Voice of the Industry

Navigating the ISO 20022 migration: Insights and strategies

Friday 19 April 2024 09:16 CET | Editor: Oana Ifrim | Voice of the industry

Frédéric Viard, Head of Commercial Product Management for Financial Messaging at Bottomline, provides insights into the ongoing ISO 20022 migration, emphasising the importance of readiness, collaboration, and addressing barriers for successful implementation.

The ISO 20022 Co-existence period started in March 2023 and will now run until November 2025. As of April 2024, 20.3% of all global cross-border payments traffic on Swift is now in ISO 20022. Payments are indeed entering exciting times with ISO 20022, the common language for payments worldwide. 

The technical migration to ensure that all participants on the network are technically enabled for FIN Plus / InterAct has gone very well, and the 20th March date passed with few issues. However, the real test will come as we start to see a ramp-up in the use of ISO 20022 messages and the introduction of enhanced data and requirements for greater use of the ISO 20022 structured fields.

The global financial landscape is undergoing a significant transformation with the adoption of ISO 20022, a universal messaging standard designed to enhance data richness and streamline communication in financial transactions. This, in turn, helps boost operational efficiency, alongside improving straight-through processing rates. As banks and financial institutions globally gear up for this transition, understanding the current status, challenges, and strategies for successful migration is crucial. Swift is keen to facilitate this so that financial institutions can make better and quicker decisions, understand, innovate, and improve services to end customers.

Discussions among Swift, HSBC, and Bottomline have revealed varying levels of readiness across regions. Countries like Switzerland, which adopted ISO 20022 for domestic networks way back in 2015, are ahead of the curve due to prior experience and infrastructure upgrades. However, challenges persist, particularly for institutions relying on legacy systems that require extensive modifications for ISO 20022 compatibility.

The good news is that 28% of banks and FIs can send/receive and process ISO 20022 (Native), according to a ‘live’ poll during our recent webinar: One Year On Transitioning to ISO 20022 Native. This is a high figure and clearly higher than the 19% referenced above. What is not clear is whether this is just for domestic ISO, rather than cross-border. The rest of the audience was split between sending and receiving ISO but using translation internally (Market Ready) at 30% and ready to receive only using ‘in-flow translation’ (Connectivity Only) at 42%. 

In our view, it is the ability of the FIs that are ISO Native to fully leverage the richer, structured, and enhanced data that makes it the optimum status. Additionally, the data is all in the same language, so it avoids truncation, thereby reducing ongoing maintenance and providing a strong screening engine, which makes ISO Native the best option. 

Lessons learned from domestic implementation of ISO 20022

Lessons learned from domestic adoption efforts offer valuable insights for cross-border implementation. HSBC, which mandated ISO 20022 for domestic RTGS country by country, encountered challenges in building the business case and adapting to new standards. However, improvements in customer experience, operational efficiency, and transparency signify the long-term benefits of ISO 20022 adoption.

Due to the scale of HSBC’s global presence, they have had the luxury of a perspective encompassing both domestic adoptions and wider cross-border payments. HSBC was keen to highlight that waiting to use enhanced data is important until everyone is in the same stage of ISO implementation – this way we have true interoperability and better global collaboration. 

It does not work otherwise and becomes confusing. 

He also stressed that it is important for all parts of your FI to be involved in the implementation process and understand the varied terminology. This is especially important when including customer-facing functions that need to be able to field queries and translate complicated terminology and information for their end customers. 

“The other big one, across both cross-border and domestic, is how you approach the implementation itself. From a technical perspective, the implementations were all fantastic. There were very, very few issues. Certainly, those we experienced were around misinterpretations of some of the rules regarding data flows, which were all resolved quickly. However, the biggest lesson for those who have yet to implement it is around testing. So, test, test, and test again. But be prepared for the unexpected, as our experience at both the domestic and cross-border level is you cannot control what's coming in. So, you can test as much as you like in terms of what you are sending out to the clearing or, to the next bank chain, but you cannot control what comes into yours. And so that is why testing is very, very important.” Mark Avery, Senior Product Manager, Global Liquidity and Cash Management for HSBC Continental Europe. 

Building the business case for ISO 20022 Native 

  • Utilising data analytics to improve compliance with payment standards. 
  • Supporting strong fraud monitoring and management.
  • Reducing transaction costs.
  • Decreasing the need for manual intervention.
  • Optimising business cycle cash flow.
  • Improving intraday liquidity management and enhancing cash visibility positions.
  • Leveraging rich data for better transparency and enhanced user experience

The adoption of ISO 20022 standards has heralded a new era of streamlined operations and heightened security measures in global banking. Among the many key benefits, two key use cases stand out: structured information and the pivotal role of addresses in compliance screening against federal and regulatory mandates.

Traditionally, an empty name and address field in payment transactions resembled a mere jumble of unformatted text, destined for manual review within the institution's screening systems. Take, for instance, a transaction mentioning a street in London. If the word "Cuba" is detected, the system triggers an alert, necessitating manual intervention in the majority of cases. This manual review introduces friction into the payment journey, potentially leading to delays and disruptions in the customer experience.

However, with ISO 20022's dedicated fields, institutions can program their systems to recognise and process such information efficiently. Institutions can transform a potential bottleneck into a seamless process by simply reformatting existing data within the ISO message exchange (MX). For instance, a street name originally flagged as "Cuba" will be recognised as being in "Kentucky," eliminating unnecessary delays in payment processing.

Moreover, ISO 20022's rich data structure opens avenues for enhanced fraud prevention measures. One notable advancement is the introduction of purpose codes and LEIs (Legal Entity Identifiers), facilitating the identification of specific payment intents and industry sectors. Consider the case of fraudulent schemes targeting pension transfers and investment scams. By incorporating purpose codes and industry identifiers into payment messages, institutions gain crucial insights into the nature of transactions. This empowers FIs to conduct real-time lookups and cross-references against known fraud indicators before releasing funds, thereby mitigating risks, and safeguarding vulnerable customers.

The seamless integration of purpose codes and industry identifiers not only bolsters fraud prevention efforts but also enhances customer trust and satisfaction. Clients can be promptly informed of any suspicious activities through various communication channels, ranging from online portals to personalised telephone calls.

In essence, ISO 20022 presents a transformative opportunity for banks and financial institutions to raise the bar for both security and customer experience within payments. By harnessing the standard's capabilities to leverage existing data and introduce targeted identifiers, institutions can confidently and efficiently navigate the evolving landscape of financial transactions.

Overcoming barriers for ISO 20022

However, significant barriers remain, including end-to-end processing chain readiness and the adaptation of ecosystem-wide infrastructure. Collaboration and coordination across the industry are paramount to address these challenges and ensure a smooth migration process.

For instance, in the same webinar survey, a massive 43% of cited end-to-end processing chain readiness as the greatest challenge of ISO 20022. This was followed by 41% stating that the biggest hurdle was being able to support the additional data and structure, 10% expressing concern about cross-party acceptance, and a surprisingly low but encouraging 6% worrying about building the business case for it being more than just a regulatory mandate. 

Julie Bolan and Francois Maigre, Heads of Payments GTM for APAC and Europe, respectively, shared a strong message about seeing the bigger picture. 

“End-to-end processing chain readiness can be viewed from several perspectives. One is supporting your customer readiness, and the second is looking at the whole ecosystem. Most banks focus on and invest in the prioritisation of their payment flows. However, there are other key considerations as part of that end-to-end ecosystem around statements and the notification messages. Then, there are also messages about charges, exceptions, and investigations (E&I). It is important to look at those as well.”

In conclusion, the success of the ISO 20022 migration hinges on collective efforts and coordinated action from all stakeholders. As the deadline for full adoption approaches, FIs must prioritise readiness, foster collaboration, and embrace the transformative potential of ISO 20022 to navigate the evolving landscape of global payments effectively.

Watch the Webinar: One Year On Transitioning to ISO 20022 Native

About Frédéric Viard

Frédéric Viard is Head of Commercial Product Management – Financial Messaging at Bottomline. With more than 20 years of experience in the financial messaging market, Frédéric drives Bottomline’s product roadmap to help banks & FIs achieve a wider reach, speed-to-market, industry compliance, greater security, and improved risk management.   



About Bottomline

Bottomline makes business payments simple, smart and secure for businesses and financial institutions, of all sizes, all over the world. More than 10,000 corporate customers, 1,400 commercial and business banks, including 15 of the top 25 global banks, rely on our industry-recognised payment and software platforms to accelerate digital transformation in a complex world of business payments and financial management. Bottomline solutions touch customers and payments in 92 countries across six continents. Our teams serve the world from primary locations in the US, the UK, Switzerland, Israel, India, Australia and Singapore. Bottomline is a portfolio company of Thoma Bravo, a highly respected software-centric private equity firm with USD 120 billion in assets under management. Bottomline financial technology helps banks and non-bank financial institutions transform for future needs, and those of their business customers, across the business payments and cash lifecycle through key capabilities including:
Financial Messaging:Securely communicate, reconcile, and manage the data in financial transactions within, and between banks and non-bank financial institutions, both locally and internationally.

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Keywords: ISO 20022, financial institutions, cross-border payments
Categories: Banking & Fintech
Companies: Bottomline
Countries: World
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Banking & Fintech


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