What is SWIFT?

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) runs a popular system used by banks around the world to quickly exchange transactions with each other.  Most international interbank messages use this system.  Unlike clearing houses or other institutions that provide intermediate or final settlement of financial transactions, SWIFT is simply a secure transaction service.  Remote banks may use the system to directly transact with one another, but SWIFT is not itself responsible in any activity that may occur within any bank-to-bank transaction.

SWIFT provides limited file transfer services.  For example, SWIFTNet Mail can be used to intercept messages bearing attachments and route them to other SWIFT members through the SWIFT network rather than the open network.   Internally, SWIFT has standardized on XML-wrapped transactions in its store-and-forward architecture.

Though an early advocate of near-realtime geographic redundancy across continents (North America and Europe), SWIFT pulled all operations back into the EU in 2009 after a 2006 ruling in which the Belgium government declared that SWIFT cooperation with U.S. Federal authorities were a breach of Belgian and EU privacy laws.   (Today, cloud service providers often avoid spanning geopolitical boundaries because of this and similar landmark rulings.)

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