From the September 2011 issue of Treasury & Risk magazine

Shaping eBAM Standards

Electronic bank account management is gaining momentum but early pilots show that standards need to be interpreted consistently. So SWIFT has stepped forward with its central utility to help provide bank neutrality.

SWIFT has come a long way in its 38-year history. The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication was initially conceived as a way to enable its members to communicate securely with each other and to replace the old Telex technology. The member-owned cooperative began opening up its services to corporate users in 1997 and now offers several options for companies to connect to its network: directly to SWIFT, via a SWIFT service bureau or with Alliance Lite. Today, 841 corporations use SWIFT and while they have been attracted by the efficiencies and cost savings offered by a standard means of connecting to multiple banks, SWIFT’s services for corporates continue to evolve beyond sending payment messages.

One objective of the SWIFT utility is to ensure that eBAM standards are interpreted in a uniform way. “In the eBAM pilots that have happened prior to now, there have been significant variations, whether relating to the header of the message or the attachments and some variations of the standards,” says Rosenthal. “But knowing what’s happened with payments and information reporting, we really wanted to get ahead of this and be proactive.”

The proliferation of standards is an important consideration. With a number of banks working on different eBAM pilots, the prospect of too great a divergence is a real danger. “The key is to make sure every player is focused around conforming to the standards we’ve all agreed to,” says Linda Haddad, a senior vice president and global product manager for SWIFT and eBAM at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Not all treasurers are queuing up to buy 3SKey. Xavier Hourseau, information system and operation director at Alcatel-Lucent’s group treasury and its Electro Banque unit, explains that the company has gotten its fingers burnt with digital signature technology in the past. “In 2006, we equipped all our signatories with the same kind of keys that SWIFT is using now,” he says. “After four or five years, it became a nightmare.

“We have around 400 signatories around the world, and between the ones who lost their keys, the ones who tried to put MP3s on it, the ones who just burned the certificate on it, it took us a huge amount of time in maintenance and it was not very useful,” Hourseau explains. “After the first couple of years, there were also issues whereby the computers weren’t recognizing the certificate on the token because Windows had been upgraded.”

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