Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: SWIFT

Mains level: Global sanctions on Russia

The U.S., Europe and several other western nations are moving to exclude Russia from SWIFT, an international network for banks worldwide to facilitate smooth money transactions globally.

What is SWIFT?

  • SWIFT is an international network for banks worldwide to facilitate smooth money transactions globally.
  • It is basically a messaging network used by banks and financial institutions globally for quick and faultless exchange of information pertaining to financial transactions.
  • The Belgium-headquartered SWIFT connects more than 11,000 banking and securities organizations in over 200 countries and territories.
  • First used in 1973, it went live in 1977 with 518 institutions from 22 countries, its website states.

What exactly is it?

  • SWIFT is merely a platform that sends messages and does not hold any securities or money.
  • It facilitates standardized and reliable communication to facilitate the transaction.

How does it facilitate banking?

  • Each participant on the platform is assigned a unique eight-digit SWIFT code or a bank identification code (BIC).
  • If a person, say, in New York with a Citibank account, wants to send money to someone with an HSBC account in London, the payee would have to submit to his bank the London-based beneficiary’s account number along with the eight-digit SWIFT code of the latter’s bank.
  • Citibank would then send a SWIFT message to HSBC. Once that is received and approved, the money would be credited to the required account.

How is the organization governed?

  • SWIFT claims to be neutral. Its shareholders, consisting of 3,500 firms across the globe, elect the 25-member board, which is responsible for oversight and management of the company.
  • It is regulated by G-10 central banks from Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, the UK, the US, Switzerland, and Sweden, alongside the European Central Bank.
  • Its lead overseer is the National Bank of Belgium.
  • The SWIFT oversight forum was established in 2012.
  • The G-10 participants were joined by the central banks of India, Australia, Russia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, the Republic of Turkey, and the People’s Republic of China.
  • Europe, Middle East, and Africa are highest contributors to SWIFT.

What happens if one is excluded from SWIFT?

  • US excluding Russia from SWIFT could have serious repercussions on how Russian banks carry out international financial transactions.
  • If a country is excluded from the most participatory financial facilitating platform, its foreign funding would take a hit, making it entirely reliant on domestic investors.
  • This is particularly troublesome when institutional investors are constantly seeking new markets in newer territories.
  • An alternative system would be cumbersome to build and even more difficult to integrate with an already expansive system.

Are any countries excluded from SWIFT?

  • Iranian banks were ousted from the system in 2018 despite resistance from several countries in Europe.
  • This step, while regrettable, was taken in the interest of the stability and integrity of the wider global financial system, and based on an assessment of the economic situation.


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