ISO 20022

ISO 20022 For Trade, Treasury & Payments

ISO 20022 For Trade, Treasury & Payments

ISO 20022 is the new global language for payments messaging, helping make the quality of data, richer, structured and more meaningful. The payments industry continues to change rapidly and is certainly something that is discussed by most heads of treasury and trade. There is a constant need to adopt global standards within the financial community, and ISO 20022 is one standard that’s taking the lead.

Introduction to ISO 20022

ISO 20022 Podcast

ISO 20022

Trade Finance Global’s Editor, Deepesh Patel spoke to Saqib Sheikh, Global Head of ISO 20022 at SWIFT on Trade Finance Talks.

SWIFT Messaging Types – An Introduction

DP: Saqib in no more than 30 seconds, can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do at SWIFT?

SS: At SWIFT, I lead our team of standards, technology and product specialists and we aim to introduce ISO 20022 to correspondent banking and payments. So we have a mandate from our community to move to a new language of payments over the next four to five years. And my team and I support that transition.

DP: Great. Thank you. So before we get into the details of ISO, what are SWIFT Messaging Types? And why are they currently needed within the financial services ecosystem?

SS: So a little bit about SWIFT. SWIFT is a member-owned organisation, and we have two broad mandates. One is we provide a platform for exchange or control transactions between our members and their customers. But we also have the mandate of setting the standard for the language with which people speak on that platform. And we’ve been doing that for over 45 years. So we, on behalf of the international organisation of standardisation, support and act as a registration authority for a variety of financial standards. So one is in the areas of security standards, and another is business identifier codes.

The third is Legal Entity Identifiers, and one of them is MTs (or message types). And there are nine categories such message types across different business domains across payments, securities, trade, FX, and others. And this is a message format that participants on the network have to create. If they want to transact with one another. There’s a very specific way that that happens. And there’s guidelines and specifications that dictate what those messages should look like. That’s essentially what SWIFT’s MTs (or message types) are.

SWIFT Messaging Types Explained

The Evolution of SWIFT MT to ISO 20022

DP: Thanks very much for explaining that. So SWIFT MT is moving over to ISO 20022 as at the end of 2021. What is ISO 20022?

SS: ISO 20022 is an evolution of the SWIFT MT messages. It’s the next generation of financial standards that were defined close to 15 years ago. It was born out of the need for two things, primarily. One is – something that was future proof. We didn’t have to keep changing our formats every few years. And something that was rich and structured and consistent across business domains. So whether you’re a corporate or a bank, or a market infrastructure, or a trade organisation, the same terminology, the same language is being used consistently across the ecosystem. So ISO 20022 provides two things:  One is – there’s a common dictionary that can be used across the parties, and a recipe for making new message types. So, whether we’re using XML, in traditional financial messaging, or in the future for open banking with supporting APIs, or we will have a new structure for DLT, for example. There’s always one way of referring to data. And there’s one way of creating messages for those different use cases.  The second is the format of the messages.

So ISO 20022 is commonly instantiated in XML (or an Extensible Markup Language), but it can also be in JSON, or API’s, for example. So it’s not just the message structures. It’s also a way in which you produce these financial messages. And what’s happening in November 2021 is, given that all the major reserve currencies are moving to ISO 20022, their high value payment systems are going to be adopting the new standard in the next two to three years. Our community felt it’s now the right time to be moving the cross border leg of those payments to the new standard to ISO 20022. So we start the year before the coexistence period. It’s not a big bang. But we will support both the legacy formats and the new formats for a period of four years. So people over time can start using those new messages. And then in November 2025, the idea is will deactivate the older standards and ISO 20022 will become the de facto way in which payments are done.

DP: Thank you Saqib, and I guess it is good to understand more and we can talk more on the four year transition period a bit later. So what is SWIFT’s exact involvement with the global standard because obviously, ISO, the international organisation standards, sits very separately to SWIFT itself. And then I guess moving on from that, what are the benefits of SWIFT’s members moving over to ISO 20022.

SS: SWIFT is the official registration authority for ISO 20022. If you go to that’s the website where all the message specifications are being published for the new standard. And again, they’re across business domains, the payments, the securities, most recently, their card messages also. Behind that website is really SWIFT, facilitating the definition of those standards. So there’s a change management process where anybody in the financial community can submit a request for a new message or change to an existing message. And SWIFT will facilitate a review process and a publication process so that those standards are being maintained. That’s how we’re supporting from a standards organisation perspective the financial standards and the ecosystems that use them.

Now, why is ISO20022 being used in the first place? Well, because it is a richer format. Because SWIFT MT messages, the older formats are limited in space. And they’re commonly being used without structure. So there are free form versions of those messages. People just use them kind of like email, put in whatever they think is appropriate for the counterparties. It can be an inefficient way to communicate with financial institutions. There’s room for missing information, misinterpretation, delays in processing because people have to interpret it differently, and ultimately poor customer experience. Yet, with ISO 20022 what we’ve been doing is not only defining new message types, also working with the banking industry on how ISO20022 should be used specifically in the context of cross border payments. So we have 12 to 14 top payment banks advising us on the usage guidelines for these new ISO20022 messages. So which fields are we going to lockdown? Which fields are mandatory? How should we populate them? How should we interpret them? And we’re publishing those usage guidelines for cross border payments. And what that should result in is that you have payments that are much richer, they have more party details.

So compliance operations at the bank, and supervised financial institutions should improve over time because you have more data with which to do sanction screening and money laundering checks. With more structured data and mandatory data, it should become more efficient over time to process payments. What we observe and what we hear from our community is that up to 10% of cross border payments require some form of manual intervention, which is expensive, which is slowing down the processing of that payment, that 10% should go down. And then I think the most important part is with more space for data, we can carry customers own information alongside the payment instruction.

Today, what commonly happens is you get a payment instruction and you get settlement payment. But the purpose of the payment – Why did I make that payment in the first place? – is often missing, and importers and exporters have to share that information out of bank. And there’s a very complex series of reconciliation that ended up happening for both those parties to post that payments and realise the benefits of why that payment was made in the first place. So improved efficiency, speed, improved compliance, and ultimately better customer experience is what ISO 20022 should be affording everybody.

ISO 20022 & Cross Border Payments

DP: Great, thank you. So just moving more and touching on the change management, what are the key changes for the financial community in terms of that adoption, and what does this mean for cross border payments?

SS: Over the next couple of years, the agenda is very, very busy. For banks and financial institutions. You have euro systems. Moving to ISO 20022 to November 2021. You have UK CHAPS, high value payment system moving the first half of 2020. You’ve got the dollar systems CHIPS moving November 2023. And in between all of that, you’ve got Canada, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and many other communities looking to move to ISO 20022. That’s a fairly complex change roadmap for everybody. And we’ve got this SWIFT coexistence period to try to facilitate that change in cross border payments. The challenge for everybody is to make sure that this is efficient and done in a least disruptive way and not relying on stop gap last mile translation measures but more funding. Revolving the data model so that we can realise the benefits of this, again, the efficiency, compliance and improving the value to our clients. What we’re doing is we’re providing a set of coexistence measures, translation services that people can use in the interim, while they move to native ISO 20022. We’re providing long testing windows, so we’ll actually provide a pilot service on the cross border side in September of this year, which should give everybody 14 months of testing not just within their institution, not just within their group, but with their correspondence also sufficient time leading into November 2021. And so there’s several measures and lead milestones that we’re putting into place to make that happen.

ISO 20022 & Trade Finance

DP: Great, thank you. And it sounds like a very detailed plan, I guess moving on now to the processing of payments within trade finance and also the correspondent banks and potentially the corporate clients of these banks, how does ISO 20022 affect payments in this area?

SS: When it comes to trade finance, obviously, payment is a very important leg of the trade. Right? And reconciliation has always been a challenge in trade finance, there are multiple parties in different ecosystems that have to come together to reconcile a trade to confirm that it’s been completed on the pain inside between an importer and exporter, what ISO20022 affords is that rich and structured data. So if you take an example of an importer in the UK trying to make a payment in dollars to somebody in Southeast Asia, for supply of goods, they will want to make that payment in an aggregate way because dollar payments into Southeast Asia are expensive. So they want to ideally have a single payment that they can use to reconcile multiple invoices. With ISO 20022, what you can do is, you can say I’m making a single payment. And here are all the invoices against which I’m making that payment. And by the way, one of those invoices, I dispute the amount, I’d like to adjust the payment. And this is the reason why I’m doing that. And I’m also providing details of bills of lading, and I’m providing you all the credit notes that I’m requesting with which to make this payments. All that information, that supplementary information can come alongside the payment transaction. And that can be processed, fully automated way end to end across the payments chain without anybody having to make a phone call, send emails and manually intervene on the payments. So that payment can be posted in the ERP systems of the two parties. That’s a huge benefit. And it’s going to create a platform for innovation, for banks to provide the next gen of treasury services and the continuation services to their corporate customers, and that’s really what we’re aiming for.

Timelines and Adoption of ISO 20022

DP: So I guess taking a view now on the adoption of ISO20022, what are the timelines from a financial institutions perspective? And I guess getting into even more detail on that change management piece, Why does it take so long to implement?

SS: Yeah, so the specific timelines we will be following is June of this year, we will be opening up the SWIFT platform for testing by vendors of our customers. So their key vendors for core banking applications, payments, middleware, streaming utilities, reconciliation tools that will need to test these new messages. So June of this year, we will provide that network service. In September of this year, we will open up for testing for our clients. Again, giving everybody 14 months to enter into the existence period smoothly, November 2021. And then during that coexistence period, people can decide when they want to start sending the new messages. And if you’re an intermediary, if you’re receiving ISO20022, how do I generate the outbound corresponding ISO20022 message?

The coexistence period will allow people to incrementally enable that, if they’re operating in different jurisdictions at their own schedule. So those are the major milestones that we’re providing for. The tools that will be providing alongside that is, the coexistence measures I talked about. We will have translation services that are in network, you don’t have to deploy anything on your side, you can send ISO and if your counterparty is not ready will translate for them and they’ll get the old empty messages, will have API versions of those translation services and will have also on premise solutions that vendors can use also to provide translation services. So there are varieties of ways that were facilitating that change to the new message types.

ISO 20022 – When should FIs switch?

DP: Thank you very much. And I guess it’s important that the financial community in the industry should look at testing ISO 20022. During that period from around June to November, they need to really ensure that their systems are ready for the four year coexistence period. Is there a specific time where they should be looking at that switch over from MT to ISO 20022?

SS: Probably the trigger to move to ISO 20022is when the domestic payment systems are moving. So as of November 2021, when the Euro systems move, what’s likely going to happen is institutions are going to receive from those domestic payment systems, new messages, new ISO 20022 to rich messages, and for compliance reasons, you will likely have to also spend ISO 20022, on the cross border leg if the recipient is in a different jurisdiction. The reason that happened because of FATCA 16. So the financial crime compliance community has a set of recommendations of how transactions should be processed to facilitate the fight against financial crime. And one of the recommendations, recommendation number 16 says that if you are an intermediary, you’ve received a transaction and you need to pass it along. You need to preserve all the originator and beneficiary details and all the agents that are in that payment chain. You can’t just drop off those details, because the next person down the chain needs to also do screening to confirm compliance. So when the Euro systems move, you will likely have to also start sending ISO 20022 messages for those European payments. Similarly, when the pound sterling moves, financial institutions in the UK, when they start receiving ISO 20022, will have to start sending ISO 20022. So one Banking Group doesn’t have to activate ISO on a particular day. They can look at specific corridors, they can look at specific MTs, look at the compliance obligations against them and start sending ISO as and when required. So our immediate port priorities are around documentation. So as I said, we’re working with a group of banks are helping us define usage guidelines for ISO 20022. So how will this new message be used for cross border payments? Making sure that documentation and spec is quality, and publicly available for communities is very important. We’ve begun publishing as of December these usage guidelines, we have set aside a milestone of end of March to complete the first phase of documentation. So we want to make sure that gets done on time. Alongside the documentation, we’ve also set up a small sandbox, where customers can begin testing. They don’t have to wait for cheering they don’t have to wait for the September pilot milestones, they can start generating these new messages in their systems, and they can in the sandbox upload them and the sandbox will tell them whether the ISO 20022 message is compliant. Is it missing something? Is it not formatted correctly? Are that utilities available today? We also want to make sure that when people are going from MTs to ISO, if they have to implement stop gap translation services before they go native ISO that they have a good set of rules as to how they translate those messages, which field maps into the new fields. So there’s a translation portal that publishes these rules that we’ve tested with our working group of banks. And we want to make sure that the vendor community and the financial institutions also implement them in a consistent way. So getting the documentation right, getting this testing right is important. And then of course, it’s these pilot windows, we want to start the vendor pilot on time. We want to start our customer pilots on time. And we want to evangelise the reason how people should move to ISO 20022. So a broad campaign of awareness with well-chosen webinars across countries. It’s something that we’re focused on doing in the coming months.

DP: Thank you very much Saqib. And I think it’s great to have you here on Trade Finance Talks TV and I guess talking to the trade finance community about the importance and the key benefits of ISO 20022. Because actually, for a lot of us trade financiers it’s almost slightly on the periphery. But actually, when you think about the importance of this from Bill of Lading, documentation, richer formats, quality, better structure, not just a series of notes, I think it’s really important to consider some of the processes and the involvement that FIs should have. And I guess now is the time to really start thinking about testing, reading the documentation and accessing the pulse of the wealth of documents that SWIFT have created and made available in terms of resources. To help some of the vendors and FIs navigate and transition over to ISO towards the end of this year. Saqib thank you very much for joining us on Trade Finance Talks. I will see you in Boston at SIBOS 2020. And hopefully we’ll catch up there and see how everything is going on. Great to speak to you and chat soon.

ISO 20022 Resource Hub

ISO 20022 hub

The ISO 20022 Programme hub provides more information on the programme, timeline, transition period and resources.

SWIFT webinars & work sessions

Join a webinar or work session near you to learn why ISO 20022 adoption is necessary, how to make the change and what support SWIFT will provide. 


The CBPR+ MyStandards page hosts all usage guidelines, a readiness portal for testing your back office applications and coming soon a mapping sandbox to publish translation rules.


The Updated ISO 20022 for Dummies e-book is available to understand the basics of ISO 20022 and implications for financial messaging.

About the Author

Trade Finance Global (TFG) assists companies with raising debt finance. While we can access many traditional forms of finance, we specialise in alternative finance and complex funding solutions related to international trade. We help companies to raise finance in ways that is sometimes out of reach for mainstream lenders.

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