I spoke to Graham Bright who was around in 1985 at Sibos. We caught up on what Sibos was like then…

Graham Bright

“I joined SWIFT as part of the 5 man global sales team in 1985, so SIBOS in Brighton was my first … and of course it was memorable…I stayed for 20 years, attended 23 SIBOS events across the world- pioneering days … no mobile phones, paper based processes, no internet … “

SIBOS in  Brighton 1985

  • Bricks and mortar banks with decentralised international branches, and many players that no longer exist.
  • No mobile/smart phones or internet
  • Many correspondent relationships and Nostro accounts, none with soon to be common EUR currency 
  • Reliance in some jurisdictions on telex
  • Manual systems and interfaces – few mainframe connections
  • ST100 interface phased out (built on Texas 8-inch floppy disk systems)
  • Introduction of sleek Unisys based modular ST200 with 10 or 20 MB drives.
  • Introduction of DEC based ST400 (with colour screens!) supporting multiple addresses and mainframe links (2780 batch and real-time 3270 protocol)
  • SWIFT Cutover expansion plans for Africa and eastern Europe
  • ISO 7775 message standards

What were the key themes of Sibos 1985?

The conference was named “The Management of Change”. Unlike the packed SIBOS diary agenda of today with off-site and unique events throughout the event vying for attention from over 11000 attendees, SIBOS 1985 was an altogether more sedate affair with less than 1500 attendees and a small exhibition, concentrating on the key SIBOS meaning; a Business Operations Seminar for Banks. 

As I recall SIBOS that year consisted of 4 elective interest “Streams” namely
1 – Retail payments
2- FX
3- Trade
4- Cash Management/Nostro. 

Key issues for discussion within the streams were Transition banking, retail payments and increasing the overall global reach of SWIFT, lowering correspondent payment costs through better-managed correspondent relationships.

Not yet high-level discussions on cyber-crime, risk, due diligence or compliance – more about improving the length of SWIFT keys from 8 ASCII characters to 16, tougher line security by use of STEN encryption and migrating from paper-based 2-part couriered correspondent keys to electronic means, automating Nostro reconciliation and understanding more about traffic flows.

A new phenomenon, “Stream 5” was also noted that year: where conferenced out weary bankers could ignore the sessions, and indulge in the sun, sand and sea sitting on striped deckchairs on Brighton’s famous beach. SWIFT even provided a souvenir handkerchief with instructions to be knotted at the corners and worn on the head to protect from hopeful sunshine.


Such was the shortage of quality hotels, (not helped by the bombing of the Grand Hotel) bankers visited on day trips from London, with the nearest airport for foreign attendees some 28 miles away.  indeed international  companies had to sample the delights and foibles of Brighton landladies in small B&B hotels. Of note, the SWIFT farewell party had a very British theme, namely a replica Victorian “End of the Pier show”, with traditional games, a beer tent and band.

Vendors, with long gone names from the past included Braid, Alemand, Stratus and Burroughs. And remember Manufacturers Hanover Trust, Continental Illinois, Chemical Bank, Bankers Trust and even Midland Bank.

What has changed since?

The world of finance has moved on significantly, with a more protected network, threats of cybercrime, banking the unbanked, mobile account access, increased de-risking, mergers, enormous bank fines for wrongdoing, ubiquitous constant regulatory burdens and more staff than ever involved in compliance activity. Margins are tighter, interest rates have plummeted, rise of crypto is challenging fiat currencies, and real-time payment providers are snapping at the heels of SWIFT, where even latest technology and ability to deliver in minutes is viewed as legacy.

SIBOS has grown significantly and changed focus.
Scale: number of connected parties and rising number of SWIFT participants and traffic volumes coming together to improve business operations, look at new technologies and how to mitigate risk. 1985 statistics show less than 2500 global customers in less than 70 countries with traffic of approx. 250 million per year. Today, SWIFT carries over 32 million messages per day serving 11000+ customers in over 200 countries.

Type of companies:  Not only banks but securities houses, fund managers, trade specialists and alternative finance providers now provide the core of participants, with interest from Fintechs and start-ups unheard of 5 years ago. From humble beginnings with a limited exhibition, SIBOS now boasts a Discover Zone featuring more than 100 Fintechs, SWIFT labs, a dedicated Innotribe stage and developer park, and traditional exhibition hall for over 200 financial institutions.

Discussions topics: From transaction banking to Artificial intelligence, IoT and blockchain, looking at business enablers (such as DLT) making the provider infrastructures more secure, robust and technically interconnected, leading to better customer experience through blockchain and electronic data digitalisation across all business sectors. Companies and capabilities providing a long-awaited ability for seamless, frictionless payments in real-time to any jurisdiction, unencumbered by correspondent bank hops, outdated process and technological legacy.

Peripheral activity:In addition to the scheduled conference and ever-growing exhibition, dedicated groups, regional and national meetings, spin off events and special interest discussions have created an unmissable week in the financial calendar, not only for its original target of banks, but now serving all parts of the financial ecosystem

Where do you think Sibos will be in 20 years time?

The range and size of SIBOS is already restricting the possible locations for such an event.

From the staggering costs of travel to entry fees and sustenance for the week-long event, moving 11000 delegates across the world with massive carbon footprint is no longer environmentally feasible or friendly. Although nothing beats the shake of the hand, recognition of counterparts from across the globe, building lasting touchy-feely relationships, seeing technology in person and gaining group experience from targeted seminars with industry-leading speakers and practitioners, technology today is of such as standard and availability that high-def broadband video-based conferencing techniques, even with AI participants are sure to become more popular.

SIBOS deserves to be around in 20 years. But, it may well be delivered in a different format. Perhaps keynotes will be pre-recorded, with country delegates able to assemble in a single prime location allowing a local feel for meetings but with opportunities to join conference groups, therefore allowing more people to access more content in real-time. This will engender an inclusive conference experience rather than a detached webinar feel.

Future SIBOS events will feature more alternative financing providers such as insurers, hedge funds and successful investors, more Fintechs able to move quickly without PSD2, MiFID or Basle III restrictions. 

A greater focus will be made on corporate and individual identity, tools to identify and mitigate risk, applications that improve client experience.  Vendors with toolkits – i.e.  solutions and enablers looking for a problem needing consultancy and additional management services are not well liked by today’s ‘must have it now ‘ digital-savvy generation who will be the prime audience for SIBOS in 2040.  

Blockchain technology and Open Banking will not be on the agenda either as their integration will be commonplace, but cryptocurrency challenges and potential to displace main currencies for inter-country trade, especially for nations unable to compete internationally through high FX costs and sanctions, will continue to take centre stage.  No doubt by then, innovative vendors will have thought up new acronyms and projects that can only satisfied by them.