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Faster Cross-border SWIFT Payments With Global Payments Innovation Initiative

By Mike Faden

Despite the technology-driven improvements taking place across other parts of the payments industry, international B2B wire transfers conducted via banks have remained slow and costly. They typically take several days and incur high, sometimes unpredictable fees. But a new initiative from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), the global bank-owned messaging network that handles most international interbank payments, promises to change that with SWIFT payments that increase the speed, predictability and transparency of cross-border wire transfers.

In late 2016, SWIFT said it had successfully completed the first pilot phase of its global payments innovation (GPI) initiative, clearing the way for the service to go live in early 2017.1 The new SWIFT payments service will initially focus on cross-border B2B payments, providing several key improvements:2


  • Recipients receive same-day access to payments rather than waiting several days for funds to clear.
  • Fees should be predictable and transparent, so businesses know in advance how much wire transfers will cost.
  • Banks can use a new cloud-based service to track each payment from end-to-end as it passes through intermediary banks and ultimately reaches the recipient’s account. Payers receive confirmation that the recipient’s account has been credited.
  • Up to 140 characters of remittance information is transferred unaltered to recipients, helping them reconcile payments.3

The new SWIFT payments service potentially has broad reach, enabling businesses worldwide to receive faster payment services directly from their banks. SWIFT’s network connects more than 11,000 banks and other companies in more than 200 countries. The service uses SWIFT’s global technology platform and the existing correspondent banking network; any financial institution that is a member of SWIFT and commits to GPI-required service improvements can participate.


By late 2016, more than 80 banks across 220 countries had signed up to participate in GPI. Those banks account for nearly 71 percent of cross-border payment volumes over SWIFT. During the pilot, 15 global banks tested the design and core functions of the new SWIFT payments services while, in parallel, 10 additional banks started to prepare for the service’s launch.4


After the initial phase of the system, SWIFT plans to work on further enhancements that facilitate business benefits such as increased straight-through-processing of payments.5


Initial Business Reaction to The Faster SWIFT Payments Service


Though the same-day delivery promised by GPI SWIFT payments is slower than the real-time payments systems that are being deployed in many countries, it may be adequate for many business purposes. Features such as payment tracking and predictable delivery times and fees are important because they help businesses manage and forecast cash flow.6


In an audience survey of corporate executives conducted by BNP Paribas at its 2016 annual Cash Management University (CMU) event, 38 percent listed predictability and payments tracking as the most important benefit of the GPI initiative, followed by same-day use of funds (27 percent), transparency of fees (19 percent) and the transfer of rich information (13 percent).7


The Challenge: Rising Expectations and Increasing Competition For Cross-Border Wire Transfers


The digital revolution is expected to change the cross-border payments landscape radically over the next five years, as customers demand a better user experience: transparent, real-time, data-rich and easy to use, according to a 2016 global payments report by McKinsey & Company.8 Businesses increasingly question why domestic payments can be executed in real time at very low cost, while it can take much longer for cross-border transactions to be executed at much higher cost, the report notes.


GPI will compete with a wave of financial technology innovators targeting cross-border payments, seeking to provide faster payment solutions that disrupt cross-border payments in the same way that new solutions have disrupted the consumer space.9 Notably, SWIFT is also exploring the requirements and guidelines for real-time payments and has been involved in the development of the Australian faster payments system.10,11



Faster international B2B payments solutions are finally arriving. GPI potentially has broad reach, because it promises to enable businesses in many countries to obtain faster international wire transfers via SWIFT payments directly from their bank.

Mike Faden - The Author

The Author

Mike Faden

Mike Faden has covered business and technology issues for more than 30 years as a writer, consultant and analyst for media brands, market-research firms, startups and established corporations. Mike also is a principal at Content Marketing Partners


1. "SWIFT successfully completes first phase of global payments innovation initiative pilot", SWIFT;
2. "The global payments innovation Initiative", SWIFT;
3. "The SWIFT gpi customer credit transfer", SWIFT;
4. "SWIFT successfully completes first phase of global payments innovation initiative pilot", SWIFT;
5. "Frequently Asked Questions: The global payments innovation initiative", SWIFT;
6. "SWIFT’s Global Payment Innovation initiative sounds intriguing. But will it improve payments?", Association for Financial Professionals;
7. "BNP Paribas Cash Management University: six hot topics", GT News;
8. Global Payments 2016: Strong Fundamentals Despite Uncertain Times, McKinsey & Company;
9. Ibid, WTO;
10. The Global Adoption of Real-Time Retail Payments Systems (RT-RPS), SWIFT;
11. Guidelines for the next generation of Real-Time Retail Payments Systems (RT-RPS), SWIFT;

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