Where are we on the journey to ISO 20022? – Exclusive interview with SWIFT

Thursday 16 June 2022 08:33 CET | Editor: Claudia Pincovski | Interview

Nasir Ahmed, SWIFT Head of UK and Ireland, discusses recent developments on ISO 20022, release plans, and the challenges and opportunities faced by banks and financial institutions when embarking on this migration.

What is ISO 20022 and why shift to a global common language?

Today’s payment messages only contain essential transaction data, and that data is often unstructured, which can hamper the automation of processes such as sanctions screening, create challenges with reconciliation and limit the ability of banks to offer value-added services to customers.

ISO 20022 creates a common language for payments, worldwide. By improving the quality and richness of data in domestic and cross-border payments, ISO 20022 will significantly help to boost operational efficiency and improve straight-through processing (STP) rates. It also facilitates interoperability end to end, which supports automation. It can help to increase transparency and visibility, leading to a reduction in risk and better adherence to compliance regulations, along with bringing improved data analytics. This makes for enhanced customer experiences through efficiency gains, along with the provision of new products and services based on a wave of innovation.

Where do we stand on the journey to ISO 20022 and what are the upcoming milestones?

The SWIFT community is well on track, from a readiness perspective, for the general go-live in November 2022. The transition for cross-border payments and reporting (CBPR+) on SWIFT begins from August 2022, on an opt-in basis, and November 2022 for general availability. While there are some actions that all banks have to take to ensure readiness for November 2022, they do not all have to implement ISO 20022 in their back-offices by that date. A three-year coexistence period runs until November 2025, so there is ample time for banks to get the implementation right.

If a financial institution is not adopting ISO 20022 this year, they still need to ensure they’re ready to  go live in November 2022. Preparations include setting up a testing environment - including upgrading their messaging interface - and preparing for live deployment. SWIFT is supporting the testing journey with a schedule of services and resources, with a dedicated page on how to get ready for ISO 20022 with CBPR+, here.

From the outset, SWIFT has sought to help customers manage the transition to ISO 20022 as seamlessly as possible, minimising the effort, cost, and risk on their side. This is in parallel to highlighting adoption benefits. We will continue to support the community this year and throughout the coexistence period.

It is likely that, while many banks will begin using ISO 20022 messages from November 2022, others will continue using legacy formats after this date. What are the co-existence challenges? How will SWIFT support member banks during this period?

Momentum towards adoption of ISO 20022 is increasing around the world, as well as strong cooperation on specifications, and end-to-end alignment of those specifications. This is very important, because without this alignment, the industry will not be able to reap the benefits of true interoperability and harmonisation.

SWIFT has worked with major payments market infrastructures and participants through several industry groups to create a set of aligned standard baseline specifications for high-value payment systems (HVPS+), instant payment schemes (IP+) and CBPR+. These efforts will need to continue, to ensure that implementations don’t diverge over time.

As far as cross-border payments and reporting are concerned, our In-flow Translation service provides a translation capability built into our ISO 20022 messaging service, which can deliver a translation of an ISO 20022 message to MT, for banks which are not ready to process ISO 20022 in the back office. This provides the essential interoperability required for smooth coexistence: ISO 20022-ready banks can send ISO 20022 payments to any bank in their network, with no need to consider whether the receiver is ISO 20022 native in their back office.

Our ISO 20022 Readiness directory allows users to view counterparties’ readiness for the various ISO 20022 FINplus messages. It indicates if a participant (BIC 11 or level 3 DN) is already sending or receiving ISO 20022 messages including CBPR+ messages. The data is updated on a monthly basis.

The industry has taken significant steps forward in its ISO 20022 journey over the past year, but there is still a long road ahead to ensure that all participants are prepared. What is left to do ahead of the various ISO 20022 deadlines and what are the challenges?

Moving to ISO 20022 is a significant undertaking, entailing more than a simple change in messaging syntax. It represents a real foundation for the future of payments, and it impacts the entire end-to-end chain.

As a result, preparation and training are crucial in order to align operational processes and ensure preparedness for first go live on CBPR+ in November 20022, then adoption by November 2025. The three-year coexistence period will be an opportunity to prepare fully. Since many adoption benefits rest on better data, the community can also take this time to look together at how to improve the quality of data in the financial ecosystem.

SWIFT is providing a variety of resources to support customers. These include information on our ISO 20022 hub on We aim to help everyone understand the changes that need to be made so they can ensure readiness this year, and work towards full adoption by the end of the coexistence period.

How will ISO 20022 change the way banks make cross-border payments?

The new standard will allow for improved payment transaction data quality and greater interoperability between international payment schemes.

As above, the richer, more structured data enabled by ISO 20022 allows for increased straight through processing. In particular, richer data aids financial crime compliance, reducing the risk of false positives during sanctions screening so that payments are only held up when absolutely necessary.

High quality data, along with advanced analytics and insights, will pave the way for financial institutions to offer new value-added services that further reduce friction and enhance the end-customer experience.

What risks associated with ISO 20022 FIs should consider?

Moving from any legacy system to a new way of operating is no small feat for financial institutions, particularly where the shift represents a wider change to the status quo across an entire industry as with ISO 20022 for payments. While the benefits of adoption are clear, we understand that this is no small undertaking.

Organisations might need to invest heavily in technological transformation, in order to use new messaging processing capabilities. This requires support and strong endorsement for the move to ISO 20022, from the top down. It invites strategic change which should resonate across an entire organisation. On a practical level, a strong plan can help prepare institutions for a smooth transition.

Conversely, a lack of readiness for November 2022 could mean a break in the continuity of business operations, with payment instructions coming from correspondents that cannot be processed. Meanwhile, in November 2025, key MT messages will be decommissioned with a full move to ISO 20022 for CBPR+.

Fundamentally, the risk for financial institutions lies in treating the move to ISO as nothing more than a mandatory exercise or a mere IT project. We encourage a strategic approach to adoption rather than going with a ‘like-for-like’ minimum value proposition. One of our guiding principles is to ensure that nobody is left behind, and that institutions can make the move in a way that suits them and their customers, enabling them to unlock the business benefits.

What are the revenue opportunities for financial institutions enabled by Open Banking and ISO 20022?

As an innovation accelerator, ISO 20022 is well suited for APIs and Open Banking initiatives. APIs are growing fast as the foundation of tomorrow’s data-led economy, enabling growing data-driven markets, which include Open Banking. They are powering the next generation of on-demand, instant financial services, by connecting applications and partners across the transaction chain. Adopting ISO 20022 will help to ensure that financial institutions can take advantage of these new markets.

If APIs use a common language, institutions can reach that future faster. SWIFT extends the ISO 20022 data model to APIs, so that developers can build a common language into every API they design. This is a benefit of having a universally accepted business dictionary that is independent of the underlying technical channel.

In adopting ISO 20022 as both a message format and a data model, an organisation’s API investment can bring far-reaching benefits, as institutions use the technology to deliver value to customers. This includes providing better customer experiences, rapidly developing new products and services, and facilitating valuable industry collaborations, all presenting revenue opportunities.

About Nasir Ahmed

Nasir is head of SWIFT UK and Ireland after spending a year leading the SWIFT ISO20022 adoption programme for cross border payments. He joined SWIFT in 2017 as a Key Account manager and then a Strategic Relationship Manager within the UK and Ireland business focusing on strengthening and further developing relationships with SWIFT’s key global clients in the region. He has also spent time in the CEO office with primary responsibility for structuring and coordinating the external engagement plan of the SWIFT CEO.  Prior to joining SWIFT Nasir spent 11 years in the banking industry, starting his career at Citigroup as a graduate trainee in London. He worked across a number of functions within transaction banking, specialising in sales and relationship management within the securities services business.


SWIFT is a global member owned cooperative and the world’s leading provider of secure financial messaging services. SWIFT provides its community with a platform for messaging and standards for communicating, and offers products and services to facilitate access and integration, identification, analysis and regulatory compliance. Headquartered in Belgium, SWIFT’s international governance and oversight reinforces the neutral, global character of its cooperative structure.

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Keywords: ISO 20022, banks, financial institutions, transactions , data, payments , cross-border payments, risk management, compliance, SWIFT
Categories: Banking & Fintech
Companies: SWIFT
Countries: Europe
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Banking & Fintech


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