Is SWIFT’s cross-border B2B payment monopoly under threat by new entrants?

Most cross-border payments occur primarily through a correspondent banking network. Yet sending payments through the network can be a costly proposition for corporations, fintechs, challenger banks, foreign exchange brokers and others that must use banks.

The co-op provider SWIFT provides a money messaging network that enables banks to move money. With its SWIFT gpi service, the company has really upped its game on the cross border front. Nearly $77 trillion was transferred through cross-border and intergroup payments over SWIFT gpi in 2019. More than 50% of SWIFT gpi payments were credited to end beneficiaries within 30 minutes. SWIFT gpi enables corporations to receive an enhanced payments service directly from their banks, with the following key features:

  • Same day use of funds
  • Transparency and predictability of fees
  • End-to-end payments tracking
  • Transfer of rich payment information

I talked about how SWIFT gpi is more than technology, it’s about service level agreement (SLA) rules in this 2016 blog post.

But there are alternatives that are trying to bypass SWIFT’s grip on the cross-border money movement industry to make it cheaper, even faster, more transparent and to manage the global ACH component as well.

First, a history lesson 

Earthport (now part of Visa) was founded way back in 1997 to deliver a “global ACH” capability using a payments framework specifically designed for high volumes of low value cross-border payments.

When the U.S. legislation Dodd-Frank 1073 was implemented in 2010, one key feature of the law was disclosure to the consumer of the exchange rate, fees/taxes and the net amount to be delivered before the consumer finalizes the transaction. This became a big driver for firms like Earthport.

Earthport now offers two options for moving money on its rails — global ACH and “faster payments.” The fast option works through what is essentially Earthport’s global ACH network and takes about a day for funds to clear. The faster option connects to the various “faster payments” schemes around the world and can even enable transactions within an hour. Earthport was acquired by Visa in 2018.

Hyperwallet, was founded in 2000 to solve a big pain point for treasurers who needed to disburse lots of small cross-border payments. For instance, Mary Kay needs to send $300 commission checks to agents globally. Mary Kay would send Hyperwallet $1 million to cover all these small disbursements, and Hyperwallet would distribute globally through the ACH network. So instead of sending all these international payments, a firm was sending local payments to over 120 countries. This was before the era of the gig economy, and the need to do this has since exploded. Hyperwallet was acquired by PayPal in 2018 in cash.

Newcomers

Currencycloud built what it describes as a unique “B2B2X” model based on modular APIs that allow other businesses to integrate cross-border payments into their platforms across 38 currencies in 180 countries. This enables banks and non-bank providers that Currencycloud works with to make foreign exchange (FX) conversions, global payouts and receivables for their customer base.

Currencycloud can make cross-border payments either through the SWIFT network (34 currencies) or through an in-country domestic payment, such as SEPA, ACH or some other local payment. Currencycloud recently became a member of SWIFT gpi to improve payments sent via SWIFT.

This is enabling differentiated services that, in many cases, bypasses the SWIFT network. They offer differentiated services, such as virtual accounts for clients, and their clients’ clients, in three currencies: USD, euro and GBP. Currencycloud can initiate virtual accounts for all of these types of accounts. You can check out the PRO overview note to learn more here.

Transfermate believes their regulation in 180 countries, money movement license in all U.S. states, and technology interface can eliminate problems of SWIFT reconcilement in addition to fee advantage and speed. They use local accounts in 180 countries, and the buyer will send local FX at a fixed rate while the seller will receive their currency. Transfermate also offers a product called Global Invoice Connect, which enables banks such as Wells Fargo to use Transfermate’s invoicing technology so companies can settle cross-border invoices and manage the FX component. Banks can use Transfermate’s global banking network to collect payments for sellers locally. For example, if a U.S. exporter sells to Japan, the Japanese buyer pays locally and it is all integrated within their system. There is no need for a Japanese bank to wire money or use a letter of credit.

Ripple works with blockchain technology for global payments and has a network of over 300 providers across more than 40 countries to move money. Their clients include vendors like American Express, Santander, PNC and MoneyGram. Ripplenet enables multinational corporations to settle cross-border payments by transferring Ripple’s cryptocurrency, XRP, through the Ripple network, resulting in on-demand liquidity.

Summary thoughts

SWIFT is still the dominate way to move money cross-border, with traffic soaring to $77 trillion. Adding up all the vendors who have developed the local banking infrastructure, money movement licenses and technology, then acquired customers are still relatively small. But increasingly, companies will have options to make B2B cross-border disbursements, and when making many transactions, should seek to understand the options, as well as the pros and cons of each solution for them.

There was a time when B2B cross-border payments were mostly a letter of credit world and banks were firmly involved in the credit, document processing and payment function. Since the world became smaller and the use of the letter of credit became more for specific reasons (e.g., large shipments of coal from Australia to China), there have been many innovators on the market.

SWIFT will not lose its stranglehold on cross-border payments anytime soon, but there are now more options for B2B cross-border payments than ever. Companies that are expanding their suppliers overseas, have a heavy FX component to their payments, are looking for easy-to-use technology and just want to bypass working with their banks have ample options.

David Gustin runs Global Business Intelligence, a research and advisory practice focused on the intersection of payments, trade finance, trade credit and working capital. He can be reached at dgustin (at) globalbanking.com.

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