Waltz This Way – Sibos Preview

Vienna, a city of culture renowned for music, theatre and opera, will be hosting this year’s SIBOS, the user conference of the Brussels-based financial messaging co-operative SWIFT. Palace balls, white wine spritzers and strudel will abound as over 7,000 financial services professionals gather to network and do business.

Most participants view SIBOS as one of the most important events of the year to meet with clients and prospects from around the world because all the top-level decision makers are gathered in one place. The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), for example, intends to have a substantial presence with close to 50 representatives on its stand.

As of mid-August, there were 6,380 delegates registered for Vienna, with representatives from the UK outnumbering the US by three to two. Gottfried Liebbrandt, head of markets at SWIFT, believes that the numbers will be close to those of last year’s SIBOS in Boston, which attracted 7,260 delegates. The current market climate, however, may mean there is lower attendance from fund managers – so far only 150 have signed up to the investment management forum compared to over 200 last year.

SIBOS attracts a fair spread of market participants. Last year, 41.9% of participants came from a commercial banking environment, 30.3% came from a software supplier or consultancy, while corporates made up 4.5% of the total number. In terms of primary market focus, 43.1% were involved in payments, 23% in securities and 16.8% in cash management. Even though it was held in Boston, the Europeans dominated the event, with 49% of the participants, while the Americas made up 34.5%.

Instead of the grand maxims of previous years, such as ‘raising ambitions’ or ‘gaining momentum’, this year the SIBOS plenary panels will be debating the big issues affecting the industry such as: financial systemic risk; the shift of economic power from west to east both in terms of central and eastern European countries and Asia; and what keeps CEO awake at night? Regulatory issues, such as the single euro payments area (SEPA) and the Payment Services Directive, will also be high on the agenda, as well as standards initiatives – this is the fifth year that the standards forum will be open so delegates can find out more about standards and contribute to the discussion.

SWIFT Embraces Corporates as Part of the Community

Although corporates are small in number in terms of attendance at the conference, their voice within the SWIFT community is getting a lot of airtime. This is the second year in a row that SIBOS will include a dedicated corporates forum – a two-day event bringing together corporates, the financial community and vendors to address issues in the corporate-to-bank space.

The corporate forum attempts to address the needs of treasurers such as Alex Harris, group treasurer for Virgin Atlantic, who last year said: “Corporates want advice from banks on the most effective communications solutions. We’re looking for guidance. We want to work in collaboration.” One panel, ‘Extending the value for corporates’, is dedicated to this topic and will explore how corporates and banks can work in harmony to bring new value beyond traditional treasury and cash management services.

“Based on feedback from last year,” says Luc Meurant, head of corporate access, SWIFT, “the programme has been extended to explore banking services on SWIFT beyond cash, such as trade and exceptions and investigations.” The needs of mid-sized corporates will also be addressed. Other sessions include ‘ISO 20022: it’s time for adoption’ and ‘Making a compelling case to join SWIFT’; plus there will be a number of practical case studies from Daimler, Dow, T-Mobile, GE and Nokia.

Campos Lives Up to Promise on New Offerings

The corporate forum is an important step forward in fulfilling CEO Lázaro Campos’ vision of a more inclusive network. As part of his strategy, SWIFT will also look at relaxing the criteria for SCORE at its board meeting in September at SIBOS – presently only those corporates listed on a regulated stock exchange in a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) member country. SWIFT is also starting to tailor the onboarding process to corporates, so that corporates get the support they need delivered in a language they understand.

In Boston, Campos outlined some of the issues still outstanding for SWIFT, such as the perception that it is too expensive, too complicated to sign up with and connect to. He claimed that Swift has these issues in its sights and is moving towards solutions, and outlined his concept of a more user-centric organisation. “By the middle of next year, if low cost connectivity and simplicity is what you want, it will be available. Streamlined processes and a new light interface are part of a new proposition,” he said.

At SIBOS 2008, the consortium is launching Alliance Lite, which is touted as ‘SWIFT access on a USB stick’. It claims to address three needs of new low-volume customers: reduced software footprint, low total cost of ownership through a new pricing model, and an easy on-boarding and subscription process. Although it is aimed at the 70,000 smaller financial institutions across the globe, SWIFT is in the process of ordering a version for corporates, according to Liebbrandt.

This might be what corporates are looking for to remove the complexity and inefficiencies of multiple connections to their banks.

gtnews at SIBOS

gtnews will publish a daily blog from SIBOS, which will include reportbacks from sessions, important news announcements, as well as the ‘buzz’ on the ground from corporate treasurers. You can read the highlights and blogs at http://gtnews.afponline.org/.

We will also be conducting video interviews with industry leaders and panel speakers such as Ed Barrie, group manager, Microsoft’s Treasury Department; Dennis Sweeney, deputy treasurer, GE; Olivier Brissaud, chairman of the European Association of Corporate Treasurers (EACT); and Luc Meurant of SWIFT, plus others. The interviews will be posted on our multimedia site at http://gtnews.afponline.org/video.cfm.

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