Treasury Today Country Profiles in association with Citi
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October 2005

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“Transform yourselves before someone does it to you”

The theme of this year’s SIBOS1 conference in Copenhagen was transformation. The common view turned out to be that transformation in the world of banking and payments is inevitable, but at the same time banks were moving too slowly in the eyes of their corporate customers.

Leo Apotheker, President Global Field Operations and member of the Executive Board of SAP, pointed out that the banking industry was slower than other industries at transforming itself and in reacting to a new business environment. “Your customers are fed up”, he told bank delegates at the conference.

Corporate delegates (a new phenomena at SIBOS) joined in and criticised the slow adoption by banks of new developments from SWIFTnet to XML. “The burden remains too often on the corporate customers to make sure they understand the clearing system and provide their banks with formats for each country and each bank” one delegate said. Throughout the week corporates called for standardised interfaces to interact with banks.

In general, the conference appeared to focus more on corporates than in previous years. One reason for this is the increase in the number of large corporates participating in MACUGs. Microsoft and EADS case studies were presented at the conference and BNP Paribas flew in two dozen corporates to convince them of the benefits of joining SWIFTnet through a closed user group. There seems to be a growing realisation that, in a changing business environment caused by corporate access to SWIFT, SEPA and other developments, banks need to understand their customers better, be more flexible and embrace change by taking advantage of new business opportunities faster than their competitors. In the discussion on SEPA, the dilemma that banks find themselves in became apparent. Corporates see SEPA as an opportunity to consolidate the number of bank relationships, bank accounts and banking and payment formats. Banks on the other hand do not see a business opportunity just an inevitable outcome – having to invest in new payment systems in order to earn less. Not surprisingly, the need for more regulation to ensure a smooth migration to SEPA was a lively discussion.

The banking and payments landscape is changing ever more rapidly and banks will have to be more inventive when thinking of new ways to deliver financial services. As Leo Apotheker put it: “Transform yourself before someone does it to you.”

  1. SIBOS is the SWIFT user conference attended by 5-7,000 bankers every year. It is held in a different location each year. This year Copenhagen was the host city.