have five of the largest Indian corporates, the likes of TCS, Infosys, Mahindra & Mahindra, also on board, said Alain Raes.
Over time, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication’s (SWIFT) real-time payments service may enable cross-border retail payments to and from India, Alain Raes, chief executive EMEA and Asia Pacific at the organisation, tells Shritama Bose. Blockchain still has some way to go before it becomes scalable and cost-effective enough in a many-to-many environment, he adds. Excerpts:
How has life changed for SWIFT ever since the scam at Punjab National Bank broke?
The thing that you are referring to is, in a way, also revealing that the financial industry is changing very much because technology is changing very much and, obviously, technology is offering a lot of opportunities. The cyberspace sometimes ends up offering opportunities even to the bad guys and that is what happened. We realised that SWIFT had not been compromised, but the platform of the banks had been compromised. Over the years, banks haven’t paid enough attention, they haven’t actually invested enough in adapting their level of defence against cybercriminals to the growing experience and knowledge of those guys as well. We put together a very broad customer service programme that was designed to help the bank to raising their level of defence.
The PNB case was very different because there you are confronted with a pure banking fraud. It had nothing to do with cybercriminals. That also revealed some the weaknesses in the industry in India.
There has also been regulatory intervention on data storage, which ties in with the question of data sharing. All payment players in India will now have to store payment data within India. How are you going about that?
That is actually one of the reasons we looked into investing in this new venture we have called SWIFT India, which is a joint venture we launched five years ago with nine banks originally, including SBI, ICICI, HDFC and others. The venture is 55% owned by us and the rest is owned by the banks. The idea will really help to automate domestic transactions within the country. So it’s really about building in the country a messaging network with local data storage that can handle all kinds of domestic transactions — payments, treasury — essentially in the wholesale business.
We went live with this about four years ago. We do have data centres now in India. We have about 27 clients now. We have five of the largest Indian corporates, the likes of TCS, Infosys, Mahindra & Mahindra, also on board. Uptake had been slow in the beginning, but now there is a lot of momentum. It is important to know also that while we have a presence in 210 countries or so, this is the first time we have created a venture like this with local entities, the first time we have built data centres in a specific country for the purpose of that country’s business.
Blockchain for trade finance is something everyone has been talking about. What are your thoughts on that?
We are always interested in new technologies and developments. We are looking at the technology and testing it. We’ve been running a proof of concept. About 34 banks are testing the technology. We see immediately a lot of future and applicability, if you like, with technologies like API (application programming interface) rather than DLT (distributed ledger technology) so far. I have some doubts about how we can make it useful for the many-to-many environment that we have, given our client base of over 11,000. It must bring the right benefits, the right scalability and the right cost as well. What we’ve seen so far doesn’t always demonstrate this.
You offer a real-time payments system in parts of Asia. What is the scope for that in India?
That is a system we set up in Australia in response to a tender. The service is now seeing 80,000 payments per day. We have been adding to the platform a networking system, where you can pay anyone with aliases, such as a phone number or email id. We don’t have that kit here in India. We are looking at this on a case-by-case basis.You already have systems like UPI in India. It doesn’t make sense for us to come in and do exactly the same thing. While in India, there has been a lot of investment in retail payments, there has been less investment in overseas payments. Trade finance is still heavily paper-driven in India and that is where we are playing a role. Eventually, I am not saying we are doing this, but, someday we may see that it will be possible for someone sitting in, say, Belgium to send money directly to your bank account within five minutes. That can be made possible through our gpi (global payments initiative) over time.