Swift will not decide whether to cut off members

Financial transaction network forced to state its position after being asked by various organisations to disconnect companies

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift) has been forced to state its position after being asked by various organisations to disconnect companies and even countries from its network.

The financial transaction network has recently received requests to disconnect organisations in Russia and Israel as form of politically driven economic sanctions.

Swift has now stated it will not cut anyone off on behalf of others. 

“Swift services are designed to facilitate its customers’ compliance with sanctions and other regulations. However Swift will not make unilateral decisions to disconnect institutions from its network as a result of political pressure,” the company said. 

In March 2012, the EU prohibited specialised financial messaging providers, such as Swift, from providing services to EU-sanctioned Iranian banks. 

But the organisation made it clear that the decision rests elsewhere. 

“Swift regrets the pressure, as well as the surrounding media speculation, both of which risk undermining the systemic character of the services that Swift provides its customers around the world. As a utility with a systemic global character, it has no authority to make sanctions decisions.

"Any decision to impose sanctions on countries or individual entities rests solely with the competent government bodies and applicable legislators. Being EU-based, Swift complies fully with all applicable European law.

"Swift will not respond to individual calls and pressure to disconnect financial institutions from its network.”

The UK recently proposed blocking Russian companies from Swift at an EU meeting in reaction to Russia’s role in the current crisis in Ukraine. The European Parliament has since asked the EU member states to consider excluding Russia and voted through a non-binding resolution – which means it is not a law.

Swift responded to the proposal claiming its reputation has been damaged as a result of being linked with the crisis in Ukraine. Swift said it has also recently received calls to cut off organisations in Israel.

Swift is a not-for-profit co-operative whose network sends millions of financial transaction messages every day across more than 200 countries.

The service began in 1973, with 239 banks sharing the communications services. It is now a major connection to the global finance system for Russian businesses, and is used by about 3,500 finance firms worldwide.

Speaking to Computer Weekly following the UK’s proposed ban on Russian companies, Celent analyst, Gareth Lodge, said it is not up to Swift to get involved with international politics. 

“Swift is an international system and there are question marks over whether it has the right to bar businesses from a certain country. Also, if Swift did bar countries, they would go underground and become less transparent,” he said.

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