ISO 20022 (also called UNIFI, Universal Financial Industry Message Scheme) is the international standard for financial transactions such as Credit Transfer and Direct Debit. The general public became aware of ISO 20022 through the introduction of the European retail payment service SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area) in 2014 with IBAN and BIC for Credit Transfers and Direct Debits, both based on ISO 20022.
For most of the general public, IBAN and BIC is all there is to ISO 20022, but it extends far beyond that. Apart from standardizing on XML as transport format (eXtensible Mark-up Language), it also defines processes and rules for financial transactions and publishes them on its website, where they are accessible to everyone.
ISO 20022 started in September 2005, by publishing a new standard for the submission of Credit Transfers from customers to their banks. In the following months, this was gradually extended to cover direct debit, payment clearing and settlement, the processing of complaints, as well as account statements. The great success of this new payment standard led to an extension of ISO 20022 to other business fields such as Cards, Securities or Trading, so that the standard covers hundreds of transaction types today.
In the coming years, additional ISO 20022 migrations are planned for Europe, including the migration of the clearing and settlement system TARGET2-Securities starting in 2015, as well as the gross payments system TARGET2 in 2017. The international banking organization SWIFT is backing ISO 20022 as well, for example with its Common Global Implementation initiative (CGI). CGI is an effort to enable globally operating companies to use only one single format for all their worldwide transactions. In the long run, SWIFT also plans to gradually phase out its proprietary MT-formats in preference of XML-based messages according to the ISO 20022 standard.
All these initiatives lead to a consistent usage of ISO 20022 in order to avoid process and format breaks and to optimize the processing of financial transactions in terms of effort, time and cost. The future of financial transactions lies with ISO 20022 – as the overview of initiatives adopting ISO 20022 around the world impressively shows. (www.iso20022.org/adoption.page)
The presence of ISO 20022 as a universal standard implies that the specification of formats, processes and regulations becomes very complex in order to accommodate the requirements of all market participants such as banks, corporate customers, the public sector and retail customers from all around the globe. Moreover, the standard will continue to expand to new business segments and regions, which will result in further continuous adjustments over the coming years.
Therefore – even though ISO 20022 simplifies many processes – the implementation of ISO 20022 will continue to be a complex matter.
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