Boris Brunner__Head of Business Development & Operations, SIX Interbank Clearing AG

Cleaning the Augean stables: a herculean task for Switzerland?

One of the many labors of Hercules was to muck out King Augeas’s stables in only one day. They hadn’t been cleaned in over 30 years and were full of the dung of 3,000 cattle. This task was seen as impossible until Hercules mastered it, washing out the filth of decades by rerouting two rivers through the stables.

The Swiss financial industry now faces the herculean task of payment system harmonization. Over the last hundred years, a wide range of different procedures and payment slips has evolved, cluttering up the path to a digital future. The banks and PostFinance run different systems. Each on its own would still be efficient, but in combination they result in changes in format, inefficiency, and conversions that are outdated and no longer economical.

So do we now have to send in Hercules to clean up the clutter of 100 years of different payment systems? No easy task. The problem won’t be solved by rerouting the river of data. So how do we tackle this herculean challenge? It will only work if everyone pulls together. The changeover has to be driven by the financial institutions, software partners, and corporate customers working in concert, orchestrated by a single, neutral coordination office – a job we at SIX Interbank Clearing are glad to take on. We’re coordinating the changeover, pinpointing weak points, and where necessary also applying a bit of pressure. We’re acting as a neutral intermediary, working with the financial institutions in consultation with the software companies to define the framework for the new standard. This particularly applies to the QR-bill. We were quick to involve the leading industry body, Swico, in efforts to find a solution, and fine-tuned the results in consultation with business and industry associations, the public authorities, and consumer bodies and organizations for the handicapped. This way we were able to come up with a solution that not only enjoys broad support, but brings greater benefits to everyone involved. All this was developed in record-quick time, less than six months. We’re proud of this achievement. Switzerland is the first country in the world to implement ISO 20022 end-to-end. Thanks to our experience, SIX Interbank Clearing is frequently asked for advice by the European Payments Council, the German Bundesbank, and by governments in Asia and Africa. But our biggest challenge remains the changeover of all accounting software to ISO 20022 by June 2018. It is the technical prerequisite for the introduction of the QR-bill, which will be usable from 30 June 2020. To master this herculean task we rely on every bank, software company and business. Help us clean up! We’ll all reap the rewards.