Swift eyes growing interest from Asian companies

Swift says surveys held at a series of regional forums show increasing interest from Asia-Pacific companies in connecting to its services.
Connie Leung, Swift
Connie Leung, Swift

Swift says it has identified growing interest from Asian companies, particularly those in Japan, that want to connect to its services. The claim follows surveys carried out at a series of forums held across Asia this year in collaboration with local treasury associations, member banks and partners. Results from the surveys point to increased receptiveness to Swift technology among Asia-Pacific companies, says the firm.

“The surveys showed that corporates are thinking a lot about reengineering their treasury operations and looking for automation, security, standardisation, rationalisation and interoperability. What surprised us is that some corporates are not convinced that local banks can support Swift, so we will have to work more on the readiness side,” said Connie Leung, Swift’s head of trade and supply chain markets in the region.

The forums were attended by an average of about 75 attendees, evenly split between multinational companies (MNCs) and large local companies, primarily from the key hubs of Hong Kong and Singapore.

Over 640 companies use Swift worldwide, and while 69% are based in Europe, Middle East and Africa, and 20% are in the Americas, only 11% are based in Asia, though Asia is seen as an important growth market for the organisation, said Leung.  

“Samsung, LG, Panasonic, The Noble Group and Petronas are among those corporates on Swift in this region, and we have been noticing heightened interest from corporates in Japan,” said Leung. “Besides payments and reporting, Asian companies have shown a high level of interest in using Swift for their trade finance activities (ie, more than corporates in other geographies). Banks are also increasingly proactive in selling Swift in the region.”

Swift has also noticed an increasing number of smaller size companies -- those with less than €1 billion in annual turnover and with few or even only a single banking relationship -- using Swift for domestic transactions.

“There has been a substantial increase in the uptake of SwiftNet in the last two years. Corporates are now realising the advantages that Swift can bring them in terms of rationalising their bank connectivity, and the technical component is also now better understood,” said Leung, acknowledging the impact of the 2008 credit crisis on how companies scrutinise spending. “Part of the increase in adoption can be attributed to the fact that it is now easier to connect to Swift. This can be attributed to greater connectivity options.”

Deutsche Bank, joint organisers of the Singapore and Hong Kong forums held in July and August, said companies are looking at their liquidity management differently in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.Broadly speaking, the pre-crisis theme was consolidation into a single bank platform or one-bank concept. Corporates are now reviewing counterpart risk on financial institutions and corporate treasurers are focusing on actively managing their FX and counterparty management,” said Deutsche Bank’s Mahesh Kini, regional head of cash management, Asia-Pacific.

The trend now is for far greater awareness of counterparty risk, with companies doing business with more than one bank. “We see the larger MNCs typically banking with more than one bank, which naturally leads to complexities with regard to how corporates connect with these banks. That’s where Swift for corporates comes into play,” said Kini.

Deutsche Bank also reports that while enquiries about Swift used to come mainly from MNCs and more sophisticated clients, many large local corporates are becoming very aware of SwiftNet and its capabilities. “These large local corporates have gone beyond enquiries and are seriously looking at consolidating their operations under Swift,” said Niranjan Perera, Deutsche’s head of client access in Asia.  

These enquiries include questions from local company treasurers on some of Swift’s latest products, including eBAM, said Deutsche Bank’s Perera. eBAM, or electronic bank account management, provides message standards to enable straight-through electronic bank account opening and account management. 

However, Asia-Pacific still presents Swift with challenges other regions do not, including its variety of banking systems, the number of different languages and scripts, and the decentralised and often very traditional nature of treasury practices in many local companies. In addition, while most global banks already boast a SwiftNet capability, some local banks may not. “We are seeing some take-up in local banks, but we are still not seeing a huge push as yet. There are cost issues, with transaction charges and initial costs, and if a company has a very decentralised platform, it can be challenging to adopt Swift,” noted Perera.

Concerns about the cost of implementing Swift have been at least partially mitigated by alternative offerings, such as SwiftLite. “As in other regions of the world, Lite is gaining traction in the corporate market. In 2009, 30% of the new corporate joiners adopted Lite,” said Leung.

Local language issues have also been partly addressed, said Leung. SwiftNet FIN, which delivers traditional messages delivery in FIN syntax (MTXXX), does not support local languages, but SwiftNet FileAct (used for host-to-host file delivery) and SwiftNet Interact (an interactive message delivery system based on XML syntax) both do.

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