Banks back real-time foreign currency system

A service allowing banks to view details of foreign currency accounts and payments in real time over the internet was launched...

A service allowing banks to view details of foreign currency accounts and payments in real time over the internet was launched last week.

The subscription-based service from Cable & Wireless will allow financial firms to manage their overseas accounts.

The foreign exchange market settles more than $2trillion a day and about 7,400 banks hold correspondent accounts.

Being able to view the progress of transactions across time zones will reduce the risk of errors in settlement of payments and could help banks cut running costs, according to industry analysts. It can take banks up to three days to sort out the incorrect settlement of currency transactions, costing extra money in overdraft charges.

The service, called Real Time Nostro, uses the XML standard to feed data from bank payment systems to a Cable & Wireless datacentre, using the telecom company's virtual private network.

The datacentre runs on Sun Microsystems platforms and uses a Java-based application from Gresham Computing to aggregate the account information.

Cable & Wireless said linking to the service would require minimal changes to a bank's IT systems. The account information is summarised and put into a standard data format. It is then sent to banks subscribing to the service over the Swift inter-bank messaging network.

Banks including Barclays and JP Morgan have agreed to provide payment data for the service.

"If you are a global bank operating in 70-odd countries, you would like to see all the currency [transactions] presented in a standard format," said Richard Pattinson, head of funding and liquidity collateral management at Barclays Bank.

"With real-time information you can see transactions as they are happening and if you see a problem you can sort it out."

How it works

Banks take customers' account information from their payment software, and send it to a Cable & Wireless datacentre over a virtual private network.

Account data is summarised in the datacentre and put into a common XML data format. The information is then streamed to subscribers over the Swift interbank messaging service. Banks then view the information from a secure website. Banks use specialist software to monitors the account information for exceptional transactions - possible errors in payments.

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