SWIFT Benelux Forum 2017 looks at how to collaborate in an interconnected world
The SWIFT Benelux Forum 2017 brought together almost 120 senior representatives of the Benelux financial industry on 16-17 May to discuss a wide range of topics including the changing European Payments landscape, the ongoing challenges around financial crime compliance and how to defend our industry from cyber-attacks.
Opening the forum, Olivier Lens, Head of Benelux, SWIFT, welcomed the participants and explained that the agenda of this year’s event was designed to follow on from that of last year, whilst taking into account that in the meanwhile, some points of focus have changed.
Collaboration as a part of SWIFT’s DNA
Following on from Lens’ introduction, Christian Sarafidis, Chief Marketing Officer, SWIFT spoke about the relevance of the theme of the event to SWIFT and the SWIFT community. “Collaboration is embedded in SWIFT’s DNA,” he said, “and collaboration is the best way to foster innovation.” He then went on to share an overview of market trends, a recap of the cornerstones of the SWIFT 2020 strategy, and details of SWIFT’s priorities for 2017. Talking about market trends and drivers for change, Sarafidis talked about evolving societal demands, geopolitical challenges, ever increasing cyber threats, regulatory pressure, technological evolution and competition from new entrants, especially in the payments space.
Collaboration is embedded in SWIFT’s DNA.
Christian Sarafidis, Chief Marketing Officer, SWIFT
Moving on to SWIFT’s 2020 strategy, he explained that there are parts of the strategy that are more and less “visible,” likening it to the structure of an iceberg with a tip that is visible above the surface and a large mass of ice underneath. Amongst the more visible initiatives are the Customer Security Programme, the Financial Crime Compliance product portfolio, SWIFT gpi, ISO 20022 and real-time payments, but what’s under the surface is also extremely important - SWIFT’s core products and services, its undisputed five 9s promise and its unrivalled platform architecture.
In the last part of his speech, Sarafidis focused on SWIFT’s three main priorities for 2017: Security, internal and external; running and growing the business (operational performance, traffic growth) and; innovation and evolving the business (SWIFT gpi, market infrastructures, Financial Crime Compliance). “Security has always been high on our agenda but it has become even more important,” he stated, talking about the Customer Security Programme (CSP), which focuses on five mutually reinforcing strategic initiatives, and three related enablers - communications, community engagement and the development of an assurance framework.
Protecting the financial industry from cyber attacks
The next session focused on the Customer Security Programme and was introduced by Leo Punt, Deputy Chief Executive EMEA, SWIFT, who delivered a brief presentation on the CSP before introducing his panelists. The CSP aims to improve information sharing throughout the community, enhance SWIFT-related tools for customers and provide audit frameworks. “It’s not about being paranoid,” said Punt, “but about being vigilant and taking into account scenarios that can happen.” In this context, the CSP focuses on three mutually reinforcing areas: you, your counterparts and your community. On 12 April, SWIFT announced the Security Controls Framework, which requires customers to self-attest their state of compliance with a defined set of security controls by the end of 2017. The controls framework is based on 8 key principles and sets out 27 controls, of which 16 are mandatory and 11 advisory. Customer workshops on the CSP are being held throughout 2017.
It’s not about being paranoid, but about being vigilant and taking into account scenarios that can happen.
Leo Punt, Deputy Chief Executive EMEA, SWIFT
For the panel discussion that followed the introductory presentation, Punt was joined by Nicolai Boeckx, Advisor Financial Stability, National Bank of Belgium, Mark Buitenhek, Global Head of Transaction Services, ING, Jan De Blauwe, Global Security Manager, BNP Paribas Fortis and Chairman of Secursys, Febelfin, and Marc Hofmann, CISO, SWIFT. When asked whether, as an overseer he thought that the industry should be worried about cyber threats, Boeckx replied: “You should be very worried. The more worried you are, the more you will invest in cyber security.” He went on to say that cyber security is a topic that merits board attention and is finally getting it. He also stressed that cyber security is not just about technology but that it is about “the trinity of people, processes and technology.”
SWIFT has done a great job. We need to step up, this is just the beginning. All of the basics are there and SWIFT has the ability to drive a global programme that we, as regulators, are only happy to support.
Nicolai Boeckx, Advisor Financial Stability, National Bank of Belgium
Buitenhek explained that the industry is facing “advanced, persistent threats” and that as the financial ecosystem continues to open up, so do the opportunities for attacks, which is a concern. In light of this, Buitenhek stated that “cyber security is a journey, not a destination”. According to De Blauwe, “cyber is an area where we can collectively gain from collaborating together.” Sharing an interesting fact, and much food for thought, he went on to state that the size of the cyber crime business is currently that of the Benelux economies combined. Hoffmann added that cyber attackers work in global organisations that are fully resourced with experts and lawyers. “The more resources they have and the more knowledge they acquire, the more sophisticated the attacks will be,” he said. Talking about the governance process around the CSP, Buitenhek said that programme has the full backing of the Board of Directors. “SWIFT has done a great job. We need to step up, this is just the beginning,” he stated, whilst Boeckx confirmed that from an overseer’s viewpoint, the CSP controls fulfil expectations. “All of the basics are there and SWIFT has the ability to drive a global programme that we, as regulators, are only happy to support. This is why the CSP work sessions are being supported by central banks,” he said.
Cyber security is a journey, not a destination.
Mark Buitenhek, Global Head of Transaction Services, ING
Picking up on the collaboration theme, the panelists agreed that the financial industry still has a way to go to get to the levels of trust, transparency and information exchange that would be desirable. Hoffman also pointed out that cybersecurity is an ever moving target in which there is no end state, so the best that we can do is to connect the dots, stay ahead, detect areas of weakness and share information.
Financial Crime Compliance – towards an industry utility
The next topic on the agenda was Financial Crime Compliance, with a presentation by Luc Meurant, Head of Compliance, SWIFT.
Meurant started his presentation by looking at the main concerns that SWIFT hears from regulators and banks, and the reasons why, in a world in which financial crime is on the increase, where the costs of compliance are becoming prohibitive, complexity is growing, and regulators are becoming more and more demanding, a paradigm shift is needed. A shift that significantly increases efficiency and lowers costs, but not at the price of increased risk. This tipping point for utilities, Meurant said, is also recognised by the regulators, who are open to the approach and by large banks, which strongly support it.
“Compliance is a licence to play but not an opportunity to win business,” said Meurant, so utilities can play a major role. SWIFT’s ambition in the financial crime compliance area is to further expand its financial crime compliance product portfolio to build a compliance utility that will help banks to meet their ever-growing compliance challenges. He ran through SWIFT’s product portfolio for financial compliance and described the series of solutions that SWIFT has developed to increase compliance standardisation and efficiency while better managing related cost and risk.
Compliance is a licence to play but not an opportunity to win business.
Luc Meurant, Head of Compliance, SWIFT
“We want to fully embrace the needs of our users rather than cherry picking. As a cooperative with more than 10,000 members, we have a comprehensive approach towards your needs and want our solutions to be available to everyone over time – from small customers to very large customers,” said Meurant. Whilst this has major implications from a design and cost perspective, it is what SWIFT wants to do, he said, and it is all being done exclusively in the cloud. SWIFT’s vision is to have three interconnected utilities to leverage commonalities and data between them and to collect information on how the services are used, and how they can be further improved.
Meurant’s presentation was followed by a series of customer interviews moderated by Robert Schneider, Head of Compliance initiatives EMEA, SWIFT. Didier Hermans, Head of Back Office, Keytrade Bank, spoke about his experience with SWIFT’s Sanctions Screening product. Having faced a number of challenges with sanctions screening tools that his bank had used in the past, they were looking for a solution that was compliant and user friendly, online 24/7, met their data security requirements and struck the right balance between being easy to use and highly secure. There was also a requirement for the bank to be able to enrich the sanctions screening tool with their own lists, to have something that was as flexible, “portable” and plug and play as possible and that whilst being an “out of the box” solution, took away none of the bank’s responsibilities and control when it comes to managing its own business.
We are very much a buyer of the compliance utility approach. It meets the needs of both smaller and larger players. The community gets something out of it and it’s a win-win situation for everyone.
Didier Hermans, Head of Back Office, Keytrade Bank
Having decided that SWIFT’s Sanctions Screening ticked all of these boxes, Herman said that he was very pleasantly surprised with the speed at which they were able to implement. “From decision to implementation, it took us only a couple of weeks to be up and running. We have changed our infrastructure a couple of times since and it’s all gone very smoothly. Also, the value for money is good and we are happy with the price. It’s an easy product to use and very transparent. All of this enables me and my staff to really focus on what really matters – handling exceptions rather than spending time maintaining lists,” he said.
Speaking about the future and SWIFT’s compliance utility vision, he added: “I am very happy with what is there but will be even happier when all the products are interconnected. The next step for us is to evolve from sanctions to name validation and to things that are less transaction based. We are very much a buyer of the compliance utility approach. It meets the needs of both smaller and larger players. The community gets something out of it and it’s a win-win situation for everyone.”
The next customer testimonial was from Ton Versteeg, Vice President Get open, RaboBank who spoke about his institution’s experience with SWIFT’s Payments Data Quality (PDQ) tool. RaboBank already uses SWIFT’s Compliance Analytics, KYC Registry and Watch tools, and chose to pilot and then use PDQ to check the quality of its payments, mainly in the wholesale area, improve STP rates and monitor the performance of branches and agents.
“The PDQ tool has given us a clearer understanding of new regulations, has helped us to optimise our systems further, shown us that improvements could be made to CDD and record keeping, and helped us identify instances where we were using an MT103 when a 202 would have been more appropriate. We are not there yet in terms of full regulatory compliance but it’s work in progress and we are doing well,” reported Versteeg.
The last testimonial came from Nicolas Marinier, Chief Compliance Officer, East-West United Bank (EWUB). As Chief Compliance officer, responsible for making sure that the bank is compliant, Marinier was hired to rebuild the whole compliance department and structure from scratch. As part of this process, he chose to adopt SWIFT’s KYC Registry to solve its KYC and due diligence process challenges and eliminate the need to send out the same documents time and time again to different counterparties. “The KYC Registry centralises everything, enables me to keep things updated, reminds me of expiry dates and allows me to enrich data,” said Marinier. “It forces me to have all EWUB documents and data always up-to-date as the system is pushing for it and reminding me, it gives me more visibility on the market, gives other banks access to my data in one click,” he added.
The KYC Registry centralises everything, enables me to keep things updated, reminds me of expiry dates and allows me to enrich data.
Nicolas Marinier, Chief Compliance Officer, East-West United Bank
In addition to the value that The KYC Registry offers small banks such as EWUB, Marinier explained that the transparency that it offers is of great value for large organisations that are looking for reliable information on smaller organisations such as EWUB. It saves time on both sides and speeds up the KYC process significantly. About SWIFT’s utility vision for the future, he went on to say that things can be improved and sped up by having tools that are interconnected. “The utility would work wonderfully for me. A one stop shop is what we need,” he concluded.
An era of economic and political challenges
The second day of the forum opened with a keynote address by Bruno Colmant, Head of Macro Research and Executive Board Member, Bank Degroof Petercam, who ran through some of the basic issues that our economies face, including why growth rates remain so low, what money printing means, how it works, what the consequences are. “Contrary to what people think, the economy is still growing,” said Colmant. “Growth rates are lower than they were and they are insufficient to ensure full employment but there is still enough to ensure wealth in our economies,” he added.
Growth rates are lower than they were and they are insufficient to ensure full employment but there is still enough to ensure wealth in our economies.
Bruno Colmant, Head of Macro Research and Executive Board Member, Bank Degroof Petercam
Colmant attributed the low growth rates to two factors – the demographics of an aging population and decreasing productivity gains – which combined counter the effects of money printing. He went on to say that we are not seeing the growth that should come from the digital economy, although chances are that we will see a growth bubble at some point in the future. For now though, we do not see the outcome of human progress and we are also struggling with a significant increase in public debt. In the back of our minds we know that increased public debt means higher taxes at some point. Another problem is that inequality is on the rise and for every person getting richer there are nine getting poorer, which means that the middle class is shrinking rapidly and every day more people are falling into poverty than becoming rich.
Moving on to talk about the many crises that have happened in rapid succession since 2008, Colmant stated that the response was the wrong answer and whilst the United States started to print money and went to budget deficit, Germany pushed back on doing the same in Europe and only in 2015 did the ECB do the same and impose negative rates. Furthermore, public debt is huge, almost equal to 90% of EU GDP, but looks even worse if one adds pension commitments that take it to four to 5 times GDP. The main purpose of printing money is for the ECB to help governments and to avoid any of them going bankrupt. The result of this is that by next year, about 20% of public debt will have been discounted and hence neutralised by the ECB. Another result of printing money though is that the value of money decreases, although currently this risk is offset by a decrease of money velocity created by a savings mentality.
The fact is, said Colmant, we will continue to have low interest rates because our governments cannot afford higher rates. “As savers we are unhappy with that, but as tax payers we should be happy about it,” he added.
Looking at possible scenarios that could arise in the years to come, Colmant ran through what he called “the good, the bad and the ugly.” “Whatever scenario we end up in, we will have to muddle through”, said Colmant, “and in a nutshell, I think we can expect sluggish growth of our economies, with some monetary support that will be tapered at some point, and negative real interest rates in the long run.”
An evolving European payments landscape
The next session focused on the unprecedented changes that are happening in the EU payments landscape. To discuss the matter, Saskia Devolder, Head of EMEA North, SWIFT was joined by Gijs Schreuder, Head Get open and Business Management, ABN Amro and the Dutch NMG chairperson. Schreuder agreed that we are facing an unprecedented wave of change in the payments markets and stated that whatever scenario we end up with, there is no doubt that there is a lot of work to be done. “We live in very interesting times. We come from a period of 10 to 15 years where the front end of the banking industry is innovating, creating all kinds of new products. We have digital, the challenges of cyber, a reduction of cash…,” he said. With changing consumer demands, requirements for increased transparency, new technologies, cost reduction, new entrants and a tsunami of new regulation in Europe, including PSD2, there is no lack of challenges for the European banking industry.
“Banks are reshaping their own systems and facing the key questions of do I do things by myself, share, outsource, leave them to others? All developments are now starting to enter our market infrastructure world and we are looking at what we can do to facilitate and proactively start building new infrastructure to promote and enforce these developments on the commercial side,” added Schreuder.
One example of where the market infrastructures are starting to rebuild, reshape and create for the future, is instant payments. New rails are being created for new wagons, and market players will have to be prepared for that. “Instant payments are crucial. Online, real time, around the clock, every day is the new normal. One day to make a payment is no longer acceptable. There are new players who come up with solutions using our systems to do things in a better way. For me, instant payments are a no brainer and a no go is not an option. I’m curious to see what the impact will be on products and behaviour. But I am convinced that it will create new opportunities,” he said.
Moving on to talk about PSD2, Schreuder started by saying that he has “never seen such a challenging piece of regulation created for our industry.” In his view, whilst the key aspects of payments initiation services set out in the directive look good and are likely to force more harmonisation and more scale in Europe, the same cannot be said of the part on account information services, which leaves many open questions. “As a consumer I look at the figures for the Netherlands and each consumer has on average 1.1 bank accounts, which means that the vast majority of people don’t have multiple accounts. So I am puzzled about what there is to aggregate when it comes to account information and who wants to do what with this,” he said.
The benefits for the consumer are therefore far from obvious and there are also questions about trust and security when it comes to how things will work. “We rely on trust – consumers and commercial clients still see their bank as a trusted party to do business with and to store their money safely. So how will it work? And how will people deal with all the new services, security, assets, products if we as professionals already find it difficult? How will the consumer cope?” Schreuder added before conceding that it is however for our industry to be confronted with a need to be more open on the front end.
We rely on trust – consumers and commercial clients still see their bank as a trusted party to do business with and to store their money safely.
Gijs Schreuder, Head Get open and Business Management, ABN Amro
On innovation, Schreuder expressed his enthusiasm about SWIFT gpi because it has created the momentum for a strategic discussion about the future of correspondent banking. “It’s not an easy one. Things worked well for 20, 30, 40, 50 years but now the new developments are entering our world and challenging us to renew and prepare new things for the future. Gpi is a first step, but not the end state. I think that over time it will merge with instant payments somehow,” he explained. Last but not least, he gave his view on how to prioritise the many projects that banks have, saying that the key principle is that “everything we do should be secure, easy to use, reliable and open for new players. We should collaborate, invest and make use in a positive way of our investments in security.”
Opening things up
Following on from the European Payments discussion was a panel on open architecture in which Frank Nolden, Head of Products, PowerToPay, Geert Van Antwerpen, Policy Advisor, KBC bank NV and Frank Versmessen, Head of Regulatory affairs, SWIFT debated the advantages and challenges of developments such as open APIs, in a discussion moderated by Christian Kothe, Head of Markets & Initiatives EMEA, SWIFT.
Versmessen noted that regulators nowadays are now much more involved than they used to be and are making efforts to harmonise technology and use of standards, achieve greater transparency on what is happening in the industry, pushing for innovation and looking into DLT. It is good that they play a more active role, he said, but that this can create some dangers as they are not specialists and can come up with things that aren’t in line with best or industry practice.
Van Antwerpen was of the view that banks have embraced new technologies in the past and will continue to do so in the future. “Technology is not a threat for the banks,” he said. “What is threatening us are third parties that are using the technology and going after our customers. We have assessed the situation and banks are now redesigning their strategies and seeing how they can adapt their online banking systems to deliver multibank applications where a customer can see accounts that they hold with other banks.” He added that there are however concerns about data privacy and that compliance with GDPR on data protection is essential.
Nolden argued that any other organisations that enter the market should be regulated in the same way as banks to ensure a level playing field, but that increasingly banks are teaming up with smaller fintech companies to deliver combined solutions to the market that offer greater benefits and opportunities. Van Antwerpen added that the “evolution is going very quickly. We have less resources and a lot of partnerships are set up with fintechs and friendly third parties for offer new services to the market. Each bank has to decide for itself where it wants to position itself with regards to open banking - on one end those that don’t want to open up and on other end those that are fully open.”
As the conversation moved on to open APIs, the panelists agreed that despite the difficulties in implementation and in defining what one’s strategy is going to be, how much to open accounts up and whether or not to take the opportunity of the investments made to offer new services. Vermessen explained that the basic intentions of the legislators – to stimulate innovation, create a level playing field, make the banking experience richer, better, more convenient – are good. “If you want to play, you stick to the rules,” he said. “It should create a very dynamic ecosystem and a new type of environment where we have open architecture both on the front end and on the back end.”
PSD2 should create a very dynamic ecosystem and a new type of environment where we have open architecture both on the front end and on the back end.
Frank Versmessen, Head of Regulatory affairs, SWIFT
The last topic up for discussion was instant payments – what the business case is, the added value, how things will go and how quickly. Van Antwerpen was of the view that the investments in instant payments will not be covered by profits and are driven by customer expectations. “Customers expect immediacy” he said. “A customer can’t be convinced today that a digital process takes more than a day. Of course when you combine it with other things, add open APIs, payment initiation services by APIs in real-time, you are able to enhance the service that you can offer to your corporates. Banks will then start to compete with the third party service providers, and perhaps that is the golden grail and where the profits lie.”
Nolden added that customers want to “get rid of cut off times, have more processing over weekends and not stop. Instant payments may be good in some scenarios but I am not sure that it will ever bring banks enough benefits to offset the costs. The payback is difficult to calculate. Instant payments are not the holy grail but there is no doubt that more settlement cycles and a close to real time view on things are needed.”
SWIFT gpi – promise delivered, together
The last panel of the day looked at correspondent banking and the future of cross-border payments with SWIFT gpi. In his introductory remarks, Wim Raymaekers, head of gpi, SWIFT, delivered a gave a detailed view on the gpi journey and how far we have come since Sibos 2015 in Singapore, when a commitment was made to address the deficiencies in the correspondent banking model. Since then, Available since January 2017, more than 20 global transaction banks have begun actively using or implementing the SWIFT gpi service, with another 50 in the implementation pipeline. Hundreds of thousands of gpi payments have already been sent across more than 85 country corridors. Having started with mainly global banks, more regional players and domestic clearing banks are now joining, which is very promising.
To talk about their experience with SWIFT gpi were Bert Heylen, Group Treasurer, Agfa, Koen Thomassen, Manager Network Mgt & Transaction Filtering, ABN AMRO and Evelien Witlox, Global Head of PM Payments & Cards, ING. Talking about the expectations of corporates, Heylen said that their need is for payments to be easy to execute, cost efficient and straightforward. “Today they are complex to execute, we get incomplete payment information and it all creates a lot of stress and no certainty,” he added.
Witlox explained that ING is already live on SWIFT gpi, which is perfectly aligned with ING’s mission and vision to empower our clients to be successful in life and business. “With gpi we can make international payments faster, easier and more transparent for our clients,” she said. As the representative of ABN Amro that is also live on gpi, Thomassen stated that he is very proud of what his bank has done with gpi, which was deemed worth the investment by his management because it runs on proven technology and there was no doubt that it was achievable. He mentioned the unique payment reference number as one of the key benefits of gpi. “It took us about two months to do the development work. Then the client proposition and how to monetize the offering was more difficult. Our client desk needed support and would like to make the tracker information available to clients,” he explained.
Speaking about the future and the ramp up of banks and volumes on gpi, Witlox concluded that “We do foresee that in the future we will have the expectation that a payment is gpi end-to-end, and banks that are not on gpi will be cut out of the chain.”
We do foresee that in the future we will have the expectation that a payment is gpi end-to-end, and banks that are not on gpi will be cut out of the chain.
Evelien Witlox, Global Head of PM Payments & Cards, ING
40 years of SWIFT in Luxembourg
The last speaker of the day was Lysiane Back, ALMUS (SWIFT NMG) Chairperson, Luxembourg who is stepping down as the Luxembourg SWIFT Chairperson, after decades in the job and 40 years of experience working with the cooperative. In her speech, she reflected on the evolution of SWIFT and the financial industry over the last 40 years, highlighting key milestones along the way, such as the smooth migration from SWIFT 1 to SWIFT 2, the Euro migration and the updates required in the Y2K project. She spoke about the key role of SWIFT’s governance model in its success and the importance of the decision to involve the banks in the development of the company. “Remember that this approach of collaboration was not at all a common approach at that time,” she stated.
One thing that has been a hallmark of SWIFT over time, noted Back is trust. “SWIFT is trust and trust is one of the most important factors in business,” she said. She went on to give a critical appreciation of SWIFT’s current strategy and product portfolio, challenging the cooperative to keep a keen eye on time to market when delivering new solutions. She encouraged SWIFT to continue to keep up with the times, open up to new players, keep innovating and keep maintaining the same levels of enthusiasm and dynamism amongst its staff as it has had over the last four decades.
SWIFT is trust and trust is one of the most important factors in business.
Lysiane Back, ALMUS (SWIFT NMG) Chairperson, Luxembourg
She concluded her speech with a personal message to all those who have supported her over the years in her SWIFT NMG chairperson role, saying “Now it’s time for me to leave the SWIFT stage but I will not do that without a last personal message. Involved in SWIFT since 1977, I am proud to have been a part of this great and fantastic SWIFT family. I have met a lot of interesting people, made a lot of friendships over these 40 years and have been supported in an exemplary way by SWIFT as well as by the Luxembourg SWIFT community, the banking authorities in Luxembourg and by the managements of my bank. My gratitude goes to all those who have supported me in the mission of SWIFT Chairperson for Luxembourg.”
Joining the forum to thank Back for her services to the SWIFT community was Mark Gem, the SWIFT board member for Luxembourg, who referred to her as “probably the most famous of SWIFT chairspersons” and paid tribute to her 40 years of work by saying: “I think of you and of the SWIFT community. You embody that community. Any network is as strong as its governance and it is absolutely critical that we recognize what community means. It means challenging, speaking out, contributing and it means playing a critical role in a system of checks and balances that means that the network can be trusted and that it grows in a direction that its members and users want. Lysiane - thank you for your contribution. It has been a critical contribution to making SWIFT what it is today.”